Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It Sucked and Then I Cried Book Review by ChristineMM

It Sucked and Then I Cried Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita
Author: Heather B. Armstrong
Publication: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, March 2009

Star Rating: 4 stars out of 5 = I Liked It
Summary Statement: Good Storytelling, Funny, Not Serious or Deep Reflections

This is a memoir capturing the intentional conception of the author’s first child, the pregnancy and the first nine months of mothering. Very important to the author’s story is that she had suffered from clinical depression and was under prescription medication therapy but had to go off the drugs in order to get pregnant and then during the time she breastfed her baby. So a large part of the author’s perspective on pregnancy, childbirth and mothering a baby full-time at home was through the lens of a person suffering from depression. As the subtitle states she eventually says she had a breakdown and did resume prescription medication treatment and therapy for her depression.

I knew the gist of the book and requested a pre-publication review copy because I wanted the perspective of a woman suffering from depression. I thought I’d get more heart sharing and deep thoughts. Again I was not a dooce.com reader. Instead I found this book was more surface talk and complaining about the daily grind of life, and trying to be funny by using hyperbole. This memoir wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. The part that came the closest to what I was hoping for was the part at the end when she spoke about her feelings for her husband and how he was so patient with her when she was suffering from depression. I had hoped for more of that kind of writing in this memoir.

The author, Heather Armstrong has been blogging since 2001 and in my research to understand more about the author, I read that this book is a compilation and retelling of some of the previously blogged stories. Since I was not a dooce.com reader I didn’t yet know any of these stories or much about Armstrong or what her writing style is like. All of my perceptions about the book were from reading the book without having gotten to know Armstrong through her blog dooce.com.

I do feel that Armstrong is a good storyteller. Often in a chapter I’d ask, “How did we get onto this topic?” That is a good thing because she is able to flow from one topic to another without the reader always noticing the change in direction. This reminds me of many conversations I have with my mom friends when the topic shifts and changes to and fro and winds up on topics that we never intended to speak about.

I found the book both sad and funny, alternating between the two. At one end of the pendulum, Armstrong seems to make mountains out of molehills and is quite dramatic in her reaction to everything, which can be funny but other times was a bit over the top and annoying to me. There is use of hyperbole but sometimes it is just whining and complaining type talk. I say this as a woman who has gone through two pregnancies, has gone past her due date, had a horrible birth experience with my first child, and also having suffered through breastfeeding problems in the early days and dealt with feelings of isolation and loneliness as a new stay at home mother who also mourned the loss of her former career. I say this as a mother who pushed out a 9.5 lb baby (with epidural and some bad side effects) then later an 11.5 lb baby (without drugs). I can empathize with all that Armstrong said but feel she’s a tad too dramatic for me to relate to due to overly focusing on the negative and not always seeing the bright side of things (either due to the depression or perhaps this just the way she is, I don’t know.)

At the other end of the pendulum I felt sorry for Armstrong as I am certain that some of her perceptions and anxiety was definitely caused from the depression. My heart goes out to her for having depression and having missed out on some of the best feelings due to the screen that depression puts over a person’s mind that alters their perception of reality or doesn’t let them feel joy.

Perhaps if my own life was more like Armstrong’s, if I could identify more with her, I’d have loved the book more. Maybe then I’d have laughed at everything she said not just some of it. Since I am the mother of two tween-aged kids reading about pregnancy and adjusting to those first days of parenting is no so interesting to me anymore. Having parented young kids while watching some relative suffer with Cancer, having a friend from my stay-at-home mother group with young children die of Cancer, those are just a taste of the bigger things that I’ve dealt with that outweigh complaints of sleep deprivation caused by breastfeeding babies. I can’t get worked up over hemorrhoids from pregnancy now, not even to laugh about it, hemorrhoids are a small issue in the general scheme of life. I wonder how Armstrong will navigate the trickier territory of parenting school aged children, tweens and teenagers. I wonder how she will react to some of the craziness that goes on with parents in America, helicopter parenting, schools issues, bullying and other such matters, the “bigger fish to fry”. For that I may have to start reading her blog on a regular basis.

In thinking about who the perfect audience for this book is, perhaps it would be most appreciated by first time pregnant mothers or new mothers in need of a dose of humor. It could be considered “light summer reading” perhaps, if this is the type of writing that makes you laugh. Pregnant mothers and new mothers may also find humor in the books by Vicki Iovine starting with GIRLFRIEND’S GUIDE TO PREGNANCY which I found really hilarious when I was pregnant as a good antidote to all the serious nonfiction books that scared the pants off of me.

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

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Wild Black Raspberries

These will be delicious in late July when they are ready to eat!

Photo of wild black raspberries taken by ChristineMM in my yard in Fairfield County, Connecticut on 6/12/09.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fairy House

Here is my then 6.5 year old son showing off his fairy house.

Yes he believed in fairies then.

Photo taken in March 2004 by ChristineMM in our woods.

New Reality Show Shows Gossip Girl Lifestyle is Real

Those who dislike the Gossip Girl books, then later, the Gossip Girl TV show (like me) had trouble accepting that they were based on real life. However, a new reality TV show shows that some of the bad stuff in the books and on the TV show is indeed real.

The new show is called "NYC Prep" and it is rated TV-14 and airs on the cable channel Bravo.

In this clip note the part about getting into college and pulling strings that starts at 2:15. Perhaps what these teens don't realize is that even if that happens in real life, perhaps it would be better to be careful about mentioning it on camera! Is not discretion the better part of valor? Perhaps that is proof that until age 24 the brain is not fully formed and the judgement center that juggles the pro's and con's of consequences of one's actions is still developing and often leads to the worse of the two choices. (This is something Dr. Phil keeps talking about to explain why so many teens make bad choices in life, that they can't help it due to the normal state of their undeveloped brains!)

I watched the episode "Top Half of One Percent" and in it there are already discussions of casual sex, with one sixteen year old boy saying he easily hooks up with 2-16 girls a month so long as he goes to enough parties. (See video at 8:15.)

One girl is 16 and lives in the City with her 18 year old brother while her parents live full time in the Hamptons (Long Island). She brags that she can go out late at night since she is free of adult supervision. Her parents visit once a week, she says, and we saw them eating Chinese take out together. Their large for NYC kitchen laden with granite, top appliances and nice cabinetry is never cooked in. What an arrangement that brother and sister have!

The kids drink alcohol, it is stated. In one scene I saw the 18 year old drink water in a restaurant and as he walks off camera toward the bar, he says he is going to have a drink now, then the scene ends. This makes me wonder if Bravo plans to not show the underage drinking on camera? (In one episode of "Real Housewives of Orange County" they showed a girl aged 17 or 18 drinking and getting drunk at a party her parents held in the family's home. That sparked controversy and warnings after the show that the network did not advocate underage drinking.) When we see teens drinking cocktail looking drinks in the restaurant we can't know if there is alcohol in them or not but they talk about drinking so what are we supposed to think?

I note also my surprise that the teens host parties in restaurants! They say house parties are no longer done. In the scene where the 15 year old girl declares to her mother that she is hosting a party at a resataurant, and her mother seems unhappy with the idea, what I was wondering is who paid for that party?

Okay so my own past accusations that this type of lifestyle is not TYPICAL or NORMAL in America is still true. If some or even many or all of the prep school students in New York City aged 15-18 do live like this we need to remind ourselves that this is still not even 99% of American teens. I do wonder what percent it actually is...

