Sunday, May 31, 2009

A New Bird to Me

(double click to enlarge)

I was sitting writing at my computer and heard an atypical bird call. I jumped up to see if I could see it and it was perched right at the top of my holly bush. I grabbed my camera and tried to take a photo but it was not easy.

I identified the bird as a Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis. I have never seen one before. The call was the 'mew call'. (You can hear the calls of this bird here.)

(I'm having a problem with my camera that I need to figure out. The image looks clear to my eye, with my contact lenses on but when the photo is taken the image is blurry. I have no clue what that is about. This only happens when using manual focus which I need for my 300mm zoom lens.)

Photos taken by ChristineMM on 5/16/09 in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mouth Watering

Does this make your mouth water as it does mine?

After viewing the photo I noticed a little critter, do you? (You can double click on the photo to enlarge it.)

Photo taken at Claire's Garden Center in Patterson New York on 5/09/09 by ChristineMM

My Birthday Booty

The presents I received for my birthday this year were:

1. My all time favorite television show is Twin Peaks. I had no clue it was out on DVD and have been pining for it since it went off the air in 1990. I am thrilled to own the DVD set now. I don't usually buy boxed sets of TV shows but made an exception for the best ever show.

2. A flexible tripod for my digital SLR camera. This can be bent around poles or onto tree branches or placed on a flat surface. They have different models to fit different cameras, obviously bigger for the heavier cameras (and more expensive the larger they get).

3. I am combining monetary gifts to buy myself a glass bead made by a cottage industry artesian for my Pandora bracelet.

The Party

I had no party but my husband made me a surprise dinner of boiled lobster and corn on the cob with an appetizer of tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. For dessert we had my favorite hot chocolate souffle. This was a meal for just the four of us (what parts of it the kids agreed to eat at least).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Please Take This Two Second Homeschool Poll

This is a simple, fast and confidential homeschool poll asking how many girls you homeschool and how many boys.

If you homeschool please take a couple of seconds and do this. No strings attached.

This is one of my favorite homeschooling blogs.

Take the poll here.

Birthday Party

At the time you read this there will be about ten boys in our home having a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament as part of my younger son's ninth birthday party.

Wish me luck with facilitating the party with patience and enduring the din that ten boys can create!

Coraline Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Coraline (book in text not graphic book)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Juvenile Fiction (ages 9-12) and Young Adult (ages 12-16)

Note: one publisher has this marked for kids aged 9-12 which is the edition I own and another publisher has it marked as young adult, it is the same book! This reminds me of the fiction book for Adults “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which was later released as a Young Adult title.

I picked up a used copy of the juvenile fiction book Coraline at a library fundraiser book sale in 2007 as I’d heard the book praised as a great read for kids. In late 2008 I was aware a movie adaptation was being produced for theatres. In early 2009 the author Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Award for his book “The Graveyard Book” so I thought he must be a good children’s writer. After seeing a preview in the movie theatre, my kids were asking to see Coraline in the movie theatre (released in February 2009) but they know my rule of ‘read the book first’, plus we were busy and it seemed to go out of theatres quickly around here back when it was playing.

Earlier this month while sorting through my children’s books I came upon Coraline. I decided to read it before the movie is released on DVD. I wanted to see what is was about exactly and if the book was right for my children (now aged 11 and 9). I also wanted to know what the movie would be about and if it was age appropriate for my kids.

Coraline is one of those books that pulls you in from the start and is a good escape read. It is a page turner that will keep the reader (children and adults alike) awake longer at night because they just have to see how it turns out.

I’ll not give a spoiler but will share the general story is that a girl has imperfect parents and an imperfect life and wishes some things about her life were different and more of what she pictures the ideal family and the ideal home being. The empty apartment next door turns out to be parallel worlds where two seemingly perfect duplicates of her parents (albeit with buttons for eyes) live and want her to move in permanently and they treat her like a princess. This book deals with the question of “is the grass greener on the other side of the fence”.

The book is what I’d call dark, in a young kid-dark category. It is not what I’d classify as a horror story as it is dark and twisted or creepy, a bit, due to the excellent language Gaiman uses. There is a suspenseful tone to the book, as I said it is a page turner. Gaiman did a good job of balancing the dark edginess of the book with not giving too much creepiness as to scare the pants off of young readers. Another point I want to make is the book is not dark such as entice or seduce children into a dark world or to go on to become fans of dark children’s books. You see, there is darkness in the story and then there is Coraline resisting. Coraline shows leadership skills to do right and good things and the reader cannot help but root for Coraline to get what she wants.

I cannot make the statement that this book should be kept away from kids as it is “a dark book”. Probably a number of parents I know in person or know through cyberspace who hold certain strong opinions on what books their children should read might nix this book from their children’s reading list. Of those types of people, the ones who want everything to be sweetness and light or for books to be old fashioned and to not hint of any kind of evil spirits or demonic types would not like this book. Anyone who has any issue with Harry Potter in their homes would probably not like this book.

The book addresses the character traits of unconditional love, loving people and one’s own life and appreciating one’s material possessions despite imperfections. Friendship and helping others and doing the right thing are other important themes in the story. This book addresses temptation and looking beneath the surface for the full picture rather than believing what appears to be, on the surface as too good to be true.

After reading Coraline my eleven year old saw me with it, and asked to read the book and I let him. He is a sensitive kid who has sometimes been impacted negatively by stories or movie visuals that seemed innocuous to me, either creeping him out or even giving him nightmares. However he devoured the book, found it a page turner, stayed up past his bedtime to read it until it was done and loved it and suffered no ill consequences.

We haven’t seen the movie yet but can’t wait to. Gaiman’s writing about the visuals in the book is incredible and imaginative. I hope the movie did a good job of recreating Gaiman’s vision for the worlds that Coraline inhabits. (Update: I saw the trailers and they are more innocent and cute and less creepy than I’d imagined Coraline’s world to be, they are done with computer animation.)

I won’t go so far as to say this is a “must read” for children but I’d classify it as a riveting and entertaining read that can be thoroughly enjoyed by readers even if they don’t usually read edgy or dark books. Also if you are dealing with a reluctant reader (boy or girl) this book may warrant placing as a “must read”.


This book was subsequently made into a graphic novel (comic book layout). I have not read that yet but would love to as would my eleven year old son.

Graphic Novel version of Coraline

Coraline, directed by Harry Selick, on DVD, for 7/21/09 release

Other Links and Information

Coraline page at Harper Teen (publisher)

Awards for Coraline as listed on the Harper Teen page:

Child Magazine Best Book of the Year

Hugo Award for Best Novella

New York Public Library's "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing"

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Masterlist (Vermont)

Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers Editors’ Choice

Coraline movie official website (interactive elements and trailers)

Coraline IMDB page

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Robin's Breast Feathers

Found on the grass in my yard near an intact robin's egg were these two American Robin's breast feathers.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 5/11/09 in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

How the Heck Do You Review an Audio Interview?

I'm feeling torn about how to do a product review on an audio interview that is five hours long.

It is not the same or easy as reviewing an audio book.

Sharing some casual thoughts on it I will say this:

1. It shed light on who the person is.

2. He talked about some life experiences that were not captured in his published books.

3. I was fascinated to hear some of his thoughts and ideas and his thought process even though I may disagree with his opinion.

4. He shared political views which I disagree with.

5. He holds some opinions which I feel are flawed.

6. He repeats some popular beliefs spread by certain groups of people (not original ideas) which I happen to think are factually incorrect and also disagree on the opinion parts.

7. While preaching nonviolence and nonviolent communication he speaks with violent communication but admits he is working on it, that he struggles to put nonviolence into action. I don't like hearing the violent communication of those who hold different ideas and opinions than he does so that bugs me.

8. While saying he hates society pigeon holing people into certain gender roles or not being accepting of all sexual preferences he easily pigeon holes "the religious right" and "Christians". That surprised me.

