Monday, August 31, 2009

Thoughts on Real Science 4 Kids Curriculum

The following post was inspired by my homeschool planning for the 2009-2010 academic year.

The revised and expanded 2009 edition of "The Well Trained Mind" recommends the science curriculum "Real Science 4 Kids" published by Gravitas Publications. I predicted it!

Here is the article explaining this piece of news, as seen on the publisher's website.

After I heard Rebecca Keller, scientist and author of the Real Science 4 Kids speak at the 2008 MassHope Christian Homeschool Convention, it seemed to me that Keller's philosophy was right in line with the trivium as described in The Well Trained Mind. That is, that science topics are covered lightly but with real terms in elementary grades, done again in middle school grades going deeper, and then covered again in high school on typical, deeper levels. The goal, described by Keller in her lecture, is to have younger kids experience lighter and easier versions of the data and ideas, from the scientific terms to being taught real scientific method and keeping lab notebooks starting in grade 4 (level 1 curriculum). This way as the older students revisit the topics, it is familiar ground and is not scary. When more complicated and difficult content is experienced in high school grades it again is familiar and non-scary therefore opening up the learner to have an easier time understanding and learning it.

I have purchased level 1 for the three topics available: biology, chemistry and physics. I began using physics last year but it fell by the wayside. I plan to pick it up again this year and to use it diligently.

The level 1 programs (grades 4-6) are not a FULL year program in my opinion. They can be done quickly as unit studies over about two months time in a concentrated way or can be done slowly done over a number of months for a less intense experience. This is good to know because if you had some other science plans in mind it may be the case that you could use both the other thing (different topics) and this curriculum too for one or all three of the topics.

They also offer a pre-level 1 series for grades K-3 which I have not seen.

I read online today that the middle school programs (level 2) for grades 7-8 are considered full year programs.

Samples of the curriculum may be viewed on the publisher's website.

A last note that some of you may be curious about is that this curriculum does not have religious content in it. Keller said in her lecture that she is Christian and that the original curriculum had Christian content but was advised if they are to market it to public schools the religion would have to come out, so out it went.

Real Science 4 Kids has three components: a textbook for the student to read, a lab notebook, and a teacher's manual. All can be purchased at the publisher’s website as well as at homeschool supply companies such as Rainbow Resource Center. Here are a couple of links to products sold on Amazon:

Disclosure: I purchased some of this company’s products with my own money for our family’s personal use for homeschooling.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The "No Photos of Me" Stage of Childhood and Adolescence

I have few photos of my younger son lately.

This is why.

He's going through one of those phases of not allowing me to take photos of him.

If you are a parent, you know this phase.

Besides the classic hand over face technique the other trick of "make an ugly contorted face at the moment the camera takes the photo" or "make a face that looks really angry that you are trying to take my photo" or "make a really silly face" is being done around here. The other is "stare in the direction away from the camera and pretend I can't hear my mother asking me to look this way" technique.

This phase also occurred around age three. It is odd that this phase of childhood development seems to never be mentioned as part of the 'ages and stages' in parenting books. What an odd omission! Perhaps it is because psychologists and pediatricians don't witness this in their interactions with children or during scientific studies or in parental interviews? Yet another item of real world parenting that connected parents know about that the parenting books are devoid of mentioning.

So here is my stab at it.

"At around age three and possibly continuing to about 4.5 children often refuse to comply with a parent's wishes to take their photograph. This is a rebellious stage in which the child is pushing back in a power struggle with their parent. The child resents being always told what to do and feels in general, powerless in their world, even when the parent is not being overly-controlling. One thing a child can control in their life is their cooperation with having their photo taken. The worst and possibly most stressful of this stage is when the parent is paying a professional photographer to take a special photograph to commemorate a birthday or for a Christmas card. The child will do anything in their power to disrupt the photography session, from blocking their face, to making funny faces, to refusing to look at the camera. The worst offense is when the child reaches out to grab the camera and smears the lens or strikes the camera, thereby damaging the camera. Parents would be wise to back off from taking frequent photographs and be careful about engaging in the power struggle."

or this:

"In the tween or teen years the child may rebel against photographs as they feel overly monitored or overly documented. The child may say, "We already have too many photos!" or "I don't know why you want a photo of me doing THIS! You already have hundreds of photos of me!". In some cases the adolescent may feel uncomfortable about their self-image, worried they may appear too fat, or not wanting their braces to be seen on their teeth, or some other concern and may rebel against having a photo taken. Some will not admit these things to their parents but do feel them, or tell their siblings or friends these true reasons, while others are open with their parents about their negative self-image. What the adolescent does not realize is they look fine and well just the way they are, but contorting their faces or sneering actually does make them appear ugly or mean, very much unlike their true nature."

All photos taken by ChristineMM of her younger son in July and August 2009.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi / 450D Book Review by ChristineMM

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi / 450D Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi / 450D
Author: Christopher Grey
Publication: Focal Press, 2009

My Rating: 2 stars out of 5 = I Don’t Like It

Summary Statement: Layout Stinks, Too General, Not Specific Enough to This Camera’s Model

I purchased the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi nine months ago, it’s my first DSLR and I’m learning more now about SLRs than when I used my film SLR and I love it! The user manual that comes with the camera is a total joke and I set off to purchase a book from a third party to teach me what Canon chose to not teach.

This book by Christopher Grey disappointed me and I deem it insufficient for me. The layout is terrible which makes understanding the text difficult because none of the illustrations are labeled with a reference number (i.e. figure 3.7) and side by side comparison photos are often on different pages (requiring the page to be turned to see it). The pages are way too cluttered. The small page size often with six or more illustrations on a two page spread, with little white space to help one’s eyes rest, and the fact that the text goes deep into the center crease makes it hard to read. There is not a lot of detail about this model of the camera, it is not infused throughout the text. Too much of this manual is general information that applies to all photography.

After a thorough side by side comparison I feel that the book by David Busch is much better. All I want is one book that tells me how to use the camera, shows clear examples of the difference between using this setting or that setting, and also why I should do things that way. When I understand the why’s I can retain that information for use that knowledge on the fly when in the field (without consulting the book).

Numerous times I sat down to read the Grey book and use it with my camera but found the crammed layout too visually cluttered to handle. The text is dry and lacks excitement for this camera model or for Canon’s. The book didn’t draw me in, it turned me off.

Some sections are general discussions of photography such as light and composition that completely lack details specific to Canon cameras or this specific model.