The last thing to note is that although these teens are open with admitting what they do, they say their parents have no clue (in the Gossip Girl books it is portrayed that the parents support minors drinking alcohol even by providing them with it and drinking with them in public). I wonder what the parents will think when they watch the show on TV and realize what their child is actually doing?

I wonder if these reality TV show participants think they'll wind up as famous and rich as some of MTV's "The Hills"? Could that be their hope and dream, the fame that may come from it? They already have their parent's money so the money can't be the prime motivator. (Note: "The Hills" started on the first year after high school graduation and the stars were at least 18 if not 19 when it began so they were legal adults.)

I wonder what teens across America will think about this show and this lifestyle? Will this normalize the behavior and lead teens with more boring (normal) lives who are not that rich to think that is how everyone else is living?

The last thing I'll say is that I think Bravo is going out on a limb to dangerous territory showing minors living in this way. It is one thing to show what grown women do in their real lives in the "Real Housewives" series they have but another to have 15-18 year old's discussing casual sex and about how they drink alochol (remember the legal age to drink is 21). I note that the age of consent (to have sex) is 17 in New York state. One could debate what they mean by "hooking up". In a future episode, the teaser showed a discussion where the 18 year old asks the group who is still a virgin, so that is a clear discussion where we might see who has broken the law there.

When ABC aired the reality game-based show "Kid Nation" they were accused of exploiting minors (aged 8-16) and putting them in dangerous situations. I'd ask the same question of Bravo about "NYC Prep" except it is surely easier to see that these teens are already living their lives this way and what they are doing is not being set up by Bravo, it is clear that these teens are doing their thing and the cameras are just capturing it as it happens. I guess the question is, is it ethical for a television show and network to record and show underage minors doing illegal activities or talking about having done them even if it is happening in real life?

What good can come of watching this show?

That's what is on my mind today.

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Red Shouldered Hawk Cry


One of the Red Shouldered Hawks that lives in the woods in our neighborhood was in a tree in my backyard repeatedly calling. I was able to take this short video to catch it clearly. However after four calls my battery died. While changing batteries the hawk flew away. So here you have a very short video!

I hear this sound throughout the day nearly every day. The call is so loud I can hear it even from a distance, even if it is ever so faint.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Free Range Cooking

Here is my younger son at age 3.5 cooking himself scrambled eggs.

At that age I was turning the propane gas range on and off for him. And of course I was there supervising him closely. Actually it is pretty easy to cook eggs and there is little danger, if taught to use a spatula correctly, of burning oneself. We left the dirty pan on the range to cool before washing it.

I have recently begun reading the blog of Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids. She also is on twitter as FreeRangeKids. That is the mother from New York City who let her child (perhaps ten years old?) find his way home alone and got flack for it, and later appeared on Dr. Phil defending herself.

Photo taken January 2004 by ChristineMM.

A Secular Guide to Charlotte Mason Book Review by ChristineMM

Penny Gardner first published her “Charlotte Mason Study Guide” which accurately quoted Charlotte Mason’s writings. The original book by Gardner contained references to Christian living and the Christian perspective since Miss Mason was a Christian and her philosophy is wrapped around her religious worldview. That original book from 1997 was available in paperback format and had an original retail price of $9.95.

For the book’s 10th anniversary, Penny Gardner revised and expanded the original, Christian version of her book. That Christian expanded version published in 2007 is available ONLY in ebook format.

Also in 2007, Gardner new edition of her Study Guide which is a secular guide. This secular version is ONLY available in ebook format. The only confusing thing to me is that the title is the same and on the website the cover art is the same. Gardner is calling it the “Secular Edition Charlotte Mason Study Guide”.

Gardner states on her site, “Many secular home educators are incorporating Charlotte Mason into their home schools. People have asked for a book about Charlotte Mason without as many religious references. Since an e-book is so easy to adapt, I decided to fill the need.”

Gardner sent me free access to her secular ebook so I could read it. Basically it has been scrubbed clean of religious references which will make some homeschooling parents quite happy.

Some Christians who use the Charlotte Mason method and who have read her original writings have stated to me that they feel the philosophy cannot be separated from Miss Mason’s Christian worldview. I really don’t feel qualified to debate that but just felt it should be stated for the record. My only issue is that the eighteenth philosophy of Miss Mason’s that has to do with the child’s spirituality has been eliminated from the secular version. One may ask how can one of the foundational elements of Miss Mason’s philosophy be simply stricken from the record? That is “We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and “spiritual” life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (You may read Charlotte Mason’s original writings online free here, originally from volume 1 (preface of Home Education) page 9).

The secular version of the Charlotte Mason Study Guide definitely does fill a need that I see in the homeschool market. Not ever homeschooling family who likes the ideas of Miss Mason is Christian, that is a fact. By completely removing all references to religion including the 18th principal, even Atheists will be happy.

I purchased Gardner’s original Study Guide in paperback form so I could read it, back when that was the only version available. I later used that book as the basis for a year’s study of Miss Mason’s philosophy with a group of homeschooling mothers. The group was like a book discussion group focused on Charlotte Mason’s influences on home education. It was a perfect book for that use.

What both versions of Gardner’s guide do is pull quotes from the original six volumes of Miss Mason’s writings into topic areas. It is convenient to have quotes from the various books under one heading. If the reader wants to go read more in the original book, one would just follow Gardner’s note telling the volume number and page number that the quote was sourced from.

Thus Gardner’s guides (both versions) do not contain a lot of original writing from Gardner. They are collections of quotes from Miss Mason’s original writings arranged in an organized and thoughtful manner. Most of Gardner’s original thoughts are on the chapters focusing on Mason’s philosophies, with Gardner trying to distill and summarize complicated ideas into a page or two. You can see the Table of Contents online to get a sense for the topics covered.

People who do not want to read another book written by a modern writer who expresses Miss Mason’s philosophies with their own interpretation but instead want to get more in touch with Miss Mason’s direct words will like this book. The reader who will most especially like these guides is the reader who finds a straight reading of all six volumes too cumbersome, time-consuming or undesirable for any other reason. It is handy and easy to use this short guidebook to get a sense of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. If this guide book as a read-through leaves you wanting, then the next step is to tackle reading all the original writings of Charlotte Mason!

Another good thing is the e-book is currently priced at the low bargain price of $5, so this won’t break your wallet.

Titles and Availability

Secular Edition of the Charlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner (2007), e-book only (revised and expanded edition without Christian references)

Charlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner, 1997, original version (Christian content), available in paperback format (out of print)

Charlotte Mason Study Guide 10th Anniversary Edition revised and expanded by Penny Gardner, 2007 (Christian content), revised and expanded edition available in e-book only

Note: a confusing thing: the cover art is the same on the website for the expanded edition as the 1997 edition. The bottom line is that at present the revised and expanded edition is ONLY available in ebook format from Gardner's own website. If you find a paperback copy of this book it is the 1997 edition, Christian content, not expanded and revised edition.

Disclosure: I received free access to this $5 e-book in order to review the book. I do not receive any money from sales of this book or from mentioning this product on my blog.

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Vietnamese Shrimp Pops with Peanut Sauce

I have no idea why pork is not mentioned in the title. These are small pork burgers with shrimp in them, grilled on a skewer hence the recipe creator called them pops.