9. He made me think and analyze some things more so that was good.

10. Some of the information I've heard stated by other people in similar ways for years.

11. Some of the information are new ideas that made me think.

Am I to review the interview on the quality of production only?

When the interviewer pushes certain beliefs and puts down certain people should that be a factor too?

I'm struggling on how to review this interview on audio CD.

This is a review copy. I requested it without ever having read any of his writings. I don't know anything about this production company to influence my requesting it or how I will review and rate it with a star rating. Before I ordered it I researched it a bit and because it was offered pre-publication I came up empty handed. Therefore I mistakenly assumed this was a regular audio book somehow.

I peeked at some customer reviews of this and see that some are slamming it if they don't like one or two ideas covered in the five hour interview. Others rate it low if they don't agree with the political leanings.

These are the hardest reviews for me to do, when I don't agree with all of it and don't love all of it but I don't want to slam it just for disagreeing with some parts of the content. These take the longest to write.

The worst thing though is even if I write a positive review and say something like I don't agree with everything personally but found it interesting to listen to and it made me think there will be people who will vote my review "not helpful" as they only say "helpful" if the reviewer is 100% in agreement with the content of the book/product/whatever. Also some others who hate the opinions will say my review was "not helpful" if I don't likewise slam the product by giving it a bad rated review. I hate that!

Let me restate: if I say I disagree with some of his political views those who are in alignment with him will slam my review, yet if I give it a good rating and say I don't like all his statements but I am a "agree to disagree" person then those who share MY beliefs will also slam my review. It is a lose/lose situation to review sometimes. Well, that is, if I look at how people rate the review. Actually the worst part is on Amazon they now let customers comment on the reviews and in those some people break the rules and personally attack the review writer. It has happened to me and it happens to others too.

Title: An Undivided Life
Interview of: Parker Palmer
Produced by: Sounds True

I received this through the Amazon Vine review program.

I Read Weird Books?

On Mother's Day my husband said he was going to buy me an Amazon Kindle but he changed his mind because I read "weird books" that are not available for the Kindle.

Frankly I was offended. So I asked what he meant.

He explained the (good and useful and not weird topic) nonfiction books I read are often not available for the Kindle. This is true actually.

He also knows my kids want to use the Kindle but at present hardly any juvenile fiction books (ages 9-12) are on the Kindle and only some bestselling young adult fiction (ages 12-16) is available. The most common books on the Kindle are bestselling fiction or nonfiction bestsellers.

Many books I read are niche topics such as about homeschooling, education methods, education reform, health and wellness, or are parenting related.

I remain offended at the reference to good and informative, serious nonfiction books being classified as "weird" though. Good books for thinking people are not weird books, even if they are not being read by the majority of readers (statistics show that the amount of people reading nonfiction in America is a very low percentage which I find surprising and sad).

The other main reason we don't own one yet is that the Kindle books purchased cannot be swapped, shared or resold. I like to give away, swap out, or resell my used books. It bugs me to pay $10 for a Kindle book and have it never used by any other person. Having been brought up largely reading books from the public library I believe books should be shared so long as the original purchaser of them paid for the book, thereby giving the publisher and author their share of profit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tick Embedded on Face Photo

(double click to enlarge)

This was a busy day for us. We were either indoors at home or in other buildings. At dinnertime I asked my sons to water the vegetable garden. They were outdoors a total of 15 minutes. My son got changed into pajamas and got ready for bed. About two hours after watering the garden, at bedtime I went to put my son to bed and noticed this black thing on his face. Of course I immediately knew what it was: an embedded tick. My son said it had itched a little and he'd rubbed it a few times but never thought to look at himself in the mirror. He was horrified that it was so close to his eye and right on his face!

This reallly was small so I am unsure if it is a deer tick or if it is another kind of tick. Once I turned in a tiny tick for testing that was smaller than the deer ticks I'd seen, and the report came back from the State of Connecticut said to be a wood tick nymph.
I share these photos as I know people want to see images of ticks embedded on people (they use Google to find images and navigate to my blog).

I hope that parents will see this and train their eye to notice things that are atypical. Note how the tick's color is definately different than the color of my son's freckles.
Another reason I am sharing this is to show how just a simple 15 minutes in the yard, walking on wood mulch can result in a tick attaching to my son's clothing and later it winds up embedded on the face or scalp or other high place on the body.

No, we do not spray our yard for ticks with chemicals. This is because my understanding is that mice carry the deer ticks onto the yard after the spray is down and it does nothing to kill the ticks. Also my kids are outdoors at friend's houses, relative's houses, city and state parks, protected open space land, and at wilderness school. Paying hundreds of dollars to dump chemicals on my lawn, when we have well water, is a futile effort, a waste of money and possibly dangerous to the Earth or our own bodies.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 5/10/09.

PSP Can Be a Free Gateway for Kids to View Online Porn (or Anything on the Internet)

I heard a story last week from a parent. I feel the need to share this as it was shocking to me and perhaps you should know about this.

First I need to explain that our family/our kids don’t own a PSP so when I heard this story I didn’t know this was possible. I thought a PSP was just a portable video game console. I was wrong, they have Internet viewing capabilities.

If you don’t know what a PSP is, it is a hand held video game device by Sony called Play Station Portable (users call it a PSP). For Christmas 2007 my two nephews (then aged 9 and 6) and my niece in another family (aged 10) received them as gifts from their parents. My boys envied them as it was a wide screen with the best graphics available at the time. My father-in-law felt bad that my kids didn’t have them when their cousins had them and were playing them in their presence with my kids looking on. Grandpa offered to buy them for our kids but my husband declined saying we didn’t want our kids playing video games at all or handheld video games, including when they were with family for holiday celebrations which we thought should be social time instead. The PSP was a popular gift for Christmas 2007 as I saw kids using them all over the place after that. Once a child owns a PSP their old Game Boys are often discarded.

So in my ignorance about the PSP I had no clue it could connect to the Internet. Apparently though I am not the only one. Other parents whose children DO own a PSP don’t know it.

The story I heard that happened to a friend of my friend goes that this family bought their son a PSP. He had it for some time. The family does not have wireless Internet in their home and they don’t know much about wireless Internet at all it seems. They did not know the PSP could hook up to the Internet. Suddenly the thirteen year old started locking his bedroom door and spending hours and hours in the bedroom alone. He played the PSP in the house and everywhere, using it more than normal (they apparently didn’t limit his time using the device). Then two things happened almost at the same time after two weeks of this behavior. One was that the boy was walking around holding the PSP out in front of him and walking randomly around in public places and at other people’s houses. The parents didn’t know why he was doing that. I can’t recall if they asked him what he was doing and he said, “nothing” or if they didn’t bother to ask. The final flag of what was really going on was when the father caught the boy masturbating while looking at the PSP screen (which seemed quite odd to him to do). It was then that the father figured out that:

1. The boy could access wireless Internet off of the neighbor’s account from his bedroom but no where else in the parent’s house and that is what he was doing behind the locked door.

2. Having discovered Internet porn he was glued to the screen viewing it for a solid two weeks and it explained why he had increased his time on the PSP.

3. While in public in his parent’s presence the weird walking around thing was the boy looking for a free wi-fi Internet access to get online while in their presence or while in the same room at someone else’s house. I guess since the parent’s didn’t have wireless Internet or use handheld devices like a Palm Pilot they didn’t recognize what it looks like to try to find a free Internet signal.

If people with wireless Internet do not put a password on it (such as your neighbors, your relatives or your relative’s neighbors or businesses), anyone can log in and access the Internet through their portal. Also know that some restaurants such as McDonald’s and Panera Bread offer free wireless Internet access that can be used not only inside their stores but also often from the parking lot. Kids could access free Internet at any of those places.