To be fair to the Grey book, before reviewing it for Amazon Vine, and because I want to be fair before publishing a book rating at 3 stars or below, and because I don’t enjoy writing non-glowing reviews, I pulled out my copy of David Busch’s book. I had previously purchased Busch’s book from Amazon and did side by side comparisons and read the Busch book more thoroughly than I had in the past, spending about four hours at that task. This told me all I needed to know, that I favor the Busch book and like the Busch book more than I’d previously realized. The book by Busch gives more text information in a more clear way, has larger illustrations, and has a great page layout.

I rate this book 2 stars = I Don’t Like It. (I’m being kind and not giving it a 1 star = I Hate It rating because the Grey book will teach someone something, it is not completely useless.)

For more details about the negative opinions listed above for the book by Christopher Grey, with some specific examples, see below.

I am disappointed with the section about picture styles, it is skimpy and says to experiment to find which you like (!). It fails to explain more details about this feature that I learned from reading the book by Busch.

One of my biggest complaints is the illustrations. First they are on the small side compared to other books on the market. The section about using the software that comes with the camera has the smallest illustrations which is not good considering we need to read the small symbols on the screen captures. See page 94 (about using the camera’s menus) for an example of too many small illustrations (nine) without captions that make matching to the text content tricky.

Most of the illustrations have no captions and none have reference numbers. When trying to show a camera using different settings on the same subject it would be clearer to reference a certain illustration (figure 2.6 or figure 2.7). On pages 88-89 there are photos about text on page 87 that have nothing to do with text on page 89.

In the section about lenses you have to guess which image is to what lens, and not every lens has an image to go with it which I think it should. The lens reviews are odd, not really helping me decide which is a must have or which is very specialized. There are no comments about price such as saying “this lens is fantastic but costs over $1000 so if looking to spend less this other lens will do much of the same thing for less money”.

I feel strongly that side by side comparisons of two or more images should be on the same page or at least the same two page spread, the reader should not have to flip over to the next page and back and forth to compare them. See pages 180, 186 and 187 for examples. See pages 85-86 also.

Perhaps these layout issues is not the author’s fault but the other staff of publisher, the graphic designer or the editor’s, or someone else, in any event these problems make the book hard for me to use by turning me off, leaving me confused, or tiring my eyes out.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine product review program. It's full retail price is $19.95 but as per my agreement with Amazon Vine I cannot resell it, give it away or let anyone else read it so its resale value for me is $0. The camera was purchased with my own money.

External Links

Christopher Grey's book reviewed in this post:

David Busch's book which I like much better "David Busch's Canon EOS Rebel XSi/450D"

The camera Canon EOS Rebel XSi / 450D with 18-55mm lens:

The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves: 200 Classic and Contemporary Recipes Showcasing the Fabulous Flavors of Fresh Fruits
Author: Linda Ziedrich
Publication: The Harvard Common Press, April 2009

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Explains the Why’s and the How’s Not Just Recipes & Beginner Friendly

This book is helping me teach myself to can and make sweet preserves. I am confident this book contains all I need to know as a beginner to get started yet the book is great for experienced home preservers also.

I have been raised on homemade sweet preserves (and savory preserved foods) and would like to carry on this craft, but my mother and grandmother didn’t teach me how. I have an appreciation for homemade preserves as being higher in quality than some store bought preserves. I am interested in avoiding some ingredients in factory prepared items. Lastly cost is an issue: some wonderful store bought preserves are too costly (one I tried to purchase yesterday was $14 per small jar) and I’d love to be able to use some native wild edible fruits growing on my property. There are about thirty pages of general information in the beginning of the book shares a wealth of knowledge from telling what equipment is needed to troubleshooting common problems and how to correct them or avoid them in the future.

The book contains over 200 recipes ranging from the common jams and jellies I eat on a regular basis to fruits available in the grocery store and some rare fruits. Some recipes use foods easily found for free growing in the wild near my home (which many people let rot on the vine and purchase factory made food instead) that my grandmother ate regularly but are ignored by most people in my generation. The range of recipes is wide and goes far beyond the three recipes that my family uses for 90% of their homemade sweet preserves. I am happy to have access to this wide variety of recipes in one volume even if I wind up using the basic how-to information and start off using just a handful of the recipes at first.

The fruits are arranged alphabetically with specific information about that fruit such as the optimum time to harvest the fruits from the wild. The differences in fruit varieties that one should know about and how those affect the recipe or method of preparation is helpful. The book provides some historical information such as where the recipe originated from and if and how and why the author adapted the original, traditional recipe. Thanks to this method of organizing the data the reader can read about fruits of their interest and ignore others. Readers who enjoy sitting and reading through cookbooks as some read other types of books or magazines (you know who you are) will enjoy reading a lot of this book even if they wind up not making ALL the recipes. The recipes include best uses for each fruit, which may be one or more of these types of foods: jam, jelly, marmalade, conserve, butter, preserves, syrup, paste, and leathers.

Perhaps it is time for frugal people who are not yet home preservers to educate themselves about this craft and start practicing it. Buying fruit in season when it is at its lowest cost and preserving it for consumption throughout the year is one way to save money. Starting to wildcraft edible foods from one’s own yard, nearby woods or abandoned properties is a way to get free access to food. Lastly some recipes use parts of food often discarded. Watermelon can be eaten fresh or preserved, and then the recipe for the white part of the rind used for making into a sweet pickled food. The waste peels and cores of some fruits can be used to make a pectin base for use in other recipes. Green tomatoes that must be harvested on the eve of the first predicted frost can be preserved.

Ziedrich’s passion for the craft of home food preservation is clear when one sees the range and variety of the over 200 recipes provided and when seeing the background information provided for each fruit. I was surprised to see interesting combinations of fruits, such as green tomato and apple, blueberry and orange, and blackberry and quince. The depth of information, the wide variety of fruits used, and the author’s experience still makes this book of interest to experienced home preserver. Here is a short list of samples of fruits included in this book: apple, banana, coconut, flowers, kiwi, peach, pomegranate, pumpkin, rhubarb and zucchini.

After reading about the author online I feel confident that her many years of home canning and food preserving experience provides accurate and helpful information. The troubleshooting section seems especially helpful and explains various issues I’ve seen in my family’s own preserves over the years (some being still edible and some inedible in cases of mold). In speaking with my mother who has over 40 years of canning experience about these trouble areas I’ve read about, I’ve shared information to explain the issues that she didn’t know about!

This book is all text, with its only illustration on the cover, has over 370 pages and more than 200 recipes. Ziedrich writes clearly and doesn’t fill the book with extra information to bog down the book, it’s all useful. The book is a wealth of information at what I consider to be a low price.