My husband found this recipe online here: Vietnamese Shrimp Pops with Peanut Sauce.

The sauce tasted to me like the sauce on Cold Sesame Noodles from the Chinese take-out restaurant.

My husband and I agreed the recipe is a keeper. These are delicious and a nice change to regular old hamburgers or turkey burgers on the grill. Next time we intend to make them larger but to be careful to cook well-done throughout (for health safety reasons) and we'll leave them off the stick.

The recipe appears in Weber Grill's newest grilling cookbook: Weber's Way to Grill by Jamie Purviance which I'll be buying as a belated Father's Day gift for my husband, the Weber charcoal grill lover. (Hey the marketing idea worked, putting a free recipe online made my husband find it which led to me realizing a new cookbook was published and led to me buying it!)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Thought on YA Novels and Movies

After reading a few brand new young adult novels (target age range 12-16) I remarked to my library's Director that the YA books read like movies. They seem to have straightforward plots that would translate almost immediately, and easily, into screen plays. The characters of the books are not deep or complex, they again seem like movie characters. For example the character's backstory is such that sometimes when traumatic things happen to them in the book's story, we don't even care. That to me, is not good writing. Readers should be affected by emotion when bad things (or good things) happen to the book's characters.

I remarked that unlike so many very good children's books whose movie adaptation leaves us feeling empty and unfulfilled, due to the movie being unable to convey the depth of the characters and often overly focusing on the action in the story, these YA books seem almost like they were written with the intention (or hopes) of someday being sold for movie rights.

The Library Director said that it should not surprise me that the YA books being published today read like movies. She reminded me that the teenagers today were raised with heavy doses of television, movie and screen based entertainment. She said they like the YA books, the young adults think these books are great, even when I think they are "mediocre" or 'shallow'. She said they like their books to read like movies. She said my standard for 'a good book' is different than today's young adults. What I want out of a book, a children's book or a YA book is different than what those young readers want from it, she said.

I guess what she was also trying to say was that my generation, and hers, were raised in a different time when books were different and when screen-based media was almost non-existant or was barely available (such as the four television channels I got on our black and white TV and mainly seeing movies in movie theatres).

I've been trying to wrap my mind around this for a few months since she said this to me. I am not saying that pleasure reading should be heavy or like "War and Peace".

I still have an issue with books written for teenagers whose writing is on a fourth for fifth grade level with simple sentence construction and dumbed down word choices. I still have an issue with very serious issues in YA books being treated too casually so as to not illicit a strong emotional response as they should. I take issue with big problems being tossed about in a book so that the reader is dulled to it and thinks it is nothing to have a problem with. For example, a book character's death, struggles with bulemia, having been a victim of child sex abuse, and not having proper emotional reactions to problems in their lives (divorce, abuse, etc.). I feel that if an author is to tackle a serious issue in a book, especially for some purpose, that they have a responsibility to write well so as to have the intended outcome. For example if the story focuses on bulemia to bring awareness to it and to try to prevent some teens from starting or continuing with an eating disorder the reader should actually feel that way about it not just read it and say "whatever".

Today I read an article about a YA book that is in the process of being written and whose rights to the movie have already been sold. In fact, before the first book has even been published (or its likability tested), a whole series has been planned for (six books).

I truly do wonder if some of the YA book authors intentionally craft their stories for easy adaptation into movies, hoping indeed it will become a movie which I believe has potential for higher profits, especially if the movie is a hit. Then if the movie is a hit, more books will be sold, tie-in merchandise may be a source of income also. Lately, certain action movies also have video games released on multiple gaming platforms. With the way the video game industry is growing and its high profits made the video game can be a major source of revenue as far as "tie-in" merchandise goes!

If the first book and movie do well (or primarily the movie and secondarily the book), then possibly sequels to the book will be made, ensuring more book profits and possibly a movie sequel too.

What do you think of these ideas?

Article title: James Frey Collaborating on a Novel for Young Adults, First in a Series
by: Motoko Rich
Date: 6/26/09
Published in: New York Times Books

Hat Tip: I found this story on Twitter from NY Times Books.

Haiku for Wildflower with Photo

Haiku for Wildflower

A tiny blossom
Wetted with recent raindrops

Haiku by ChristineMM.
Photo taken by ChristineMM on 6/11/09 in New Fairfield, Connecticut.

(double click on photo to enlarge)

Friday, June 26, 2009

For Those Who Miss the Rain


Here's a short video taken at the view out of my bedroom window during the daytime on June 9, 2009. Seen blooming is the climbing hydrangea vine growing up a white oak tree and also some branches of a wild dogwood are seen.

The sound of the rain on the tree's leaves is quite loud here, unbelievably loud sometimes.

I'm a country girl at heart, not a city girl, so I like these sounds.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 182 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Summer Transition Edition week 182 was published this week at Our Curious Home.

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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Now vs. Then (Books and Reading)

Quote from an intereview with writer Lary Bloom in the spring 2009 edition of Readings, a publication of The Connecticut Center for the Book:

Q. "From a creative standpoint, how is the world in which we write now fundamentally different from that of Mark Twain, Harriet Stowe, and all these historical Connecticut writers?"

A. "We're dealing here with a collective loss of attention span. The best seller list and the book stores are less reliant on old-fashioned narrative and more on literary gimmickry: wisdom, briefly revealed, between the covers, as in teh indefensible Tuesdays with Morrie. This may change. As society confronts deep issues there can be a hunger span again to learn more through reading. On the other hand, the author's life remains a hard one. Yes, books still get published, but as a business, it's one that has no guarantees."

(emphasis mine)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Son's Comment on Septimus Heap Series

Today my eleven year old said, "Mom did you order Queste yet? Remember it was coming out in paperback on June 23rd!"

I responded that I'd forgotten.

I then ordered the book from Amazon. After that, Amazon let me know that a fifth book in the series was coming out in September 2009. Silly me, I thought it was done with the fourth book.

I called to my son, "A fifth book is coming out!"

Son: "What is it called?"

Me: "Syren."

Son: "How does she spell it?

Me: "S-Y-R-E-N."

Son: (Laughs) "Yeah, she's big with the Y's!"

I cracked up.

He asked if I'd pre-order it now. He walked over to my computer, where I was sitting.

Then he spotted on Amazon's page that there is a companion guide book by Angie Sage "Septimus Heap: The Magykal Papers" and asked me to buy that.

I'm happy to keep the kid knee deep in books!

New Train and Boy Juvenile Fiction Book

Fran Cannon Slayton has published a new juvenile fiction book set in the 1940s in West Virginia, with a boy main character aged 12-18 called "When the Whistle Blows".

Slayton contacted me through my blog to ask if I wanted a review copy of this book. Since my older son (now 11.5 years old) loves trains (more when he was younger than now) I requested it.

When the uncorrected proof arrived my son grabbed it and read the back. He said, "This is the best idea for a story I've heard in a long time." I loved that. He is a lover of fantasy genre, especially anything with a dragon in it. He has a harder time finding realistic fiction or historical fiction that he likes. When he made that comment he specifically meant a realistic fiction type story that interests him.

My son gobbled the book up, and stayed up late last night to finish it. He loved the book. Today when I asked him about it again he said, "It was a great book. The ending was sad though."

I plan to start reading this book in the next couple of days. I want to put all my efforts to finishing a memoir (adult) book first. I plan to review the book after I read it.