A neighbor of mine who knows nothing about the technical aspects of electronics paid thousands of dollars to get technical help in setting up their TV/stereo/Internet. That company did not put a password attached so frequently I have work trucks parked outside my house while employees use their Internet to surf the web using my neighbor’s portal.

The parents reported that to their knowledge there is no way to track browsing history via the PSP so there is no way for them to know exactly what kind of porn this boy has seen. I don’t know if this is true or not and I can’t find the answer online either.

I was curious if the PSP had parental controls and I did find on this site that yes, they do. This can be set so that the owner of the PSP cannot access the Internet anywhere unless they have the password. Here is the information to read more about that.

Although I am grateful for these helpful answers I note the writer first uses his platform to criticize parents by first suggesting the issue may be to limit the time their child spends using the PSP. I beg to differ. Buying a PSP for video game playing in what was thought to be a controlled, safe environment is a totally separate issue from trying to prevent a child from logging onto the Internet to access porn or any number of other age –inappropriate and/or illegal things (remember porn is supposed to be purchased only by people over age 18 yet this law doesn’t touch or help regarding the Internet). Limiting the time a child uses a PSP does not have anything to do with trying to prevent them from accessing inappropriate websites through free wireless Internet sources not controlled by the parents.


If you want more information about how to use the PSP to get on the Internet or want to see how easy it is, there are numerous YouTube tutorials on this topic. One is here.

Additionally the same helpful to parents article writer has a page on his site to help PSP users connect to other people’s wifi systems, here:


Kids Love You Tube

I note also that kids are YouTube savvy.

This weekend my cousin's husband said that her four year old watches You Tube videos by himself and discovers new videos by himself. I warned him about the feature that shows "videos being watched now" that can show nudity and porn images or as I've seen before, nude adults getting spanked. The thumbnail shows even when the video is flagged as mature content and cannot be viewed when it is clicked on. Also if an adult is logged onto their You Tube account and has it set so they can watch anything they want, a child using that account/that computer may accidentially be able to view porn or other mature flagged videos.

My niece who attends public school started telling me when she was in fifth grade (three years ago in the year 2006) that kids at school talk about YouTube all the time and shared which videos everyone was watching. Some that she showed me when she was in fifth grade contained profanity and sexual references. One that was viewed was what was supposed to be a joke simulation of anal sex but was really a finger on a bent knee/leg shot.

For two years some homeschooled kids have been talking to my boys about videos they saw. One boy who is a kid's friend who was in fifth grade who goes to school has his own YouTube channel with homemade movies he does starring he and his school friends.

My kids have been begging me to let them create videos for YouTube sharing but so far I have nixxed that.

Also another relative of mine who was nine years old has videos of him playing his guitar online with his full name showing (not good for privacy reasons). The video had information that could easily peg what town he resides in and also had the name of the summer camp he attended.

Yesterday my son and I were looking up a price on a toy that my nine year old wants to buy for himself and a YouTube video review of the item done by a kid of about 12 years of age was at the top of my Google search.

Another time my eleven year old was playing the 39 Clues game (target market kids age 9-12) and he was by a Google search to YouTube videos of kids talking about the game, sharing tips and giving out access codes to expand the free online play run by the publisher, the famous Scholastic! My point in sharing this is that kids know to go to YouTube to look for tutorials and information about the things they own or want to buy or how to expand on using things they already own.

Back to the PSPs and minor aged kids

It is easy to conceive that a child who owns a PSP will hear from their friends that the PSP is Internet connectable. Then a child who is Internet savvy can easy find directions online about how to connect their PSP to a wifi network.

Children as young as three are being given PSPs as gifts often from their parents, grandparents, or Santa Claus. Parents, I know that keeping up with technology is hard and not fun but I beg parents to investigate the options and capabilities of the electronic devices they CHOOSE to buy and put into their children’s own hands. I am sure that no parent would ever hand over pornography to their children or even their teenagers, but by handing them a PSP without parental controls enabled they are giving them a free gateway to possibly discover porn on their own.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weird Math Problem Solving by Visual Spatial Learners

I have been told that visual spatial learners have a weird way of doing math, of their own design.

I can vouch this is the truth for my older son, who is eleven years old right now.

I have heard his explanations for how he could arrive at his solution (right or wrong) without doing written operations and it leaves my head spinning. He would do what I'd call wacky things, making this number rounded up then adding that then rounding down that one then getting a number then subtracting off that extra amount and adding in that other missing part.

When it works that is fine.

This year he is doing a computer based math curriculum (CDROM based). It is called Teaching Textbooks. There is an audio lecture on the screen and they watch the operations being done. Then they do practice problems (using paper and pencil supposedly). Then they input the solution and immediately says if it is right or wrong. If wrong, they get a second chance. They can also have a hint or if after a second wrong answer can see it done out in front of them. They don't go to the next problem until the last one was done and scored, thereby catching their errors quickly.

This is the first year I am not doing the teaching and I'm not sitting right by him. The downside to this is that I don't truly know what he knows or doesn't know. For example even for the wrong answers he says sometimes he slips on the keyboard and really did know the right answer, yet it is too late for the system to fix it.

Last week I was in the room when he was doing the lesson and he was getting erratic wrong answers. One was averaging out four numbers. I asked where his work was (in writing) so I could see where his struggle lay. He said he did it in his head. I asked how he could do all that in his head and he said he guess around at this number and rounded up that. The problem was he was doing it incorrectly so that didn't work out.

Today he was doing long division and asked for help. He clearly had forgotten how to do the operation out on paper. (How this is possible is mind boggling and all I can say is that from what I understand from reading the writings of Richard LaVoie in "The Motivation Breakthrough", erratic performance and forgetting things that seemed mastered the prior day or week is typical of kids with a learning disability.)

I asked him if the prior lessons covered this and how he got those right? He said it did cover it but the problems were either easy answers that he could do all mentally in his mind or else he had a different way of doing it.

I asked to please explain.

The problem was something like 532 divided by 5. He knew 5 went into 5 once so it was 1 + something. For the second part he needed to figure how many times 5 went into 32. He said he made a story of it (this was not a word problem by the way). He said he parceled out 5 to himself, and some was left over, so gave 5 to his brother, and some was left over so gave 5 to friend Mike, 5 to friend Thomas, 5 to friend Jack and then 5 to friend Ian. That makes 6 times he gave out 5's, and then after that there was two left over for a remainder of 2. So he came up with 106 with a remainder of 2.

The kid was right. That time at least.

However I said he needed to learn the order of operations for a good reason. I told him that sometime he'd have to figure out 569808 divided by 4039 and I asked how he'd do that one with a story. He balked. I gently explained that if he would learn the order of operations to compute this on paper with pencil then no matter how simple or complex the problem was, the answer could be found quickly.

For the record as with other "very visual spatial learners" this kid still does not have his math facts memorizes for multiplication. At the number 7 it gets murky and definately the upper numbers with 8x and 9x are not there and forget 11x or 12x.

I know some of you may think who cares, they will get it someday. Well this kid is almost 12 years old and still doesn't have all of the math facts down cold. I have spent hundreds of dollars on every known type of product ranging from simple flash cards to complex right brained learner flash cards to computer games like Timez Attack and Math Blaster to the (impressive) Flash Master. I have done multiplication songs, posted signs all over the house and used Wrap-Up's. He has done timed drills with Calc-U-Ladder and that doesn't work either, oh and the older program Quarter Mile Math that was much lauded by homeschoolers.

It gets to a point where goofing up on simple math facts either gives the wrong answer (7x9 does not equal 72 as he tried to tell me today) or it slows down the operations to the point where this child forgets his place in the 'order of operations' and puts numbers in the wrong spots.

Since this kid also has a diagnosis of (and is currently under treatment for) a visual processing disorder this further complicates matters. His sloppy handwriting which he swears is the best he can do, is sometimes so illegible that he can't read his own writing thereby getting a wrong answer when the original work was actually correct. Also the alignment of numbers in math operations like longer multiplication problems and long division goof up the final answer.