As a beginner, I was left with the feeling that “I can do this” even when teaching myself from this book. With this book in hand I don’t feel the need to go hunting for a second cookbook about sweet preserves, although I have a feeling I’ll be purchasing her book on savory preserves soon: THE JOY OF PICKING: 250 FLAVOR-PACKED RECIPES FOR VEGETABLES AND MORE FROM GARDEN OR MARKET.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of writing a Vine review for Full retail value of this book is $17.95 but I have agreed to not resell it, give it away or let anyone else read it per the Vine program's rules.

Three Different Kinds of Teaching in Curriculum

The following post was inspired by my homeschool planning for the 2009-2010 academic year.

I understand that all homeschooling curriculum is different. After looking at and using different homeschooling curriculums over the years it seems to me these three categories pretty much describes all of it.

In one kind of teaching certain content is taught in a grade level. If this content is not taught, it is not reviewed the next year, and the content will not then be directly taught. This could be said to be the case with vocabulary words. Usually the same words from last year are not re-taught the next year. Sometimes the content is cycled through and repeated years later, such as the history sweep as recommended in The Well Trained Mind, where history is taught from the beginning to the present divided up over four years, and is studied a total of three times, once in elementary grades, once in middle grades and again in the high school grades. Some science programs break up the content over those same time periods.

There is another kind of teaching where the student is taught basics in one year. The next year in order to move forward the student must already have the firm foundation of last year’s content. The second year contains a bit of review to refresh the student’s memory then the content gets deeper, more complex, and new content is taught. This could be said with math in elementary and middle school years. If a student was never to do any math lessons until age 13 they would have to start back with basic principles to establish the foundation (counting, addition, subtraction) before moving on to more complex math like geometry and algebra and so on. I’d like to think that a non-learning disabled student could pick up the math concepts quickly and move along at a good pace with their more mature mind and their brain that has already gone through certain developmental changes that allow for abstract and analytical thought.

The other kind of teaching which is probably never admitted by the curriculum makers is when the same things are taught every single year. What is taught in year one is taught in a simple way to the young student. In year two the work is increased a bit to keep it challenging but the base content is exactly the same. In year three again the work gets increased in quantity but the same stuff is re-taught. It seems to me this is the case for subjects like English grammar and writing composition. With topics like that if a young student never learned the content and suddenly began to study it, say at age 10 or 12 or 14, I’d argue that they could jump in to learn the same concepts and “get it” without any negative ramifications from having skipped learning and practicing it for years and years. This is especially true if one company’s curriculum does a brief review of each topic, so a new student would hear yet again about what a common noun and proper noun are, and so forth. Regarding writing composition, since a main goal is to communicate thoughts, older students in grade six or eight with more life experience and more opinions to share may find it easier to jump in and write more than a nervous second grader who still struggles to write without hand pain.

While doing homeschool planning it is wise to be alerted to these three types of learning. It might help the you make better choices. Don’t always assume that you must finish up all the undone lessons in the last year’s curriculum before moving on, it may just be a waste of time!

Two examples:
Last week a friend told me she didn’t finish a grammar program that is for kids in grades 1 & 2 (in one volume). She wondered if she should return to it for her now third grader or move on to the company’s grade 3 program. I said, based on my use of both of the products, to move on to grade three and don’t look back. In her attempt to be thorough she was going to make her children finish the former year’s curriculum before going forward.

Regarding my younger son, he completed only one third of the third grade grammar program in grade 3 as it was a low priority for me and it just fell by the wayside. Great progress and lots of work was done in other content areas so I am happy for the successes of the year. I was just comparing the company’s grade four curriculum and see no good reason to finish off the grade three work as the grade four level re-teaches every single subject, all the same content! I don’t think I could get him through 2/3 of grade three plus do all of grade four in one year, and even if I did, I don’t know what the point would be of doing so much review! So I’m going to get rid of the unfinished grade three and move forward to grade four language arts with my grade four student. I think it will be just fine!

Not that it matters to the general discussion but in case you are curious the curriculums mentioned in the two examples are:

First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind for grades 1 & 2 by Jessie Wise

First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind 3 by Jessie Wise

First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind 4 by Jessie Wise

Disclosure: I purchased all of the curriculum materials mentioned in this article for our use in our family's homeschool.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

My Homeschool Planning and Record Keeping Efforts

I have a system for homeschool planning which includes wrapping up the former academic year. It goes like this.

The first thing I do is write up a summary of work accomplished. I start with last year's plan (written in a word processing program on the computer). Keeping the original document intact, I rename the file with a new name to indicate it is a year end summary. I edit the last year's plan details to show what was done in real life, deleting things out when necessary. This usually means I will have added new things not in the plan, especially new outside classes and events, finished some things we planned to do, and scrapped using one program and substituted it with something new.

To do this I compare my family calendar with my homeschooling records and look at the completed work itself, a finished workbook et cetera.

If odd events or medical conditions or learning disabilities happened I note that also, indicating what happened and how that may have affected our homeschool studies. One example is that a new case of mononucleosis with over 30 days of fevers in six months time and multiple doses of antibiotics and more doctor’s visits for one child did affect his ability to accomplish all the work we had planned to do.

A new learning disability explains the hard time a child had with making progress in a certain subject area and increased time doing treatments and doctor's visits shows other ways we spent our time and why my son's taxed neurological system (due to the therapies) struggled to keep up with learning as per the original plans.

I have a year end goal sheet that I like to do that has things like "will have all multiplication facts memorized". I look at those former goals and look at what happened in real life to see if the goals were met. I think about the former goals and with new eyes and another year of homeschool mom experience under my belt, figure out if those things are still goals we wish were accomplished. If so, they become goals for the upcoming homeschool year.

At that point I have a gist for what I'm disappointed was not accomplished and I usually also feel surprised at the number of other, different things that were achieved that never appeared on the original goal list.

I then make a list of all the subjects and list what curriculums we will use in the upcoming year and note how often or for how long we will do those lessons, i.e. 30 minutes a day of math 3-4 days a week. I don't usually include all of the real books or children's books or living books that we will use, as that would be nearly impossible for me to list out a year ahead of time, partly because some items are found through the year and borrowed from the public library and also because we read so many that to plan it all out ahead of time would overwhelm me. This list is sufficient for skimming the general goals but it usually lacks detail. For example it might say "use math curriculum Teaching Textbooks Math 7 but it won't list the details in that scope and sequence.