I figured I'd mention the book now in case anyone reading this is looking for books for boys aged 9-12 that has a train in it, it is not a common theme for boys THIS age (past the picture book age).

Note a teacher's guide to the book is coming soon (see here).

Disclosure: I received an uncorrected galley edition of this book from the author.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Wish Our Government Would Think, Analyze, Learn, Then Act

Two things are bothering me about our current administration.

First, there is too much rushing in to try to pass fast bills to 'fix something'. Not enough time is being given to make a good plan, evaluate the plan, and figure out if the plan is a good one. It seems more important to jus do SOMETHING that sounds good on the surface rather than take the necessary time to make wise decisions.

Second, it seems people are unwilling to learn from history.

Regarding the idea of health care reform and creating a new government run health insurance for non-Medicare and non-Medicaid Americans, one should first remind oneself that the federal government has overspent and made a mess of both Medicare and Medicaid. And to boot Medicare and Medicaid patients and their health care providers are unhappy with multiple things about the plan. What makes anyone think the federal government is able to create and run a third, new plan? Why suddenly is everyone pretending Medicare and Medicaid are financially fine and well, for one thing?

Regarding Cap and Trade, I read this today in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal "Cap and Trade Doeesn't Work" about how their equivalent program is working in Europe since it began in 2005:

"Advocates of the system like it because "the polluter pays." Setting aside for the moment the question of whether it is justifiable to call carbon dioxide a pollutant, companies of course do not simply absorb these extra costs. Instead, they pass them on to their customers who are also, by and large, taxpayers. Not only does the taxpayer carry the cost of any cap and trade scheme, but their money also provides profit for a whole new industry: the new carbon trading sector, the middlemen who make the system work.

Unlike normal tradable commodities, carbon dioxide emissions can only be estimated, rather than quantified exactly. And it is only international agreements and national law that give these permits a price at all. The result is a system open to misuse, since all parties -- seller, middleman and buyer -- have an incentive and opportunity to manipulate the estimates. Sellers want to show how much they are reducing their emissions, buyers benefit from lower prices as more units come to market, and traders do good business in a buoyant market."
(emphasis mine)

Before America creates a new Cap and Trade plan it would be wise to really look at what happened an is happening in Europe. Learn from their mistakes. Then either make a new plan that will not have the same problems or else scrap the plan entirely if it is deemed a sham.

I'm not confident that neither our administration nor Congress is evaluating this thoroughly.

With government especially, it is harder to undo a new government program or fix problems a government program causes than it is to plan wisely, evaluate thoroughly, and make a wiser decision before the new plan is approved by Congress.

Once people start making profits from Cap and Trade it will be hard to change or terminate the program.

Taxpayer citizens, get ready to pay more for your electricity and other things to absorb the cost of doing business as it rises due to a new Cap and Trade program (if it passes, which I bet it will).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can the World Afford Autistic Spectrum Disorder Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Can the World Afford Autistic Spectrum Disorder?: Nonverbal Communication, Asperger Syndrome and the Interbrain
Author: Digby Tantum PhD

When I accepted a pre-publication review copy of “Can the World Afford Autistic Spectrum Disorder:Nonverbal Communication, Asperger Syndrome and the Interbrain
” by Digby Tantum PhD, not much information was available about it. Tantum is a scientist who has conducted studies about Autism and he founded a clinic for adults with Asperger’s. He lives in the United Kingdom.

In the Introduction it was explained that the book indeed is not about the title. What the book is about is the subtitle. The main focus is discussing the issues with nonverbal communication, its role in neurotypicals as well as what happens when people have problems with nonverbal communication.

Once I began reading this book, I realized this was written by a scientist with scientists as the reading audience. It is not, in my opinion, a book for laypeople parents of children with Autism. This is a more serious book that uses scientific terms and brain science terms left and right. For example the author tosses out the name of a study and the reader is supposed to already know all about what that study showed and its relevance to the discussion. Other times brain science is discussed in casual ways that made no sense to me, a layperson. I feel this is a book for academics, scientists and doctors who know much about neurobiology and Autism.

Tantum states he reviewed many studies that were published in the six months preceding the book’s publication and that the information was incorporated into this book. I skimmed through the notes and see that many studies from the 2000s are here including a lot from 2007 and 2008, so this book takes very recent studies into the author’s consideration when discussing his views and theories regarding nonverbal communication and its role in the lives of people on the Autism Spectrum. He also said he felt there was no sign of the research on the functioning of the brain from stopping any time soon, so as new information about neurobiology is known, more ideas and theories will appear.

I decided to push through the book rather than give up, as I was interested in learning more about nonverbal communication’s issues as related to Autism and Asperger’s. With effort and slow reading I believe I was able to grasp Dr. Tantum’s theories. I am glad I read it. I learned a lot.

Note: I'm rating this 5 stars = I love it as I feel the author did a good job expressing his theories and the challenges and issues with nonverbal communication. However note my opinion on who I feel the target reading audience is. If this book was stated to be written for laypeople and the author spoke too high over their level I'd rate it lower than 5 stars for bad writing since he 'talks over their heads'. I feel this is a niche topic book written for a niche audience and it seems to me the writing style and content would be a good fit therefore this is 'good writing' based on good research analysis and clear communication of his "Interbrain" analogy.

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Book to Learn About the Stock Market for Kids and Adults

Today I’m sharing a book recommendation from my husband who has a Wall Street related career including working as a securities analysis and doing portfolio management. He recently finished reading a book called “The Little Book That Beats the Market” by Joel Greenblatt.

Greenblatt, founder and managing partner of a Gotham Capital, wrote the book to explain the stock market and investing to his eleven year old son. The publisher targeted the book to ADULTS despite the fact that it was written for a CHILD. The book jacket states it can be read in about two hours. It is under 150 pages, with a small sized page and plenty of white space on each page. My husband feels that the book can be equally understood by an adult and an (interested) preteen or teen.

My husband said the book summarizes what it took years for him to learn through job experience (and he wished someone had told him all this before he started working on Wall Street). He said Greenblatt did a great job of telling just the right amount of information to get the point across using simple and effective explanations. The book wastes none of the reader’s time, it cuts to the chase.

So if you are an adult who wants to learn more about the stock market and you have two hours to spare, read this book. For parents, including homeschooling parents, know that this book can be read by or aloud to your child of about age eleven if they desire to learn more about the stock market. The fact that the author is a person passionate about this field qualifies this to be what Charlotte Mason calls a “living book”.

There are a few other titles in the “little books” series (written by different authors, each a specialist in that field). My husband read the value investing book first and said it is a very good book to read after the basics are known through your life experience or by a layperson after reading “Beats the Market”. My husband has not read the other titles yet and can’t comment.

The Little Book of Value Investing by Christopher Browne

I plan to read this book and to have my homeschooled eleven year old son read it too. I may choose to do it as a read-aloud so my reading can get done that way too. Also we’ll have discussions with my husband.

This will also be a good introduction for children participating in the competition “Connecticut Stock Market Simulation” which schools and homeschools can participate with. Check in your state to see if a similar program exists. Connecticut runs the competition in the fall and spring.

We have not yet read “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” by John Bogle or “The Little Book That Makes You Rich” by Louis Navellier and Steve Forbes.