I am not stressing at this moment but am sitting her scratching my head at the challenges of teaching a very right brained learner math.


Clarification: We are presently using the FlashMaster for math fact drill ten minutes a day. Son says he is making progress and thinks he is learning but he still struggles with his math work due to not knowing all of the math facts.

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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 178 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling edition #178 was published this week at The Common Room.

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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Monday, May 25, 2009

Enough Already Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Enough Already! Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You
Author: Peter Walsh
Publication: Free Press, March 2009
ISBN: 978-1416560180 (hardcover)
Full Retail Price: $26.00

Peter Walsh first appeared in the public eye on a reality TV show “Clean Sweep” in which a team of people tackled decluttering two rooms of the home of a packrat or a hoarder. Walsh’s role was to help the person let go of material possessions because the person’s life was being ruined by owning too much stuff. It is clear that there are psychological factors at work, not always something as severe as a true obsessive-compulsive disorder but issues such as feeling overwhelmed by stuff or keeping things to ‘do someday’ when the person is already over-scheduled and has no time for such endeavors. Walsh helped people see the psychological factors at play as the root of owning too much stuff or their fear about letting it go.

Walsh calls himself a “clutter expert and organizational consultant” and holds a master’s degree in educational psychology. He is currently appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 2008-2009 season for a special series devoted to helping people declutter and reorganizing their homes and improve their lives in the process. Although he has appeared on the Oprah Show a number of times in the past it seems his popularity has reached a crescendo this year, and it seems he has firmly established his solo career which took off once “Clean Sweep” ceased production. (Repeat airings of “Clean Sweep” still run on television today.)

In his first book, published in 2004, Walsh discussed home organization tactics. His second book from 2007 covered the process of decluttering one’s home. In 2008 Walsh published a book about being overweight and its tie to having too much clutter in one’s life (not just physical clutter). In this book ENOUGH ALREADY! released in March 2009, Walsh has penned a more general self-help type book and references mental clutter (not so much physical clutter). The book is divided into sections: relationships, work, family, money, and well-being (tackling health and spirituality and finding balance in life). The advice in this book can apply and help any person, not just packrats and hoarders. Mixed in with the general advice are tidbits about home organization (easy ways to sort and organize mail so bills get paid on time and other ideas).

Although I did wind up loving this book, at first I didn’t think I would because between the reading I’ve don of other self-help books and having seen many talk shows on TV (such as Oprah and Dr. Phil), I felt that I’ve heard a lot of this type of advice before. However as the book went on, I saw that Walsh packed a lot of information between these two covers. He touches upon many topics although since this is a broad-sweeping book none can be discussed too much in detail. Entire books have been written on improving relationships such as RELATIONSHIP RESCUE by Dr. Phil McGraw, and other books about making career changes, and of course many books on the topic of parenting and personal money management. The result of trying to cover it all in one volume is that sometimes great advice is given but it is barely touched upon before moving on to the next topic. For example in the family chapter he discusses parenting and throws out quick advice such as not catering to picky eater children and encourages not over-scheduling our children’s lives when those topics could really fill a whole chapter if not an entire book!

For me the book was a good refresher of good advice that yes, some others write or speak about and that I’ve heard before, but that is okay. I also liked the book because I agree philosophically with Walsh’s ideas about slowing down to enjoy our lives, being more mindful, not overspending, not shopping for fun, spending good times with our children as well as finding time daily to do something enriching for ourselves, in whatever form works for us as unique people. It was also good to have decluttering and organization tips peppered through the book. He also is on the bandwagon of eating well and exercising and keeping ourselves well and feeling good physically rather than focusing on getting thin for ‘good looks’.

Perhaps I breezed through the book as I’ve tackled some of these issues in my life already and in other areas am content and I am not in need of reformation. I say this to explain that while the book can be read through quickly BUT if you have work to do in these areas you may need time to process through the ideas and decide to take action upon some things. The application of the advice will not come as easily or quickly as reading through this book.

The book is not a ‘weird’ self-help book, it is balanced and seems like down to earth advice that any person could apply to their lives. I found the book easy to read and unintimidating. Walsh’s tone is not patronizing or arrogant or judgmental which is refreshing. There is sage wisdom as well as common sense here.

Younger readers may love this book as it may be the first time they’ve read something like this. Those over 30 or 40 who have read a bunch of self-help books or who have watched a number of TV talk shows or radio shows (like Dr. Laura or Dr. Joy Browne) may feel this book offers nothing new other than adding the twist of touching upon clutter or home organization here and there.

If you are familiar with who Peter Walsh is and want information about decluttering and home organization I recommend that you read Walsh’s book on clutter: IT’S ALL TOO MUCH and if you need more help, use his companion workbook: IT’S ALL TOO MUCH WORKBOOK. Walsh also authored a book just about home organization that you may be interested in: HOW TO ORGANIZE (JUST ABOUT) EVERYTHING.

If you enjoy audio books you may want to listen to the audio book version of this book to hear Walsh’s fantastic Australian accent which is a treat in and of itself.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through the Amazon Vine product review program.

Books mentioned in this post

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Tiger the Nursery Cat

My children and I love cats. While visiting a garden center my eleven year old insisted I come right away to see this!

This is Tiger, a female cat who lives at Claire's Garden Center in Patterson, New York.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 5/09/09 in Patterson New York.

Flashback to Six Years Ago

Here is my older son, then he was 5.5 years old, this was May 2003.

Happy kid, eh? That's thanks to loving parents, attachment parenting and homeschooling I'm sure.
Back then I was sure that if I'd sent him to Kindergarten (eight hour a day program in our town), at age 5 years and 2 weeks he'd have been labeled ADD. This kid is not an ADD kid believe me. He needed a bit more time to play and do his own thing and so we unschooled then and did great stuff but not much formal academics in homeschool Kindergarten.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unidentified Wildflower (Later Identified)

I should hike with a plant identifcation guide in hand.

I loved these flowers but have no clue what plant this is.

Photo taken at my children's wilderness school on 5/09/09 in Connecticut. Our kids wanted to give my husband and I a tour of their place so we visited on a Saturday. I could write a whole story about just that hike but for now will just post this photo. Well I'll also say that I learned more about what they've learned that day than when I asked them in the past, "What did you do today?".

Updated 10/06/09: I believe I figured it out today. This is a wild parsnip which actually is a seed brought to the USA from Europe to grow as a garden parsnip. The seeds have escaped so some grow wild but it is the same exact plant cultivated in gardens to eat the root. I also learned this plant can create a rash when combined with sun exposure and also with sweating.

Here is a webpage with more info and photos.

Video Game Enhances History Education

You are probably not going to believe this.

I hesitate to share this as it either sounds untrue or may imply that our homeschool history studies are lacking, but here goes.

My children have actually learned historical information from playing the xBox360 game called "Civilization Revolution". This game started as a PC based game before it converted to video game console platforms. It exists in formats for other video game consoles too (not just available for the xBox360 platform).

The facts my kids hear in playing this game seem to go instantly into their long term memory. I know this because one night while at a restaurant my eleven year old asked about a government type that I'd never heard of (something not yet covered in our homeschool history progam). Luckily my husband knew about it and they had a discussion.

Another time with his Boy Scout Troop my son watched the movie Night at the Museum and he was telling my husband who all the historical people were and all about them with things he learned only from the game. The first time he saw the movie it was more for just entertainment and apparently some of the historical infomation went over his head back then.

On other days when we're doing our homeschool history lessons my boys, then aged 8 and 11, would chime in with accurate information from the game that the lesson had not yet covered.

My kids have shown they can connect the dots from the video game's facts to what they learn from books in lessons and then what they see out in the world. Is that not the goal of an education?