If I have time I like to then flesh out that original list with details. In that case, I'd modify the original Word document to list, for example, the scope and sequence for that grade of math curriculum. Art instruction studies may include a list of skills such as "drawing in charcoal and pencil, painting with acrylic paints on canvas". If I have signed my children up for classes at that point in time I write the name of the class, the hours of direct instruction and some details about what will be studied in that class, if known. The more details that are in this document helps me with revising it at the year end. If I failed to write these out, at year end I'll have more work to do if I choose to do that.

I have a lot of plans in my head so writing them down does not take effort. The most time goes into writing out details. This would be helpful for showing our accomplishments to government monitors if we had to do that in my state (which we do not). I like to keep these records for my own purposes and just in case I ever need them (perhaps to ward off a false charge of educational neglect).

Documenting Work Accomplished

I own and have used EduTrack software program to keep homeschooling records. However I find it labor intensive to enter in ahead of time for a nice looking assignment sheet for the kids and me to use, then to edit that to reflect real life work finished. It can become confusing in the system to know if the record was a plan or real work done.

I have resorted to using an old fashioned paper student calendar in a spiral notebook to write my kid's assignments on. They use those to move themselves along with their homeschool studies now that they are a bit older and have agreed and even asked to do that. I wish my older son did this years ago but he refused to comply, wanting oral directions doled out as the day went along. Now both kids want to choose the order they do things in or work ahead on some assignments.

For work accomplished I use a spiral notebook and make handwritten notes. I need this to be portable to be able to be carried around my house. It is not easy to look back on and it can get messy. I wish I had a better system but as I said the EduTrack is not working out. I can't keep jumping up and running to my PC to jot stuff down. I also jot notes in it while I'm "stuck" sitting next to a child doing his homeschooling lesson, while I sit waiting to see if the child needs help. So I am using my time wisely rather than taking time later in the day to sit down and write it out, I write it out in the "in between moments".

No Detailed Schedules For Us

At present I do not have a detailed family schedule for me or the kids to use. The idea of writing one out made me shudder in disgust. I have tried it in the past and it made me feel like a total failure and worse, was not helpful when we lost a day due to sickness or other reasons.

I want my kids to have freedom in the day to do subjects at various times not be told that they must do history between 10:15 and 11:00 a.m. Instead their assignment list is by day of the week with a list of subjects under it like "math 30 mintues" and they must do all they can in 30 minutes without dawdling. If they are near the end of a lesson after 30 minutes they are to sit and finish it up. If they can get two lessons done, that is great, if one gets done without dawdling, that's fine too.

Putting the Stuff Together

The last step in the homeschool prep process after deciding on the materials and buying them, is to assemble them all in one place for easy access. To do this I pick books off this shelf and that shelf, or remove from that stack of books or the other. Actually I usually have just had some in hand for the planning process so they are usually right at my fingertips.

I organize them and get them all ready for use.

To see where and how I store the materials that my children are using right now (not future stuff), see this blog post of mine: Homeschool Stuff Reorg Before & After published in July 2009.

Starting off the Year Organized

When I start the homeschool year off well prepared and with all materials assembled, with a plan and goals in place it feels great. I will admit that not every year has started off this way and that is how I know that to start off with stuff strewn all over the house, with no goals and with just vague plans in my head is not as good for me or my children.

In Conclusion

We homeschooling parents have a lot of freedom to choose an individual homeschooling path. Perhaps reading a bit about my process will help you in some way, even if it is to reinforce that the different way you do things is right and best for you.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jam Project

Other than learning new knitting techniques (it's been 15 months since a homeschool mom blog reader of mine taught me to knit), the big thing I plan to learn this summer or fall is how to make jam.

Since my maternal grandmother passed away this last winter I have lost my main source of homemade jam. Into her 90s my grandmother continued to make jam and finally turned it over to her paid caregiver. Nanny would give directions and supervise from her rocking chair while her caregiver did the jam making. After telling her for years that I could buy jam from the store with my own money I finally got it and realized that it gave her pleasure to keep up the family tradition of supplying her family members with homemade preserves. Usually the fruits were wildcrafted from the neglected lots and forests around her home in Maine.

My mother makes some jams but in a sporadic way. I can't rely on her for a regular supply. Plus, my father favors raspberry jelly. If he were a child today he'd be diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder for all his quirks about food textures and the crazy demands he makes about what he eats. He claims he can't tolerate the seeds in raspberry jam. Really, who doesn't like raspberry jam, seeds and all?

I have an abundance of wild blackberries and some wild red raspberries as well as wild grapes all growing along the edges of my woods on my property. I figure why not make good use of these free fruits? Why not make jam?

My husband was after me to learn jam making. He came home one day after running errands to announce he had listened to Michael Colomeco's Food Talk on the radio and had heard an interview with Linda Ziedrich talking about her latest book on making sweet jams and jellies. He proclaimed we needed to buy the book.

Before I got around to buying it, a copy was offered to me through the Amazon Vine product review program I participate with. Score!

I've been reading through the book but am not finished quite yet. A big thing with this book that is different from other recipes is the jams and jellies are made without the use of pectin. I plan to review the book when done.

The wild blackberry harvest is terrible this year, thanks mostly to two female wild turkeys and their SEVEN babies. Yes I said SEVEN babies. They go through my yard daily and peck off all the berries they can reach. The harvest is next to nothing compared to years past. I'm freezing as many as I can get my hands on.

The wild grapes are just beginning to come in. I plucked about a dozen so far and see many more unripe fruits on the vine. I hope I can get to them before the birds do. Someone was just explaining that I should prune the vines severely in order to promote new growth since wild grapes grow on new wood. I think I'll do that this year. It will leave me also with an abundance of wild grape vine that could be used to make crafts or baskets with!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Visons of America Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Visions of America
Author/Photographer: Joseph Sohm
Publication: Visons of America, 2009

Author and self-proclaimed Photo Historian Joseph Sohm has spent over thirty years traveling across America taking photographs. At some point the travel photography journey turned into a more of a quest with a goal to capture in photographed images, the idea of what democracy is and expanded to include visits and photographs of all fifty states. As a self-employed photographer without access to press credentials, Sohm has had to work hard to gain access to locations and politicians to succeed in capturing the wide range of content which he felt was imperative to the project (such as access to photograph Presidents).

I learned about this book by seeing Sohm on CSPAN's BookTV discussing the book. In his lecture, I enjoyed hearing stories behind some of the photos of his passion for photography and his patriotism for America. However I mistakenly assumed the book was ONLY a coffee table book of photography.