Disclosure: We obtained this book for our family’s personal use by swapping it with another reader through PaperBackSwap.
PaperBackSwap.com - Book Club to Swap, Trade & Exchange Books for Free.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Thoughts on John Taylor Gatto’s Latest Lecture

John Taylor Gatto’s latest book is “Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling”, published in October 2008. I purchased the book but have not read it yet.

I was surprised and happy to see that on the weekend of June 20th, CSPAN’s BookTV showed a book tour lecture, originally taped on 3/07/09 at the Liberty Forum in New Hampshire. The lecture was two hours long. (Watch video here on the BookTV site.)

If you are not aware of who John Taylor Gatto is, he taught in New York City public schools for thirty years. He had charge of kids who were the ‘problem kids’ that were deemed unteachable and unreachable. Often breaking school rules, Gatto let his students do ‘alternative’ learning experiences in the real world, interacting with real adults in the community, designing their own independent learning projects and sometimes starting their own businesses. Year after year his students had meaningful learning experiences and some found material wealth success with their ventures despite being labeled as failing at traditional school work.

Gatto won Teacher of the Year and some other awards for his teaching efforts although not all were happy with his alternative learning experience methods. He finally quit the teaching business. He became more known to non-teachers when he published a book called “Dumbing Us Down”.

In the past some of his lectures have focused on what his students did while “in” his class. This lecture dated 3/07/09 uses the term “open source learning” quite often, referring to adolescents learning from the real world in nontraditional ways that cannot be replicated inside of school classrooms. He speaks of some of his students and their projects. He speaks more of kids (not his students) who are successful in business today that were high school dropouts whose path to success began when they dropped out of school. A point is made that perhaps dropping out of high school is not so bad after all, if the person goes on to do things they want that school had constricted them from doing.

Also in the talk is a lot about college as unnecessary. More stories are told of successful adults who didn’t go to college. A study is cited that students entering college knew more than those graduating from college, these are good colleges and some top Ivy League colleges.

There is discussion that compulsory schooling forces people into a prolonged state of adolescence. There is some talk of pioneer America and how in the early teen years people were often already on the path to being self-sufficient. Others schooled themselves instead of attending regular school and went on to be our nation’s Founding Fathers. Gatto asks if we should not look down upon today’s high school dropout’s in pity but as them being free to begin real work in the real world.

Some of this is pretty radical given that most seeking certain kinds of professional employment rather than being a self-made entrepreneur will have to have a college degree to fulfill professional degree requirements or get through corporate screening processes. It is true if one is to be self-employed why bother?

This talk is one of the most radical of all that I’ve heard Gatto say as he basically puts down high school attendance and seems to encourage all to give up college attendance as a waste of time and money.

I enjoyed the talk very much. When living an alternative lifestyle such as homeschooling, there is nothing like listening to something more radical than what I'm doing to make me feel more mainstream!

An audience member said in Vermont a new law says that high school students cannot drop out until age 18. That type of government regulation is a bit scary. The family could homeschool though, so that is an option.

Since I am a homeschooling parent I hope my kids can have opportunities to do various things like start a business in their preteen or teen years if they so desire. They are already living more free lives being disconnected from the compulsory schooling system. Should my children choose a career path that requires college attendance I want them to be ready to meet college admission prerequisites. I am not making the decision as to whether my kids go to college or not, I want them more in charge of the decision, so I’m not taking Gatto’s opinion on and forcing it onto my kids. I think that Gatto would agree that a pivotal component in a homeschooled child’s life experience is to do projects and work they want to do rather than being coerced by a parent to do or not do something.

My eleven year old watched the end of the lecture with me and I was surprised at the questions he was asking such as my philosophy of compulsory schooling in Vermont and not letting kids drop out until age 18 (it is 16 in Connecticut the last I knew). We also discussed personal freedom and liberty and how the freedom to homeschool is appreciated by him and me!

If you haven’t seen the lecture, you can watch it on BookTV for free. Pull up a comfy chair and take a listen. (Watch video here on the BookTV site.)

I Spy
When the audience begins to stand, I spotted Attorney Deborah Stevenson of NHELD (in glasses) and Judy Aron of Consent of the Governed blog (in purple shirt).


John Taylor Gatto’s website

Dumbing Us Down (the most popular book it seems to me)

A Different Kind of Teacher (my favorite of his books)

Underground History of American Education (a giant tome I didn’t finish reading)

Weapons of Mass Instruction (the latest book)

Disclosure: All of the John Taylor Gatto books I own I purchased with my own money.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Just Hope This Isn't All Weighing On Her Too Much

After all, she is just six years old.

I hope it's more of a money making, capitalist venture thing. But just having all those talking points covered makes me ponder what schools and/or parents are teaching kids.

I found this when the parents contacted me directly via Twitter to link me to the video.

Settlers of Catan Board Game Review by ChristineMM

Settlers of Catan Board Game Review

Settlers of Catan is a board game created in Germany by Klaus Teuber. It is about ten years old and has won many awards.

The manufacturer states the game is for ages 10 and up. Honestly if your child is bright or has an interest and patience for board games and has decent thinking skills they can play it at younger ages, perhaps as young as age six. Four or five may be pushing it but you know your kids best! The majority of the game does not involve reading. In this base game, only rarely used specialty cards need reading and there are graphics on each card so bright young non-readers may be able to remember the meaning of the card from memory linked to the visual. Otherwise, a parent can help the child with the less-used specialty cards and keep confidentiality.

Before I explain the game basics, I need to explain that Settlers of Catan is the base game. You can play Settlers of Catan by itself. Later once this is mastered and if you like it, if you want the game to become more complex you can choose to buy an add-on component game (an "expansion" game) such as Cities & Knights (barbarians attacking cities and knights fighting or protecting) or Seafarers of Catan (ships) or Barbarians & Traders. When you have an expansion set, you then combine pieces from the add-on set to make the base game larger. Then all the rules expand to be more complex. You can add on one game (Cities & Knights) or two games (Seafarers) or all the games at once (four games total). As you can imagine if you use all the games at once the game is quite complex with many layers of action taking place.

Also the base game is a four player game. You can buy an add-on set to boost the player numbers to six.

Note you must own the base game, Settlers of Catan, to play the game. You cannot start with one of the add-on games and use that as a base game (i.e. Seafarers).

The gist of the game is that people are going to settle in an unpopulated land. The land you occupy has natural resources (ore to mine, wood to harvest for paper) or farming capabilities (growing grain) that give you resources you can use to build wealth, expand your settlement and become more powerful. The person to gain a certain amount of points wins the game. (To learn more about game play see the link at the end of this post to view a free online tutorial.)

One interesting thing is that each time a new game is set up the board is reconstructed in a random manner so the game is never the same twice (such as the prime spots you'd want to occupy are always different).

The cool thing about the game is that with each person's turn, every player is involved. There is no sitting idle while one player takes their turn and does their thing. There is a lot of action such as proposed trades being made, upgrades, and some switching around of game components that can help one player and suddenly hinder another. Due to the fast pace and interaction with other players, sometimes best laid plans to take action on your next turn are ruined. This helps keep players on their toes and constantly thinking about the next best move to make, making fast changes, adapting to those changes and learning good sportsmanship in the process.

The more the games goes on, the more complicated the game gets. So instead of getting bored half way through or close to the end, the pace picks up and it becomes more complicated and requires more thinking skills. The game is therefore exciting right up to the end.