Even kids who could care less about history would like this game. It may also be one that girls would like. (I hate to be sterotypical but

I have not played the game and find it hard to watch. It is a one player game. They start off by choosing a country to represent and it is ancient times. As the game goes on the country develops and time goes forward. Countries battle each other and power shifts. There has to be a balance between offense and defensive action to stay alive (and not taken over).

The game also rewards balanced development across areas of culture, technology and power, should one become more advanced than another the player is punished by being sent back in time to re-do it. For example if a country does not do enough cultural things they are declared to have become barbarians and are sent back in time to re-create themselves. The worse the situation is, the farther back in time you are sent.

My husband says he is a bit at odds with the goal of the game as it tends to reward a one world government ideal for the future years...

My kids love the game and it is a nice change from the first person shooter type games--this is not a first person shooter game. The rating for the xBox360 game is E-10 for Everyone over 10 years old (for cartoon violence and alcohol and tobacco reference--the German guy smokes a cigar and we have no clue about the alcohol statement).

Disclosure: My children purchased this game with their own money for their personal use.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One of My Kid's Classrooms

Here is another view of one of my children's classrooms.

This spring they are receiving 54 hours of direct instruction in science and nature studies at this location, a class for homeschooled kids.

Photo taken 5/7/09 by ChristineMM in Connecticut.

A Topic Converging: Edible Wild Plants

My maternal grandmother spoke of edible wild plants. She told me for years to look for the books written by Bradford Angier. I was not interested to be honest. Near the end of her life she came across some of Angier's books and gave them to me. She pressed me to read them and use them. She wanted me to use edible wild plants for food and medicine. I don't know that she ate edible wild plants but I heard some stories of making homemade medicines using Native American recipes that helped one friend of the family get over an emergency kidney condition, a kidney stone blocking him, it might have been.

When I read the book about the raw food diet called "Fresh" the authors mentioned eating wild greens. The things they mentioned grow in my yard and woods and I was thinking about trying them out. (Read my book review of "Fresh" here.)

(I am seriously considering doing a 100 day raw food challenge or maybe even a 50 day raw food challenge. I want to see if it gives me more energy as raw food dieters claim they feel and also see what changes may happen to my body such as easy weight loss.)

The wilderness school that my children attend for a homeschool program teaches my children about edible wild plants and also ways to use wild plants such as for fabric dyes. Recently one instructor told me a recipe to make pesto but instead of garden-grown Italian basil to use half stinging nettles (in a food processor to destroy the spines) and half garlic mustard (an invasive plant taking over our woods in Connecticut whose roots emit a toxin that kills native maple trees). Note: related post: My Kids Love Experiential Learning.

On a recent hike at the wilderness school's woods my older son relayed which plant is what and what it can be used for. I heard of spicebush tea and soups made from wild plants that he actually tried (gasp).

As I spent time outside gardening this spring and ridding my gardens of weeks I am reminded again that perhaps some of the most nutritious foods that I could eat would be the wild plants not the ones I'm trying so hard to grow in a cultivated garden.

I visited the site of Wildman Steve Brill and see he has many walking tours in which he teaches participants to identify and take wild plants to use to eat. I am surprised at the number all around my home, so close to me. I am thinking of attending one or more if my schedule allows. He charges half price for children and has a sliding scale for anyone who is financially hurting.

Today on Twitter, Dana Hanley, a homeschool mom of the blog Principled Discovery tweeted about a YouTuber who does video tutorials about eating wild edible plants. I was surprised to see this one about Pokeweed, something that grows wild in my yard and in the gardens I try to tend. My children leanred to use pokeweed berries to make dye with, and we did do that last year and dyed some wool roving. Pokeweed is toxic and my husband had a terrible skin reaction when he was trying to remove it from our yard and the juice got on his skin. According to this tutorial the plant is safe (the stem and leaves) if picked when the young plant is 4-6 inches (but no higher). Very interesting!

His YouTube show is called "Eat the Weeds". He lives in Orlando. Interestingly enough he says he does not own a TV or watch TV but here is he using a recorder and making video tutorials. I love it.

What I am interested in is the fact that edible wild plants are full of nutrition, perhaps moreso than the cultivated vegetables we can buy at the grocery store. Edible wild plants are free of chemicals. I love the idea of putting to use something that exists naturally around us and especially those that we don't want where they are, such as the dandelions growing in my yard.

Is not responsible wildcrafting of edible plants the utmost in sustainable food?


Friday, May 22, 2009

Souce of the Sound Found

(double click to enlarge)

I was walking at the wilderness school for homeschooled kids that my sons attend, an experiential learning class, and I heard a strange sound. Something atypical. I stopped and looked. I had to really, really look to see it. It was the sound of a squirrel cracking the shell of nut, then eating it.

I was able to watch it for a while and worked hard to try to get a good shot on this dark day.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 5/07/09 in Connecticut.

Ace of Cakes at New York Yankees Game 5/01/09

Our family was surprised to see the artists of Ace of Cakes reality TV show on the FoodTV channel (they are from Charm City Cakes in Baltimore Maryland) when we were at the New York Yankees game on May 1, 2009. They had crafted a cake in the shape of the new New York Yankees stadium. We are fans of the Ace of Cakes show.

These photos are of the gigantic video screen at the new stadium, taken from my seat in the second to last row!

Above: Left to right: Geof Manthorn, Chef Duff Goldman and Mary Smith

As a comparison here is the view with the longest zoom I could get on my camera (sorry for the blur).

External Links

Ace of Cakes page on FoodTV

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 177 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling edition #177 Baseball Edition was published this week at Home School Dad.

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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Dragonfly Visiting My Garden

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Dragonfly visiting my new veggie and herb garden, hanging out on the deer nettting.
Is this not beautiful?

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 5/12/09 in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Some Thoughts on Jenny McCarthy's Latest Book on Autism

In April 2009, Jenny McCarthy has published another book about Autism; this one is about preventing Autism and healing children from Autism.

I requested a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program.

I am 100 pages into the book and have some thoughts to share today. This is not a book review, just thoughts.

This is the first book that I have read by Jenny McCarthy. The co-author is a physician; a physician she used for the treatment of her son who she says has been cured of Autism.

I know the medical community (doctors and Big Pharma) hate it when a non-medical doctor writes a book about medical conditions, treatments and cures. So while I was surprised to see the format of this book I now applaud it as it removes any criticism that McCarthy may otherwise have gotten. What I am talking about is the entire book is in Q&A format. McCarthy asks a question of the doctor and he answers it. The doctor is Dr. Jerry Kartzinel (he is an M.D.).

I am used to books being professional in tone, so what I dislike the most is the use of mild profanity and slang. The book goes beyond colloquialism in my opinion, regarding McCarthy's words. Some of this slang and mild profanity is also in illustrations (cartoons) "bad ass" being one of them.

I am not sure which one of these reasons is why the editor and publisher allowed this book to use this style. I have some ideas.

1. To keep the book exciting to certain readers who would tire of a more professional tone

2. The paraphrasing with slang and the happy exclamations and mild profanity may appeal to some readers who can identify with speaking in that way so that reader remains open to continue reading the book to get the important information to help their child (broadening the reading audience). "Dumbing down" the content. (If that is the case I am willing to take it since the information will reach more people.)

3. Make the book feel like more of a friendly conversation between another nice mother or have the tone of a 'girls night out' dishing session.

4. This is the way Jenny McCarthy talks in real life and she wanted to keep her personality intact in the book. (If this is true I'd be disappointed in her because I have higher standards for standard English and professional tones in nonfiction books and feel the author's voice can still come through while being professional.)

5. Jenny McCarthy has no desire to clean up the conversational tone, slang and profanity as she thinks it is 'fine and well'. (If that is true it is part of the casualization of American culture and I don't like that.)

Okay I'll put the writing style issues aside onto the actual content.