I loved seeing the high quality photography and the large number of photographs that should go without saying. But what surprised me about VISIONS OF AMERICA once I had it in my hands, was that it is filled with essay stories by Sohm.

Sohm's passion for America, his pride in being an American citizen and his wealth of knowledge about United States history was clearly apparent. I was so entranced by Sohm's words right from the first story that I decided to not peek at the photographs in the future pages, and instead read the book cover to cover, slowly taking in each image as I read the stories in the order the author intended to reveal his literal 'visions of America'. The images so closely tie in with the stories and the finely crafted chapters that reading it in its entirety and in order seemed the most respectful and best way to approach this book. Of the storytelling I will say that the stories are just right, not overdone, are full of passion (not exaggerated) and seem so sincere.

This winds up being anything but a generic compilation of color photographs of the United States of America, there are surely a number of those types of coffee table books on the market already, good only for their photographs. This book is different and SUPERIOR because it tells a story not just in the images selected in the chapter groupings, painting a picture of America's past and present but it is a collection of stories that reads like a travel journal and also like a memoir. The historical content gives a bit of nonfiction history book flavor to the book as well. Additionally there is a fair amount of discussion of the challenges of taking good photographs and the quest and hard work trying to get a great shot so that photographers who like to read about the photographer’s artistic process will enjoy that element of Sohm's stories as well.

The book is without strong political bias but I detect hints which were not troublesome to me. The books contain images of Presidents. Sohm was hired to photograph President Clinton and so that is the time period when the bulk of his Presidential photographs were taken and the book is heavier on the Presidents post 1992. There are images of the Bush's and a couple of now President Obama, taken close to the publication date. The hot button issue of global warming found its way into the book with the author seeming very worried about it (he's clearly not a validity of the issue doubter). A chapter features some photos of some abuse of the Earth by humans (pollution, garbage dumps and so forth) as a bit of a call to action to treat our planet more gently.

Patriotic Americans will love this book. This is a great book for families too, being a wonderful photographic introduction to our United States of America. If my eleven year old son was any indication, kids will enjoy hearing some of the stories too (he loved the story of the difficulty in getting a clear shot of Mt. Rushmore, when a man in an orange jacket was standing right on Lincoln's head, ruining an otherwise perfect shot).

This is also a great book for public libraries.

This is a great coffee table book for casual flipping for people of all ages, but readers should do themselves a favor and take the time to read through the book cover to cover to savor it to its fullest.

I can't recommend this book highly enough! It is a beautiful book, very high quality paper and printing with stunning color photography with very good storytelling.

Bravo Joseph Sohm and thank you for sharing your Magnum Opus with us!

External Links

Author's official website, see samples from the book

Watch author lecture on CSPAN's BookTV

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A Day in Our Life June 2009

Here is a summary of a day in our life in early June 2009. I picked this day of the week so it would include doing homeschool lessons at home. On this day we have two standing appointments so we always do lessons in the morning, and I never schedule other appointments on this day as more than two appointments on one afternoon is a disaster if one thing goes wrong, traffic or whatever. I usually don't do errands on this day of the week; we do most of our shopping on the weekends and a large portion is done by my husband.

My husband kisses me goodbye before leaving for work. I was asleep but am aware of him, then go right back to sleep. I wake up to sunlight coming in my skylight and open windows, and the sound of crows outside is what really wakes me up. I roll over and see that it is 8:15 a.m. I don’t use an alarm unless we have an early morning appointment (generally only once a week). I get out of bed to get my morning cup of iced coffee.

Walking down the hall I see as usual, my 11.5 year old son is already awake. He starts the day by staying in bed and reading fiction, science or history. He likes to stay there, warm under the covers for over an hour silently reading to himself to get some of his homeschool lessons finished for the day. I say good morning to him and continue on downstairs.

My younger son, the longer-sleeper, is still sound asleep. I fetch my coffee and turn on my computer. Sitting at my computer I check my blog for comments, read email and Twitter while drinking my coffee. Since the kids are still occupied, I start a new blog post that if ever published, will be published on another day. I had already set a post to automatically publish at six this morning while I was still asleep. This allows me to have a blog post published without pressure of actually writing something on this day. The house is quiet (no music) to allow my younger son to sleep.

After a half hour or forty-five minutes my older son comes downstairs and gives me a big hug. He goes in to make himself a bowl of cereal and sits and eats it alone. We used to all eat together but that is not what we do now. While I continue to do stuff on the Internet or write a blog draft, he cleans up after himself and goes to shower, brush his teeth and get dressed. While that is happening my younger son wakes up and groggily comes downstairs in his pajamas. He greets me and gives me a hug before moving right on to making himself a bowl of cereal. Then he marches up to shower, brush his teeth and get dressed.

Now I’m getting breakfast for myself and my older son takes over my PC to do his homeschool math lesson with Teaching Textbooks. He loves the program. He does this for one hour so I am not on the computer for that time. I shower and get dressed, then find my younger son is busy at work at the kitchen table doing homeschool assignments.

My kids know the drill of what to do each day. They have it memorized and it is also in a little paper student assignment book. Younger son plugs away at penmanship, a logic workbook, and Singapore Math (which he hates at this point in time and complains about). He asks me a question about the math and I help him. I’m cleaning up the kitchen, emptying the clean dishes from the dishwasher and doing other kitchen tasks while my son is doing his work at the table. He then goes to sit on the living room couch to read science living books to himself. When my older son is finished with his math he goes on to penmanship, a logic workbook, and reads his science book in bed, taking the cat with him. I sit down and look over a bit of The Wall Street Journal (paper edition). We keep all the music and TV off during the day as both kids like it quiet when they do their homeschool lessons.

When both are done with what they’re doing I sit down with them to do history. I read aloud from Story of the World for about a half hour, we’re finally finishing up Volume Two. After this both kids sit to read living books about history to themselves.

The kids want the homeschooling to be over with for the day as they want to move on to playing their one hour a day of video games. This is why they get down to homeschooling lessons early in the morning and why they don’t dawdle over their lessons. I also trained them (yes I used that word) to sit down and do the work a la Charlotte Mason’s habits which I taught my older son at age six and that my younger son has seen happening since he was three years old.