My kids learned this game in no time (ages 9 and 11.5). It is so logical and clear that they were able to teach me and my husband to play. It is the type of game that you completely understand after playing one game, it's not a horribly complicated game that leaves you feeling stupid at trying to understand the directions.

The game is addicting because once you learn from some mistakes you want to play again to see if some new strategies will work better, or perhaps really much of it is controlled by the other player's actions or the unique layout of the board, I'm not sure.

The game can take 90-120 minutes to play depending on how it goes.

This is "good clean fun". Kids, teens and adults like this game.

I know three adults who would absolutely love this game, they are all people who normally don't play board games. I know the action, the pace, and the thinking skills involved as well as the bartering and entrepreneurial type skills are things those people enjoy.

My boys feel the base game alone is too boring once they were playing with the Cities & Knights expansion pack. My boys recommend that a family start off with the base game and one add on, either Seafarers or Cities & Knights, whichever you choose. Then they suggest buying the other one you didn't get, and lastly, Barbarians & Traders. They feel that owning them all is optimal!

I myself think the base game is fine just as it is, it is NOT boring and would recommend a family start with just that game. However I do like the extra action and more thinking skills required when playing Cities & Knights.

I know later this year, either for a birthday or Christmas, I'll be buying the rest of the games!


There is a free online tutorial about how to play the game here: Settlers of Catan Prof Easy page

Official website of manufacturer of Settlers of Catan

Wikipedia page for Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan base game (core game)
Full retail: $40.00

Settlers of Catan expansion to play with 5-6 players
Full retail: $25.00

Cities & Knights Expansion
full retail: $40.00

Seafarers of Catan Expansion
Full retail: $40.00

Barbarians & Traders Expansion
Full retail: $40.00

Note: expansion sets for each expansion kit to make it for 5-6 players are all available separately.

There is also a "mega bundle pack" of all the games and the expansion sets for all to be 5-6 players:

Disclosure: I bought these games for my family's personal use.

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Six Years Left

Yesterday I attended a graduation ceremony and party for a homeschooler. I've known the family for over six years. The homeschooling mother is the one who talked me into starting a Charlotte Mason homeschool support group, which I founded and ran for four years before passing the baton this year to another mother. This graduate is the oldest homeschooled kid that I've known from about age eleven. I've seen her grow up into a young woman. We homeschoolers keep our eyes on the older kids as it gives us an idea what we may be in for if we continue homeschooling our kids into the teen years.

As I listened to the accomplishments of the graduate, something hit me.

In exactly six years, God willing, my older child will be in this same spot, ready to go to college in the fall.

Just six years.

I don't want to sound cliché but it is true that time flies. My son is nearly twelve years old. He officially enters seventh grade homeschool on July 1.

I can't believe all I have left is six years with this child before he is out of the house and off to college.

I have just six years left to expose him to all the things and opportunities and experiences and content that I hope he is 'done' with before college starts.

The whole idea is pretty scary if you ask me.

There is a strange line that you cross when homeschooling. One minute it still feels like there is all the time in the world. For me, fourth grade was that last year. Something felt different in fifth grade, there were changes, and now that he is entering seventh grade it seems really fast.

Next week a priority for me is to write up the year end summary for both of my children, to write what was accomplished then to compare it to the original goals and plans. After that, detailed goals for next year will be made for both boys.

After a whirlwind year I'm not sure how it will all look when written down in a nice report, I'll just have to see.

Hearing all that was accomplished by this homeschooling graduate did not intimidate me, just in case you are wondering. What I took away from it is that her experience in her homeschool, church, with her jobs and extracurricular activities were custom tailored to suit her. I know her younger brother and younger sister are very different from her and each other. I know their own education and extracurricular activities are different and unique. They are not a cookie cutter style home educating family. And my children are different from them, so I'm not trying to fit my kids into their children's mold.

The foundational reason our family started homeschooling was to provide a customized education for our children that was unique and high quality. That is still the goal today.

If you'd like to read the speech the mother made at the graduation I attended, you can read it here: Polly Castor My Homeschool Daughter's Graduation. The speech includes information about why the family began homeschooling and their classical homeschooling method with The Well Trained Mind and Charlotte Mason as inspiration. Also haiku she wrote about the day is here: Polly Castor Homeschool Graduation Haiku.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Evidence of Learning

I asked my eleven year old to go get the mail.

He came back empty handed. "I'm sorry, I couldn't get the mail. Mud Dauber's have made a nest on the mailbox, right under the door. One Mud Dauber was looking right at me. No way was I going to open the door and get stung."

Note he didn't say wasp.

Note he didn't say "a bee".

He said "a Mud Dauber".

I have never taught him this bee species name. They must have covered it at his experiential education class either this spring or in one of the other classes for homeschoolers he's taken in the last three years there.

I love it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tough Love Story from Fairfield Connecticut

Story from the Fairfield Minuteman 6/18/09 edition's Police Log column.

"Son arrested

A Fairfield mother who was worried when her son didn't come home by the early hours of Sunday morning, checked his room and found a small plastic bag of marijuana. She called police who arrested him when he did get home around 2 a.m. He was released to his mother on a promise to appear in court on June 26."

Now that is tough love.

Or what some call trying to "scare a child straight".

For a mother to do that takes guts!

Some may say she has harmed her child but we don't know the full story so I personally am reserving judgement. In some cases such an action may actually wind up saving a child's life or preventing them from going down a more dangerous path in the near future.

Crazy School Rule in the United Kingdom

A United Kingdom school has banned parents from taking photos of THEIR OWN children at school sports events.

This is said to protect the photos from going into the hands of 'the wrong' people.

I'm against child porn but kids playing sports and parents taking photos of THEIR OWN kids is, in my opinion, outside of the reach of a school policy. This is a violation of parent's rights, which should carry over onto school property when watching a publically viewable sports game. And the kids are clothed too!

Let's remember that even in the United Kingdom anyone is allowed to photograph strangers in public places. So children in public are then "at risk" for having photos of them in clothing taken and 'misused'.

You can't protect every person or every child from danger. However I fail to see the danger in a PARENT photographing their OWN children.


Article Title: Parents banned from taking pictures of their own children at sports day
Published: 6/17/09
At: Telegraph UK

Hat Tip: Rational Jenn via Twitter via Free Range Kids

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cat Cuteness

Even if you are not a cat lover you have to admit this mirror-image sitting is cute!

And yes the ottoman is there just so the cats can sit and peer out the window. They are so spoiled, I know.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 6/15/09.

Being Known

Interesting thoughts about the need to connect with strangers via online social networks and how the process helps us know ourselves better and live a more authentic life.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Plan for a Batch of Science Living Books

I'm writing this while on a break from sorting living books purchased for use in our homeschool. I had a great idea while book sorting and made a decision.

I am looking through titles that so far my children have not read, or at least my younger son (now aged nine) has not yet read.

When these were purchased for low prices, some for a dime or a quarter I had high hopes for them. I figured that the nonfiction picture books would be read aloud's for my children who could not read them yet.

The reality of the situation is that we just didn't have time to use these for read-aloud's. Some reasons: stress over unemployment, helping my mother with her Cancer treatment, busyness due to helping my father-in-law with his Cancer battle, which he lost. Dealing with mourning his loss, plus the loss of my two grandmothers in six month's time. Processing emotions of a friend my age with boys my kid's age's death. Helping my kids cope with all the deaths of loved ones and of the woman friend of mine (they now think I may die soon). I'll stop there with the time-consuming endeavors that made just doing The Three R's difficult for homeschooling.