I am happy to see content in this book that explains in layman's terms some medical things that are very hard to find in written literature especially books for the layperson.

Here are specific thoughts of mine.

For the first time I have found a great explanation of 'leaky gut'.

This is the first book other than "Is This Your Child?" by Doris Rapp M.D. that discusses the fact that food and drinks can have adverse effects on the body.

This book mentions (briefly) the huge issue of conflicts of interest with the people in the CDC who approve vaccinations (something rarely mentioned in books).

This book covers information also applicable to other issues like OCD and ADD/ADHD.

I feel this same information can apply to some lesser conditions such as one of my son's bad reactions to foods even though he never had an Autism diagnosis. In other words the information in this book could help many children even if they have never been officially diagnosed with a real allergy, OCD, ADD/ADHD, or Autism.

This book discusses the fact that foods, drinks, chemicals in food, environmental things (off gassing of synthetic rugs for example) and toxins inherited in one's genes from prior generations can give children certain symptoms. It explains that if enough symptoms are present an Autism diagnosis may be made. It explains that if the co-morbid condition is cured then the symptoms can go away or diminish enough to stop calling the child Autistic or in their words 'be cured' from Autism.

The book clearly discusses toxic load and how children with so many seasonal allergies, other allergies or Autism may be our culture's "Canary in the mine", being the first people negatively affected by the toxins in our world today.

The two most common diets used to try to help children with Autism are discussed in detail.

The book points the reader to different sources to learn more about each topic.

Discussions of sensory issues impeding the child's life or causing behaviors that are then labeled "Autistic behaviors" is excellent.

It is revealed that Dr. Kartzinel has started a line of supplements that are GFCF for use in children with Autism (and OCD and other conditions) so the recommendation of such programs may be considered a conflict of interest, although competitor's do make similar products. Also Jenny McCarthy states in the book she is an investor in Dr. Kartzinel's new supplement line, another conflict of interest the reader should know about.

This is all just in the first 100 pages of a book with over 300 pages.

I am grateful for this book as it covers topics that are not discussed in a book or that some may accuse as being rumor or myth when talked about between mother and mother.

Since my oldest child began having negative reactions to food and drinks at age two and I/he was helped greatly by the book "Is This Your Child?" by Doris Rapp MD, he has been different/better since he was on an elimination diet from cow's milk/dairy for a number of years. I now feel that if he continued with the symptoms he did have back then and I'd not changed his diet he may have qualified for an Autism diagnosis. This came as a shock to me. Instead of other parent's who first got the Autism diagnosis on their child and tried to fix it, I saw bad symptoms and fixed it (with the advice of a medical doctor, not our normal pediatrician). I shudder to think that my son may have ever received an Autism diagnosis.

I worry about the kids who first get an Autism diagnosis if the issue is JUST the food or drink they consume or an environmental toxin or reaction to something in the environment (pollen etc.). I think the prognosis for those kids to resolve some symptoms is less if the parents buys into the label and says it is just genetic and nothing can be done other than educational modifications and encouraging speech therapy and other things.

The genetic issue is also discussed in an easy to understand manner. For example if a person has a genetic programming to be allergic to Penicillin but never has a reaction to Penicillin they will never have gotten a diagnosis of "allergic to Penicillin". Therefore a person may have genetic programming to have Autism but it might only be triggered into being active by certain environmental exposures, drugs, vaccines, foods, and so forth. That is already being said and accepted by the mainstream medical community for a person having genes for Cancer but that a trigger must happen to get that medical diagnosis label and to require treatment for Cancer.

Anyhow I love the information being covered in this book even if the style of writing irritates me.

Post Script: In preparing this blog post when trying to verify the degree of Dr. Kartzinel I found many criticisms by laypeople online about Jenny McCarthy, labeling her ideas as wrong. I am not jumping on that bandwagon because this book is co-authored with a medical doctor and because I know through experience the dramatic change in behavior, emotional and physical symptoms that can occur through a change in a child's diet. Once you have experienced that in some degree with someone you know well or a child you love, you cannot simply label it is quackery. I have not finished reading the book and don't have opinions on all the therapies and recommendations.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spring Weather

Photo taken in the afternoon at the wilderness school that my homeschooled children attend. They had just spent six hours outside in the woods. They all had a great time despite the rain and clouds.

In this case the hills, the wood, the meadow, the stream, the brook and the swamp are my children's classroom (not the interior of a traditional school room or my own kitchen table).

Homeschooling gives children freedom in their schedules to take advantage of unique opportunities in the community that schooled kids have no time to do.

Photo taken 5/7/09 by ChristineMM in Connecticut.

My Kids Love Experiential Learning

One benefit of homeschooling is having more control over a child's time, meaning, having more freedom and flexibility.

Homeschooled children can do things that schooled kids just don't have time to do. One thing homeschooled children have is more opportunities for experiential learning.

Some towns rave that their fifth graders do "Nature's Classroom" for one week in fifth grade. Sadly that is the only time the students get any real experiential learning in their thirteen years in public school.

I am happy that my children can do a once a week experiential nature class (science). Yes it is a bit of a drive. Yes it costs money for tuition and gasoline. Yes it means they are not home to do homeschooling lessons that day. Yes the program is great. Yes the program is imperfect. Yes there are sometimes problems with the program, most usually with new teachers.

It is hard to capture in a photo but I did it this time. I caught the pure joy in my older son's face. This was the end of six hours hiking in the woods and swimming (with clothes on) in what they call the "beaver bog".

Yes we have deer ticks in Connecticut. Yes my children get ticks while in this class. Yes my children have had Lyme Disease.

Before this program began we did family nature walks and hikes but my kids were a little afraid of bugs (especially bees) and they knew nothing of native plants or edibles (gag at the thought!) and they preferred pool swimming to lake-beach swimming. After enrolling in the program they learned about plants and trees and bugs and birds. They are not afraid of dirt or mud or slogging through a swamp or standing on a beaver dam or squeamish about having a leech on them or swimming in a river. They haul rocks and logs, help build shelters and dig rocks from stream beds (although they still don't like to put their clothes in the hamper or make their beds at home).

The benefits of this program outweigh the negative's.

My kids love this class. I hope it remains a good program and we are able to continue having them partcipate in it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last Weekend's Big Event

Opening Ceremony at ConnJam 2009

I've heard different numbers quoted, 3000 and 4000, as the number of campers at the ConnJam 2009 held in Orange Connecticut last weekend. This was a Council sponsored family event for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts set up in the same fashion as the Boy Scouts of America's Jamboree.

My husband camped with my Cub Scout son (per the BSA rules) and my older son camped with his Troop.

When this was planned I had visions of all I could do with a weekend alone at home. It was to be my first ever weekend home alone since birthing my first baby nearly twelve years ago, how glorious! I had grand plans. I barely got any of that done due to various urgent situations that cropped up. I wound up being at home alone for less than six hours! For one thing, I was called out of the house at 9pm to go get my older son who was suddenly sick with a fever and multiple other symptoms. Oh well.

The ConnJam was great though according to my two children and husband.

I am happy to volunteer for Scouts (both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts) but am not what I'd consider an uber-Scout mom. As one example, I had no part in the fantastic 2009 ConnJam. I am not SuperMom, and I'm happy that way.

Oh and yes participaton in this event goes on the list of proof that my always-homeschooled boys are not isolated from other kids and that they do not lack social skills.

Photo taken 5/16/09 by my husband with his Blackberry.

Grieving Week

My posts will probably be scant this week as it is another grieving week.

This upcoming weekend is not filled with fun Memorial Day celebrations. Instead my family will be burying the ashes of my maternal grandmother, who was like a mother to me. She passed away in December but in northern Maine due to the ground being frozen all burials must wait until May.