When the kids finish up their lessons, they play video games. On this day one is playing a solo game while the other watches. They talk and laugh throughout. I make them pasta for lunch and serve it. I make myself a different lunch and eat it. The kids want to watch TV while they eat and I say no (as usual). Studies show that people eat mindlessly while watching TV or even reading while eating (gasp) and with recent dietary changes the Pediatrician is forcing upon my younger son, I am trying to help stop overeating and mindless eating. When done the kids bring their dishes to the sink and Ieave them there for now. I remind the kids to put a load of laundry in to wash. They go back to do more video games.

The guitar teacher arrives and my younger son has his private guitar lesson. Older son retreats to his room and works on a giant LEGO city he is making. He stops to read more of his fiction book which he reads for at least an hour before going to bed. He is hooked on this book and wants to see what happens to he reads more than he is assigned for homeschooling. During that lesson I’m cleaning up the kitchen dishes. I clean the fish aquarium filter. By doing tasks in the kitchen I can overhear and see a bit of what is going on with the lesson.

After the lesson my younger son and I get into the car to get to his speech therapy appointment in the next town over. I have recently begun letting my soon to be twelve year old stay home alone, this is one of the days. While he is home alone he is to play or read a book. I have parental controls on the TV so he can’t watch anything PG or above. This is important as our new U-Verse DVR system has a large catalog of pre-recorded videos for free viewing which includes (gasp) soft porn and mature rated series shown on HBO and Showtime. My son has his speech lesson and I hear he is close to graduating. I’m proud of his progress and would be happy to stop paying $50 every week for this service. We go right home. Older son is fine and shows a new thing designed made with LEGO. He feels proud he is able to stay home alone; he’s starting to want to grow up!

My kids decide to make some fresh squeezed orange juice by themselves. They work out who gets to do what and take turns. No bickering this time, hooray.

The kids continue to do laundry, drying it and folding it and putting in more loads. I let them watch a children’s TV show while they fold. They are done with their one hour of video games. They move on to do LEGO together and later play a game of Yu-Gi-Oh! I’m on my computer reading news articles on the Internet, reading my favorite blogs, reading emails and doing a last bit of Scout related volunteer work. I talk to my husband about dinner. He is making a new recipe that we had tried once already and liked, that he originally got via email from Weber Grills.

We do a trip to the public library to return some items and spend about twenty minutes there poking around for books and seeing what movies are in. This is when the public school busses are bringing kids home and I remark that the kids have been gone from home for almost eight hours! My kids can't fathom being at school all that time given all that they've done in their day so far. Some families are now at the library, the parents who picked up their elementary grade kids from the public school up the road are there together. The library is busier than usual due to this fact. I can see and hear some mothers talking to each other about school stuff or gossiping. Once again I feel "left out" of this community by my choice to homeschool. I am sure the other mothers see me with my kids and not recognizing my kids from the public school, assume they attend one of the many private schools in the area. Little do they know how exclusive and how private my kid's school really is!

At some point I go out to get the mail and wind up walking around the yard doing a short nature walk. I often take my camera as I never know what I'll see. This day I check on the new veggie garden which is doing terribly since it has been a very cold and wet May and June. I'm losing enthusiasm for gardening due to the plants barely even growing. The lettuce is ready for harvest and I harvested some for a salad tonight.

Husband gets home at about six in the evening and he sets to making dinner. He loves to cook and asks to continue making dinner. He watches cable news on the kitchen TV. The kids talk to him a bit and overhear some news, not always a good thing depending on the stories of the day. Recent questions have been “what is a prostitute” and “what is an affair” and “what does rape mean”. I have fought for years to get my husband to shield the kids from the news and for years I did win. However since the last Presidential election I’ve lost the battle and the news blares on here. I don’t complain much anymore because the condition is when he is cooking and cleaning up from dinner he watches the news. My alternative is to kick him out of the kitchen, me do that work and keep the TV off. I’m tired by this point in the day and am so happy he makes dinner. I snapped a couple of food photos thinking I may blog about them in the near future.

Vietnamese Shrimp Pops with Peanut Sauce (mostly pork)

Salad with red lettuce from our garden, rest of produce from Costco, with husband's homemade salad dressing.

Our evening routine is not always the same. On this night my husband wants to play a game of football on the Xbox360. My older son wants time alone (a thing he does lately, part of puberty I guess). Younger son joins my husband to watch the football game, discuss it, and laugh. I’m back on the computer reading about knitting and reading Twitter posts. I then go upstairs and get ready for bed. I knit while sitting in bed and watch something on the DVR that I want to watch, this time, a BookTV lecture and some of a stupid reality show. This is the time when I usually talk to my parents or friends, if anyone is home, I use that alone time to chat on the phone rather than spending much time in the daytime doing phone chat. As well my husband will often speak to a brother or his mother or someone in the evening.

Soon everyone is upstairs and the kids are getting ready for bed. We are all in the master bedroom and watch a show on TV together, discussing it. This night we watch a Gordon Ramsey cooking show “Kitchen Nightmares” and have a lot of laughs and have good conversations about good and bad business practices. On other nights we might watch a reality show like Survivor or The Amazing Race or it might be a cooking demonstration show like Good Eats. I see the kids have not put away their own clean laundry and it is all over my bedroom in piles sorted by type of clothing. I tell them to gather it up and put their clothes away. My husband and I gather our clean clothes piles off the floor and put them away.

The kids go to bed and do fiction reading which technically is an assignment for tomorrow’s homeschool but they choose to do it at night in bed. We tuck the kids in for the night and leave them to read alone. When they are done they shut their own light off and go to sleep. Meanwhile, my husband and I are watching something we want on TV, either a news talk show (stressful for me to heat at night but he likes it) and we discuss it, or we watch an entertaining TV series show on the DVR like “The US of Tara” or a TV series I’ve borrowed on DVD from the public library. I am still knitting while watching/listening to the TV. Husband then goes to sleep and I stay up to read in peace and quiet. I’m behind on reading books that I’ve received advance reading copies of and am trying to make a dent in my “to be read” pile. My older son usually goes to bed after us, lately staying up to midnight or even one in the morning reading his book.

Day in the Life of a Homeschool Family Stories

My Three Boybarians is hosting a "Day in the Life" blog hop this week.

By visiting the post you can see a list of links of blog posts to click on to link through to read.

If you are a homeschooling blogger and want to share your family's story, consider blogging it then posting the link before midnight on Friday.

I am participating today too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 191 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 191 was published at Homeschool Bytes.