In the last three calendar years my boys have each spent 400 hours of direct instruction in an experiential education nature class. That is a great thing. However covering so many topics in the class didn't mandate that I cover the same topics in depth here at home using book learning. These books about nature have been untouched. Sad, but true, because they are good books!

Now many titles are too juvenile for my soon-to-be twelve year old. My nine year old can easily read these to himself.

These are too good to just get rid of without having been read.

A new plan was hatched.

I am taking the science nonfiction titles that my nine year old has not yet read and making a summer reading list for him grouped by topics (trees, plants, solar system, and so forth). He will do independent reading of these books. This will be counted toward "homeschooling lessons" for the academic year (I start the year on July 1).

At the end I will make a list of topics covered using Katryn Stout's book "Science Scope" as a helpful guide for using proper educationalese terms. I'll do a comparison to see what topics my son learned and how that compares to typical elementary grade scope and sequences. If there are huge gaps, I'll fill them, but I don't think there will be.

Additionally all the books he reads to himself will go on his summer reading list for our town's summer reading program. They give prizes based on the numbers of books read. Why not?

Then as soon as these books are read I am letting them go. I'll be giving them away, swapping them on PaperBackSwap, bringing them to the used book shop for store credit or reselling them.

I have got to reduce the number of books in this house. It must be done. Period.

I'll report back on how it went when the summer is over.

Notes and Other Related Information

My blog post: What is a Living Book? published July 2007

The Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling uses living books as the main book content, not textbooks. One article explains it at Simply Charlotte Mason.Many more article are online if you want more free info, do a Google search.

Good Wikipedia entry on Exeriential Education

Samples of Experiential Nature Education in Connecticut for Homeschoolers:

Two Coyotes Wilderness School, Ansonia, Connecticut

Great Hollow Wilderness School blog, New Fairfield, Connecticut

Kathryn Stout's website: Design a Study great tools for home educating parents, books and recorded lectures. I can't recommend her products and lectures highly enough.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Choosing to Not React to a Negative Homeschool Story in the Local News

When homeschoolers read negative stories in newspapers, other print publications or online we often get our feathers ruffled. I am speaking of when the writer seemed to push their own agenda or inject their anti-homeschooling bias into an article. Those of us who know more about homeschooling (from experience) than the reporter did can often provide a rebuttal for each error, for each twisting of a word, and each statement of a myth presented as fact. We can easily discern what the person interviewed said and see how the reporter must have carefully edited it, clipped the statement short, or took the thing said in the wrong way. And even when the homeschooler is accurately quoted we sometimes see the writer's own words state something bad to counterbalance it, and sometimes tipping the scale to the negative side.

If we read these articles when in certain moods we want to reply. We want to write a letter to the editor. We want to spread the word of the wrongness of the article. We want people to know the reporter was wrong, off-base, and possibly on a mission to slam homeschooling.

In the case of national news stories sometimes it is necessary to at least prepare our own reaction as we know that certain friends or relatives of ours who read it or heard about it secondhand will bring this up in conversation the first time they talk to us.

Local stories are another matter. A situation came up in Connecticut last week; an article was printed in a local print newspaper published in my county.

I read it on the website after seeing the link posted to a local homeschool chat list. Others were angry and discussing it. Plans were being discussed to write letters of anger.

If I posted the link to this article a number of you would be downright ticked off, especially Christians.

I believe we should be more careful when responding to negative homeschooling stories when they are with local papers. Depending on the state, we homeschoolers may be more protected or more at risk for targeting by our school systems if we reply to such articles. Given the situation in Connecticut, the way the law is written, I personally favor the flying under the radar and keeping my head low method for the most part (my exception to this rule will be explained at the end). For one thing, my full name is not on this blog nor is my town of residence. Yes I blog opinions here but I don't get involved in discussing local issues at length such as tearing apart the town's education budget or giving examples of things I don't like that go on in my town's schools, slamming a principal and other things I could do if I wanted to. Nothing I say is specific to my town so I think I'm not a target for the local school principals to hate my opinions and therefore they leave me alone. My husband also insists that neither of us write letters to the editor for local and state newspapers regarding matters of public education or homeschooling.

So when I read what I consider to be a negative article about homeschooling, and also happened to be negative about Christians and those who believe in the Young Earth theory and Creationism, my reaction was to not write to the paper. Other homeschoolers were discussing contacting them in anger and telling them they were off base.

That day it really hit me that sometimes we should not bother to react at all. We definitely should not react in anger or come off as hostile. The reason is we should be professional in all of our communications with media outlets. The only thing worse than a negative homeschooling article being published is when the people who write to complain come off looking either unprofessional or uneducated (due to poor wording of the issue, poor logic, poor grammar, or poor spelling). If a letter is too emotional the writer can appear to be illogical, out of control or downright nuts, thereby reinforcing the negative opinions some readers already hold. The article was bad enough; we don't need to invite more negative press to the LOCAL homeschooling community.

A special concern in this article was that the reporter said the girl was always homeschooled and at age 16 had never been taught the basics such as not being taught any math after basic addition and subtraction. It said she couldn't take notes or study and lacked other academic content that left her unprepared to do high school level work or college level work. These types of statements may mislead readers to think that ALL or MANY homeschoolers in Connecticut are not getting an education equivalent to public school standards. These types of articles sometimes incite citizens of all ages as well as school employees and state legislators to think that indeed Connecticut homeschoolers need more government oversight. These are exactly the types of articles that motivate legislators to propose new legislation.

A major concern of mine is that additional press, the reader reactions to the article may draw more attention to the original article when perhaps those who read the Letters to the Editor missed it and they may go back and read the original article. If the reactions from local homeschoolers come off the wrong way it could make local homeschoolers look even worse than the article implied.

I shared my opinion on our private homeschool chat group to consider refraining from reacting to the newspaper but instead to vent and complain to each other on the list. That is what I chose to do.

One person did say that it was a human interest story and that not all homeschoolers are shining academic stars. My response was that I've never read a human interest story on a schooled kid who was 'average' let alone 'behind' academically! The only time we hear of schooled kids is when they excel, win various awards in school or in the community, get on the honor role, win scholarships, or win sports championships. The article clearly seemed to have an agenda to make the homeschooled girl look like her parents did her wrong by homeschooling and the mention that her mother was a religious fanatic was another jab.

I wanted to blog about the exact article and complain about it here on this blog but decided I didn't want to attract more attention to it. But as the days went on it occurred to me that discussing this in a general way may be beneficial. Perhaps some homeschoolers have not yet considered the ramifications of reacting to negative news articles in the way I've been thinking of it in this last week.

This may also be a sign of me mellowing out. I was more passionate when I first started homeschooling about wanting everyone to see my point of view and possibly getting them to agree that homeschooling was great. Maybe some parents would even consider homeschooling their own kids based on something I said! That's how I used to think.

Now that my oldest is close to twelve years old and is finishing sixth grade, having never been to daycare, preschool, elementary or middle school, I have been thinking about the pro's of homeschooling and dealing with loved ones, friends, acquaintances and stranger's opposition to homeschooling. I realize now I can't convert everyone to my way of thinking. I also realize that some short replies to questions are better than long-winded speeches. I am polite in these conversations, more than I'd like to be sometimes, but I still feel that I'm representing homeschoolers when others ask me questions so I have a duty of sorts to be on my best behavior.