This is an odd grieving process for two reasons. The first is that my grandmother gave strict orders that she was not to have a wake or a funeral nor was anyone to gather immediately after her death for anything related to her passing. So we each grieved in our private ways all disconnected from each other back last December. (For the record that was a terrible for me as I now see the comfort that relatives can give each other simply by being in their presence rather than being left alone. Also taking time away from one's usual routines and appointments with the reason of "a death in the family" helps a person recover rather than keeping up with all the regular appointments and regular daily routines of our personal lives.)

Normally one's grieving process would probably start off raw and over time would diminish. But in this case five months after her passing we will all gather to bury her ashes. I thought I was doing okay with mourning her passing until about a week ago when I had a terrible nightmare that she was still alive and was angry that everyone had ignored her for the past five months, she wasn't dead like we were told. Then the other night I had another bad dream but thankfully forgot most of it.

Also I've been doing some decluttering and reorganizing and have found no less than four things that directly triggered memories of my grandmother and our relationship.

And last week a big thing happened, something with my kids and especially my younger son. I picked up the phone to call her to tell her about it before I remembered she was gone. It was exactly the kind of situation that she would have understood. She would have known my predicament and exactly the emotions that my son was feeling at the time. I had no one else in my family and no friends who would get it or would have wanted to hear the story. Perhaps one of the hardest things about her passing is that I had a special relationship with her and no one else in my life is there to take her place. Others don't get things the way she did. Others don't want to hear the stories she loved to hear.

I have a busy week of appointments this week and I'm trying to do the normal homeschooling too. I also have to pack and then will be traveling five hundred miles by car each way and will be without Internet access in that time. Between the emotions and the busyness my blogging may be different or less frequent than normal.

I'm just not in the mood to write long posts or to polish the deeper posts I have in draft.

After I get back I'll be deluged with a backlog of emails and the dust and stuff that still accumulates in our absence.

I pray that no big problems with extended relatives happen this weekend to cause negative emotions that I then would still be processing next week. Please, I don't need any drama or any more emotional baggage to carry...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jack in the Pulpit Surprise

I was surprised to find a Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing in my new lawn. In just two days this plant went from below ground to above ground and blooming. Amazing.

Well to be fair we are in the process of reclaiming this land from the forest, it didn't just appear in the long-established lawn. The grass seed was sowed and the new grass is coming up. But that doesn't mean that there is not active life underground. Apparently one thing alive and well are some Jack-in-the-Pulpit roots.

This is a favorite wildflower of my mother's. She claims is does not transplant well thereby making efforts at digging up these plants in the wild and trying to grow them in a cultivated garden futile.

Today I learned for the first time, thanks to Google and then Wikipedia, that they are poisonous.

Photo taken by ChristineMM in my yard in Fairfield County, Connecticut on 5/09/09.

Make Work Project?

Today my doorbell rang.

I answered it.

A man at the door identified himself as working for the U.S. Census Bureau. He said he was driving around and when he saw a house he would write down the address. He was to ring the doorbell and see if anyone indeed lived in the house and the person has to say what the address of the house is. I guess that is as an oral verfication of what he saw on the mailbox for the house number and the street name as seen on the street sign.

I asked if he was going to ask me questions about who lived there and so forth.

He said no. That all his job was, was to see a house and write down the address and say the address exists, and to knock on the door and see if he could get a verification from the homeowner that the house is that address to verify it does exist.

He said later, I'd receive the 2010 census questionairre.

He handed me a paper with information to encourage me to fill out the forms when the arrive, and said goodbye.

The whole thing seemed like a waste of time to me. There must be some logic to this. Or perhaps this is a make work project with federal tax dollars to help stimulate the economy? Is President Obama behind this? I have never had anyone do this to the homes I've lived in before.

One issue is that he was working in the daytime on a weekday when many people in my town are away from home, working at their jobs. I wonder what he is to do if he knocks on a door and no one answers? What happens if he sees a house but no one is home, does that address exist or not?

Why in the world would he have to get an oral verification of the address anyway?

The whole thing seemed odd to me.

I wonder if this is being done all across America? If so I wonder what it costs to pay these employees?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Deer Tick vs. Dog Tick Photos

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At the same moment these two ticks were found on my eleven year old son.

I recalled this tick identification card I received at a lecture about Lyme Disease and decided to check it and take a photo.

After looking at a bunch of ticks it is becoming easier to identify them. The dog tick does not have a red body, it almost has a pattern of two tones of brown. The deer ticks clearly have a redder outer body part.

I brought these bugs to the public health office to get officially identified and tested by the State of Connecticut as part of a study to try to determine what percentage of deer ticks are infected with the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 5/07/09.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Realization About Seeing the Big Picture

Today while I was alone in the car and thinking, something dawned on me.

I was thinking about my desire to raise children who can see the big picture. I want their home education to be thorough, spanning content areas and going deep. However I realize this is just not possible as the knowledge is so vast and there is only so much time. A child's primary school education can only cover so much. The reality is that we learn throughout our lives. I hope I teach my children that they are not know it all's for the main reason that no one person can know it all. If they can learn to be humble and to realize that they may know some things but there is always more to learn and to take that realization and to be curious to get the answer then seek the answer through self-education then I feel I will have done my job.

What hit me though was that my experience working in the health care field taught me to see the big picture of health care. I don't know everything there is to know about all the issues regarding health care access, delivery, health insurance and government involvement but I know a lot more than a typical layperson. I have experienced and witnessed things that go on every day in America with health care that only those who work in the field can know. This is due in part from working for doctors in private practice, working with billing patients, with HMOs, with Medicare and Medicaid and with workers comp insurance. I then worked for an HMO and viewed the health care system from that perspective. And of course I have the perspective of being a patient as well as being a mother to children who receive medical services and I've also helped my mother and grandmother seek medical care. Seeing the challenges regarding the elderly and managment of their health care is another important angle for people to know before they spout opinions on health care access or health care reform.

I realized today in the car that my one 'big picture' understanding has helped me develop the ability to try to see the big picture of other things, things like medical research and state and federal government. It has helped me try to see the issues regarding the stock market and corporate business. It has helped me view the changing agriculture business and the transformation from small family run businesses to the big box store shopping experience. While I don't know all the answers to the various complex businesses I know enough to know that things are more complex than what we may hear on the news or even what those in the industries discuss with laypeople.

My point is that if all people could see and experience ONE big picture thing in their lives that can help them with all areas of their life. A person need not learn everything there is to know about all fields in order to get a gist of the big picture issues in our lives.

(And I do realize that a number of people go through life living and working and can never see things through the 'big picture' lens.)

Now that I have grasped that I am going to give myself some slack about worrying that my home educated students may have a gap in this topic or that subject. I'm not saying I'm only going to teach them about one niche topic that I think they will wind up working in for a job as adults or the one thing that is their passion of the moment in a desire to have all interest-led learning experiences. I am just saying that getting the gist for 'the big picture' teaches us to ask questions and to think "there is more to this picture than meets the eye" and "this topic is complex and I should be wary of making snap judgements on over-simplified illustrations of this issue".

Our country is changing. The world is changing. Change is happening rapidly. How can we educate children for a future that may be very different than our present and our past? One way is to try to get them to see things through a 'big picture' lens and to also see things on a micro level as well.

Friday, May 15, 2009


You know this little boy is pondering something.

This was too cute to not photograph.

Photo taken by ChristineMM at Squantz Pond State Park in New Fairfield, Connecticut during the Connecticut Great Park Pursuit, No Child Left Inside program, on 5/09/09.

Apple Tree in Blossom

Spring is definately here!

Photo taken by ChristineMM in New Fairfield, Connecticut on 5/09/09.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Garden Toad

This little toad found a temporary home in between annual flower potted plants I bought at the nursery which were awaiting transplanting in my driveway.

My younger son spotted this before I did.

Photo taken by ChristineMM in Fairfield County, Connecticut on 5/09/09.