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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Thinking About Abandoning a Homeschool Curriculum That Doesn’t Work For My Child

It looked so good, so well thought out and a thorough program. I purchased this vocabulary curriculum feeling it was a good solid product, a useful tool. I’d heard this company’s product praised far and wide in the homeschooling community. I’d avoided it for years as I was trying to avoid workbook based learning for my own personal distaste, due to too many workbook pages having been a part of my own public school education, which wanted short term recall of facts that were soon forgotten once the test was over and the next topic was moved on to. But I got to a point where I wished that more difficult vocabulary words were inside of my son’s brain, having not gotten there by reading good books, and figured an easy way for them to get there was to do short exercises in a workbook based program.

It turns out that the teaching methods of this workbook based vocabulary curriculum is exactly the opposite of what my son needs to be able to learn from it. The weirdest thing happens. He does the work. He does the work correctly and receives good grades. Yet he has learned nothing from the work. None of this information sticks. All that work was for naught. Well, on paper it looks good, for me to report that this child did all this work and we had goals and objectives and they were met. But nothing went into long-term memory. The fact that it was non-fun and the work was forced upon him is good to consider too, for it is one thing if a child does something fun and good and then nothing fantastic educationally come of it, at least they had the fun of doing. But in this case there is not even that.

This child of mine is a “very” right brained learner. To sit and passively read black ink on white pages and do workbook exercises like fill in the blank, true and false and matching exercises does nothing for him. Those things may test knowledge already learned but they do little to actually teach the content to him, unlike other kids whose learning styles are different, so reading words on the page and doing that kind of work somehow cements the content into their mind.

This child of mine also has a visual processing learning disorder, a neurological condition. A thing to know about people with an LD is that they only have so much “room” or “energy” to handle learning in a day. When that is tapped out, they are done for the day. No matter what else someone wants them to do, work that is pushed to be produced, or no matter how much something is studied, they are done and over with for the day. All that effort will be for naught. This son’s LD doesn’t directly affect his ability to learn from this vocabulary curriculum, but I think part of his challenge is the taxed brain itself.

Last year when my son began using this program it was a daily struggle. He put effort into it for a number of days spread out over a couple of months. He used it, took a break from it, revisited it, and did more work in it. I finally gave up and decided compared to all the rest of the things he was doing, this was a low priority. This curriculum covers a full grade of vocabulary.

Today I looked over it again. I’m not feeling very enthusiastic. My sentiment at the moment is “why bother?”

I asked a homeschooling mother who knows a lot about visual spatial learners (right brained learners) how vocabulary could be approached. She said with her child she uses a two pronged approach of some workbook curriculum work and the other half is vocabulary words picked from articles in The Wall Street Journal. They read the article and discuss it and research words the child does not know. To this end I spent time in the spring picking out WSJ articles that would be of interest to my son. I haven’t tried that method yet though.

Thinking about the right brained learning thing, or “visual spatial” learner thing, I have suggestions that I heard Dianne Craft talk about at a homeschooling conference in 2008. She suggested making 8x11 flash cards of the word in bright colors and with hand drawn images placed on top of the word and to associate the graphic with the word’s definition or to tell a story around the word, even a silly story, to cement the info in story format and with bright interesting visual images into the child’s mind. I have used that technique with spelling words (highlighting the mistake in the word in a different color) with success. I have not yet tried this for vocabulary words yet.

I’m feeling torn about vocabulary with my son. Here I have last year’s curriculum in hand. Should I abandon it as it is not working? This is last year’s grade level, should I use this or buy the next level up? Would this kind of work be good practice for taking standardized tests and for school assignments should the child land in middle school or high school—so perhaps I should force him to suffer through it? Should I use these lessons as a base for doing the Dianne Craft method of flash cards? Should we do two chapters a month and then use the other half of the month to read from WSJ article words?

When I started writing this the gist was supposed to be about deciding to quit the use of a curriculum and feeling alright with the decision to abandon it. But now that I’ve thought this out by writing about it I think perhaps a better use of our money would be to keep this curriculum and to modify its use by supplementing it with use of flash cards a la Dianne Craft’s method. I could use half of it, and then add in a second thing (the WSJ article idea).

I guess now the decision is to keep the curriculum and modify its use to customize it to match my unique child.

In case you’re wondering, the curriculum is Wordly Wise 3000 Book 6 second edition, by Kenneth Hodkinson (grade 6).

Student book

Answer Key for Teachers

Teacher Manual which I don’t own and didn’t know existed!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 190 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 190 was published at Home Spun Juggling.

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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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 189 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 189 was published at HomeSchooBuzz.

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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Thoughts About Julie & Julia

The reason that I was unimpressed with Julie Powell's blogging project when I heard of it a few years ago, was that I'd heard years earlier, that is how Martha Stewart taught herself to cook. When I heard the blog idea that had since become a book I thought, "Ho hum, unoriginal idea, Martha did that and now Julie Powell is copying it.". I believe a certain friend of mine told me about it after reading the article about Powell in The New York Times, in one of our discussions about blogging and what people blog about and if a person could actually make real money from blogging or not.

That is the reason why me, a blogger and a bookworm, did not run out and buy or even read a library copy of Powell's blook when it did publish. Plus later a friend said that she comes off whiny in the book. I was not interested, sorry, even despite me being a blogger and me feeling happy that Powell was able to turn her blog into a book.

When I heard the blog and book was being made into a movie I was really happy for Powell, imagining her rolling in the dough from what started as a DIY project that so many creative American women do but seldom ever earn a dime from.

When I heard the movie had Meryl Streep and told the story of Julia Child's life now my interest was piqued. When I hard Streep was fantastic in the movie I really wanted to see it.

I finally saw the movie yesterday, going with my foodie, self-taught home cook husband and my mother-in-law. Truth be told I urged my husband to go as I thought he'd like it for the cooking part. When I mentioned going to my mother-in-law she said she wanted to see it, and I realized she'd not been to a movie in over three years, in the time since her husband got Cancer and then later passed away. I figured she was long overdue for a trip to the movies, even though it wasn't so easy, as she had to go in a wheelchair due to her medical ailments and her handicap.

We all enjoyed the movie. We felt the Julie Powell character was indeed whiny. We loved the Julia Child part of the story. The story was funny. The food was delicious looking.

Being the age I am, I missed out on seeing Julia Child on TV, I was too young, I believe. The earliest TV cook I can recall was The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, on PBS. I was there when FoodTV splashed onto the scene and I'd watch it on cable with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. I credit FoodTV for turning my husband on to not just quality grilling but to cooking gourmet meals from scratch. My own preference for baking from scratch can be credited to my mother and maternal grandmother.