I have sometimes spoken to people who oppose homeschooling and find out months or years later that they not only now approve of homeschooling but some have begun homeschooling their own children--so my positive attitude with them in the past combined with other observations and conversations in the mean time led them to think of homeschooling in a positive light.

I also realize some who have been rude in the past really are closed minded and really don't want meaningful dialogue and an exchange of ideas. They just want to argue or convert me to their way of thinking.

In these years I have met many homeschooling families from all walks of life. I have seen all kinds of kids. I have met very smart kids, average kids, and kids with learning disabilities and medical conditions. I've seen independent thinkers, non-conformists, and kids and teens who can speak well about their convictions come out of the homeschooling experience. I have met kids who never went to school, kids who went and had issues, kids who came home for homeschool then went back later, kids who started homeschooling and finished up in school. There is no one generic mold-kid that represents all homeschoolers.

The parents are as varied as the kids, and that is okay. America is a diverse place. I've met poor, middle class and wealthy families. I've met and spoken to people from every religious faith including a Muslim woman in a burqa with only her eyes showing, down to pagans to non-practicing Catholics to Catholics who will only hear the Mass in Latin. And of course I know agnostics and atheists.

Not only do I spot the differences between us, I see the similarities. We all have certain core beliefs we share, whether it is a core belief about the best way to educate a child academically or the fact that we are raising whole persons not just brains filled with school subject facts.

I have seen the fantastic opportunities that homeschooling offers. I have seen the myriad of interesting educational things, stuff I never knew existed, things I never could have imagined back when I was tortured in public school with the "read the textbook, answer the questions at the back of the chapter, memorize the answers, take the test, forget it all and move on to the next thing" method. I see great curriculum, wonderful learning materials, and educational games. I see the superiority in some 'regular' nonfiction books for children over some textbooks. I have been to historical sites, museums, and all kinds of physical places where meaningful learning can take place. I've seen experiential learning, cooperative group learning, classroom type learning, and team based learning for academic competitions (against schooled kids on a regional or state level).

It is sad, but some of the excellent learning adventures that homeschoolers can do, the schooled kids simply do not have access to due to the fact that they are forced to be inside a school building in those daytime hours plus have to do homework at night.

I think I've reached a saturation point where I just know too much good stuff about homeschooled kids, even the ones who are 'in the middle' and 'average' academically--as they all shine in other areas not highlighted through public school's eyes today. They may have talents in other areas that in America today are not valued or even taught to kids that age. They may have a stronger sense of self than schooled kids their age. Their strong bonds with their parents may help them stay safer as teens or enter college with a more serious and determined attitude.

I've gotten to a place where I can say that no matter what negative thing I hear from someone who holds an anti-homeschooling bias, I really don't care to respond or attempt to change their mind. I don't want to put energy to battling it. I might leave a short blog comment with some rebuttal with a professional tone and with good etiquette, but other times, I don't. If a blog post or online article is poorly written or really ridiculous, I definately don't bother with my reply (as was the case last month with a widely chatted about anti-homeschooling blog post written on a teacher's blog).

I'm reserving my energy and the true fighting spirit for the times when my state seeks to restrict homeschooling by increasing government oversight. In those times, in the past, I have attended public hearings at our state's capital. I communicate to my legislators and to the education committee heads. I can't be anonymous in those communications, but I still avoid writing letters to the editor as I don't want to call attention to myself with the town's school employees. I have helped round up other homeschoolers to take action too, and actively have discussed the pro's and con's of past proposed bills (that were all killed in the end).

There is a time for action and a time when choosing not to act is the right thing to do. That's my current outlook about choosing to react or intentionally choosing not to react.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Coolest Street Signs Ever

(double click to enlarge)

I had to snap this picture. Love the street signs in Pound Ridge, New York!

Photo by ChristineMM on 6/01/09.

I Agree with Dana

Dana Hanley of Principled Discovery blogged today about how homeschoolers should dialogue with those who oppose homeschooling.

My favorite part which I totally agree with is at the end of her post:

"I am thoroughly convinced that the future of homeschooling rests in the opinions of my friends, neighbors and others in my community rather than in the hands of a few highly educated objectors. For that reason, I sincerely believe that the casual conversations I have at a ball game, in line at the grocery store, sitting in the doctor’s office, etc. are far more important to the future of homeschooling than anything I have ever written on this blog.

That is the level at which we act and interact. It is where the abstract becomes concrete. It is where the homeschooler ceases to be part of the “Other” and becomes part of the community."

Read her whole post here:

How Should Homeschoolers Communicate in the Public Square?

Greedy Freecyclers

I have been praising Freecycle for years.

On my local group the wanted posts have gotten, in my opinion, out of hand.

In just the last five days, here are some things wanted. All of these sell in the hundreds of dollars and in the case of the kiln, can cost $5000.

a wooden boat

a kayak

electric stove

bike trailer

tandem bike

men's mountain bike

tires 245/70/R16 or 265/70/R16


wrought iron table and chairs

two or three dressers

adirondack chairs

motor scooter


heavy duty metal shelving for storage

roof top cargo carrier

two dressers AND two bookcases

chain saw (two posts)

wooden swing set

13 inch color TV

working PC

working laptop

chain link fence with privacy slats

inflatable moon bouncer

wooden lemonade stand (for budding entrepreneur!)

Yes sometimes these things do get posted as offer posts however it is unfair to clog the list with greedy requests for items so specific like a certain kind of tire, plus wanting it is usable condition, like decent tires. The sheer volume, the high volume of these requests is a little ridiculous. A greedy request once in a blue moon is tolerable but these are over the top, to me.

For example if a little kid wants to sell lemonade how about using a folding card table and a chair? If the family doesn't own that they may own a child's sized play table. If not that, then how about borrowing a folding table from a neighbor? Or using a picnic table? Something that the family must own and can improvise?

At one point we had a repeat poster asking for an adult sized squirrel costume said to be used for educational talks to young children about nature conservation. This was written as a true plight, a necessary thing the person needed to make their case for nature. I was so tempted to write to the person to say that a squirrel costume is really silly. Children aged 1-2 may be scared of an adult size squirrel. Children aged 3-4-5 and up don't need it either. I know children and I know they respond to non-dumbed down talk on important issues. Wearing a squirrel costume while lecturing kids on nature conservation may actually make the speaker lose credibility. Talking passionately from the heart in ways the children can understand and letting them see the compassion on the speaker's face means more than staring at a talking furry costume face.

What the List Owner Says

The local Freecycle list owner has a new rule to post 3 offers then 1 wanted and to limit the request for one item and not post it over and over and over. I don't know the track record of these greedy posters nor do I have time or desire to police them. I mention this because maybe you are wondering if the list owner is 'doing enough' to curb these wanted requests. I think she is. My criticism lies with the posters themselves, they should show some restraint.

Second Option Looking Better

Craigslist has a free section. Those who want to give stuff away but don't want to deal with the hassle of getting emails all the time can post free stuff to give away via Craigslist's free section. Some friends tell me this works great for them. That is one option for those of us who get frustrated by Freecycle. We can just go to Craigslist and post when we want to give stuff away and keep away from Craigslist the rest of the time.

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