A Parenting Tip for Those Raising Independent Persons

If you are a parent with a goal of raising an independent thinker and a person who acts independently this nugget of wisdom may help you if you haven't figured this out for yourself yet.

No one told me this; it is something I figured out after first doing the wrong thing once, twice and probably three times. Finally I realized the error of my ways and changed my reaction when a child's independent thinking and independent acts go wrong. Each time a new mishap occurs I have to literally take a deep breath and bite my tongue to hold back what wants to come out. I have to purposefully and carefully construct words in my head that are the right reaction to address the situation immediately (as sometimes the issue is urgent). I keep in mind that if I do the wrong thing my actions will not produce the desired result.

After years of trying to raise children to be independent, years of actively parenting yet encouraging each child to grow by learning new skills and using them, years of trying to gently allow for developmentally appropriate responsibilities, when something goes wrong, it is important that we parents react correctly. Wrong reactions can cause a child to fear making mistakes. In the attempt to protect themselves from either their parent's wrath of anger or the emotional defeat felt when a child knows they let down or upset their parent, the child will choose to not act independently or to think for themselves, choosing instead to retreat into a more dependent role and will wait to be told what to do and how to do it. The child can learn to not trust themselves, to not trust that their memory is correct about what they think is the right thing to do, or to not trust that they are capable enough to handle even the simplest task.

What I am talking about are the problems and even the small disasters that can and do happen when parents encourage independent thinking and actions, and when the child makes a mistake due to forgetting a step, or trying to be so independent they don't seek our counsel to double-check if the new thing should also be done the way that other thing is done. It can also happen when a child forgets a step in a process and something goes wrong.

I have found myself angry that my child did something wrong that made something worse or damaged something in their attempt to do something correctly or to fix a problem, but then realized that all they were doing what I wanted them to do, see a problem and fix it, or cause something bad to happen and try to fix it themselves. In those moments my first thought is, "If the child only came to me to tell me what happened I'd have told them the right thing to do". Then I have to remind myself that I don't want my children checking with me on every little decision as I'm trying to raise independent children.

Here are two examples.

Upon giving my children some art markers for Christmas, I saw that these new markers bled through some of our papers so when they use them to please use their drawing boards underneath or scrap paper or anything to protect the table (or whatever surface they were leaning on). The ink is permanent. The second time my eleven year old used the markers he forgot and the ink bled through onto the wooden kitchen table. I have taught my kids to clean their own messes. My children are not punished for accidents.

My son came to me to tell me that it happened and that he used the dish sponge to clean the table. He admitted that it was hard to get off so he used the abrasive side and that did the trick. He showed me the table. The finish on the wood was removed in the process. I bit my tongue. My temper was starting to flare. He permanently damaged the table, well, at least until and if we ever have the table stripped and refinished. I knew this would make my husband go berserk as the one biggest he has an issue with is children damaging furniture or the house itself; he is pretty lenient about every other common child 'mess'.

What I did was show my son the damage the sponge did and told him that I have some special cleaning products that I seldom use but could use (not him) that might have removed the ink without scrubbing the finish off of the wood. I didn't show anger or disappointment in him. I said something to indicate that if simple cleaning measures didn't work he could come to me and ask if I knew of a special cleaning technique that might work.

This month we attended a New York Yankees game, the first time for my children to see a live game. The game ended on a high note with the Yankees coming back from losing for just about the whole game to win in the 9th inning. My kids were so excited and filled with team spirit they begged for a certain Yankees shirt. My husband agreed before seeing the price tag. We gasped when we found out the shirt to fit my older son was $80. We splurged as for years our budget has been super-tight due to employment issues and still today the money pot is not overflowing. My son was so happy about the new shirt that he wore it immediately for the ride home. He wanted to wear it to bed too.

The next day he wore the shirt and apparently spilled spaghetti sauce all down the front. This was a meal he made almost all by himself (I oversaw the turning on and off of the propane range and straining the pasta from the boiling water). I didn’t notice when he spilled the food as I was working at the kitchen counter as he ate and he stealthily ran to change his shirt without saying a word. Because I have my boys doing the laundry, he threw the shirt in the laundry and washed a load immediately, and dried it.

Only afterward did he come to me to show me the two giant stains on the white shirt. I wanted to rant and rave. Thoughts went through my mind, things like my mother said to me that I almost said out loud, things like, “I know we shouldn’t have spent $80 on one shirt, that is a ridiculous price to pay and now you ruined it the first day you wore it. If you were more careful with your food and pulled your chair up close to the table as you should have this may not have spilled all down your shirt”, so forth and so on.

You see I was worrired because the fabric cannot be bleached, so that one simple solution for white fabrics was not an option. Getting the stain out would pose a challenge and I knew I may not succeed at the daunting task. I know that putting a stain through a dryer sometimes sets the stain permanently. I know the stain could have come out if hand washed immediately with soap and cold water and if that didn't fix it, various chemical stain remover pre-wash products we own would have worked. And if it didn't work after one washing, I'd not have dried it but treated it with another product and re-washed it.

I realized that I'd never had a big discussion with my kids about cleaning stains such as simply telling them if a spill occurs to come to me and we'll find the best way to try to prevent it from permanently setting into the fabric. I know I've discussed it and they've watched me deal with a new spill the other times that I've witnessed something happen. In this case I don't know if my son forgot that information or feared showing me the spill (even though I never punish him for spilling food).

What I did was explain to my son the fact that spilled food on fabric needs immediate special treatment that is easy and fast to do and can get the stain out right away. I told him different foods have to be treated in different ways and also different fabrics and different colored fabrics have different treatments that can be used. I asked him to please come to me with any new spill that could stain a fabric and that I'd figure out the best thing to do for that situation and that I'd show him too. I told him that putting stained clothes in a dryer sometimes sets the stain permanently. I then said that I had a few stain treatments we would use to see if we could get it out. He apologized for his error. I was kind and gentle with him. Inside I was pissed but I diffused it by telling myself if I want a child who is learning to think independently and act independently there is a small cost, that along the way some mistakes will be made.

It also helps to remind ourselves at that point that we should be happy our children are actually doing the good things that they did correctly in that process. Not all eleven year old boys I know can cook pasta, heat sauce in a microwave, plate the food themselves, know to wash a piece of clothing immediately, or how to run the washer and clothes dryer. My son does all those things so I should be happy for that and try to focus on all those positives instead of the one mistake caused partially from the fact that I'd not spent a lot of time teaching my kids about pre-wash stain treaments as in the past the few spills that have happened, I've taken the garment from the child and done the work all myself. From now on I will not only tell them what should be done but why and actually have them do the stain treatment (if the cleaning agent is safe for a child to apply).

We will never have perfect children who always do the right thing. We cannot import all our wisdom and knowledge instantly inside of our children's minds. Also, our children are not in the process of becoming little carbon copies of us, some of what we know they will learn too, but they will also do different things and learn things that even we do not know. Learning is a process and along the way mistakes will be made. Many people seem to learn best only after experiencing a mistake, even if they've been told numerous times to do something this way or to not do that thing for some good reason.

If you are like me and want children who are independent thinkers and who try to solve problems all on their own based on what they have been taught and allowed to do, then brace yourself for some negative consequences when mistakes happen along the way. Know and accept that mistakes are inevitable and wrap your mind around the idea that the mistakes may be necessary for optimal learning. Then when a mistake happens, act like the mature and wise adult that you are, take a deep breath, choose your words and actions carefully, and try to cover up or change any negative body language that you may be exhibiting. Save your real thoughts and frustrations to vent to another mother or to your spouse if you need to blow off steam.

And realize that in the large scheme of life the issue is probably so small that it will be forgotten, or if remembered, one day can be looked back upon with a laugh or may even become a story to tell your grandchildren. "See that area on the table with no finish left on it? That was the time when your father was eleven and he tried to clean up a mess he made before I could see it..."

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