When I got married I was worried about learning to cook. My mother had refused to teach me. Truth be told her cooking was limited to a few dishes that my father wanted to eat. Being a bookworm and being used to teaching myself from books I turned to books to teach me. I'm a collector too so next thing I knew, I had a cookbook collection growing. My husband started a tradition of buying me one cookbook of regional cuisine from the location that he went to a business trip to.

Are you surprised we still don't own a copy of Julia Child's french cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"? I'd never desired to cook french food, thinking it too complicated and unhealthy due to all that butter and heavy cream. I was busy enough with Italian food to suit his heritage. And the trip to Paris in 1997 and multiple terrible experiences with rude French people, the worst being yelled at by a waiter in a gourmet restaurant while at a big business dinner, when he accused me of stealing a silver salt shaker, left a poor taste in my mouth for french cooking and everything french!

Scanning my shelves today I did find an unread paperback copy of Child's "The French Chef Cookbook" which is a collection of her recipes from her cooking TV show, a very basic black ink on white cheap pulp paper production. This is the 30th anniversary collection published in 1998 which I see I purchased at Costco. I also own a lovely book "Baking with Julia" which is large, almost being a coffee table book, with gorgeous photographs and authored by Dorie Greenspan. I recall purchasing this from the Cookbook of the Month Club when I was trying to teach myself to bake breads and desserts from scratch.

I'm a sweet tooth so baking from scratch is more my passion. I am disappointed in the low quality taste of store bought desserts and even what is available in local bakeries. The taste of a cake from scratch is nothing like a cake from a box or a cake from the grocery store! Unlike typical American families we do not keep dessert food in our house. Yes, I mean that no dessert is served here after lunch or after dinner. But when we are to have a dessert it is a good dessert. Birthday cakes are almost always made at home from scratch and their taste is so good that all the relatives exclaim in delight and surprise. They are so used to flavorless store bought cakes that they didn't know what a real cake tastes like. I figure that it is better to eat less dessert but when eating it to eat one that tastes good. I also want one with less chemicals which a home baked dessert from scratch gives, and cheaper is good too, again homemade desserts are usually cheaper.

As we exited the movie theatre my husband said we must buy the Julia Child cookbook. I'm curious now about Child's life and will probably read (and may buy) her book "My Life in France". Today I read an article in The New York Times (found on Twitter) about the exploding sales of the Julia Child books.

I'm curious about Powell's book now also and may seek it from the public libary as well, we'll see if I can fit it in to be read. My "to be read" pile is still too high to let much else in. Or maybe since "Julie & Julia" is just $7.99 on Amazon I'll spring for it and help Powell make a little more money off one more sale as a hat tip to her accomplishment for self-education with books, for blogging it all and for landing a book and movie deal to boot. Good for you Julie Powell!

I thought that Julia Child's cooking shows should be released onto DVD for home viewing. After an Amazon search I found out that did happen in 2005! Who knew? Now I want to watch that!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Free Range Kids Grilling Dinner

Seen in this photo are my sons aged nine and almost twelve preparing a fire in our Performer Weber Grill (which had run out of propanenormally used for the 'touch and go' propane gas charcoal igniting process).

The boys used the fire safety skills and fire starting skills learned in Cub Scouts and/or Boy Scouts and at their homeschool wilderness class. My husband and I let them alone watching from a distance. They used newspaper to start the fire to light the wood charcoal we grill with.

The kids both wanted to light the fire. They came to a compromise to help each other.

We love this grill and have been using it for 14 years, since 1995. Over time we have had to replace broken parts but for now it is still holding up. Wood charcoal burns hotter and is harder on the grill, my husband says. So long as the propane tank has propane in it, the lighting is fast and easier than a regular (plain) Weber grill when using wood charcoal.

Wood charcoal imparts a different and better flavor to the foods being cooked compared to a regular propane gas grill.

We have used this brand of mesquite wood chips for smoking, along with the regular wood charcoal in our Weber grill. However I usually find these at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls in their gourmet food aisle.

Free Range Kids

See the book "Free Range Kids" and the author's website about the concept of giving our children freedom to do what they are capable of doing like we did when those in our generation were growing up, and to let them slowly become independent rather than keeping our children overly dependent on adults.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yes, Yes, Yes!

I get it. I get it. I get it.

I can't tell you how happy and un-alone I feel to realize that I'm not the only one thinking these thoughts. Reading this today has energized me and validated me.

From From the archives: Testament at the blog Mental Multivitamin:

"I couldn't sleep last night, so I brewed some more coffee and padded through the little house in the tiny woods on the prairie. I think that I began to understand why so many people choose to slip-slide through life. Literature or art or music or conversation that makes. us. think. hurts. It forces us to re-examine ourselves and our lives in ways that may... that will disappoint us. Reconciling who we are with who we thought we might be is hard work. It is easier, then, to watch "The Apprentice," post silly polls to faceless "friends" on a chat board, hide in the bathroom with the latest issue of People, live behind the unexamined rules of an organization, work without joy, sleep without really dreaming. Yes, it is easier to slip-slide on a sled of such soul-deadening (non)choices, easier to slip and slide toward nothingingness than to choose to walk to the very edge of its chasm, to feel its black fingers caress the essence of you, and then to pull away, renewed, recommitted to making today matter more than yesterday."

and later...

"While we must be something more than not too bad, I'm not certain that being ourselves is such an unworthy goal. Being our best selves, that is, and by doing so inspiring in those we love and those we meet the desire to be, in turn, their best selves. So that even if a big part of the world is being lots of quite awful things, we are not allowing the everyday to pass unnoticed and uncelebrated."

Thank you MFS for your wonderful post. Now I want to watch Testament.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Author Panel August 27, 2009 in Wilton Connecticut

The Wilton public library in Connecticut is hosting a talk with three book authors who have published their first book. They will speak about writing and getting published. The speakers are: Jessica Bram, Matthew Dicks, and Margot Berwin and this event is being held 8/27/09.

For more information and to reserve a seat, see this page of their website.

I have attended free author talks at the Wilton Library in the past. The events are well-run, very organized and professional. They have a fantastic, beautiful room with good acoustics. If you are interested in hearing about future events held at the Wilton Library, you can sign up to receive their email notifications.

Lessons From Maine About Government Involvement with Health Care Insurance

Regarding ideas to change the old system of health care insurance, we should learn from what individual states have tried. Maine started a new system in 2003 that is very much like the current bill HR 3200 backed by President Obama. Maine's system has failed.

I was going to quote some selections from this short article but the whole thing is worth reading.

Please read it.

No Maine Miracle Cure: Another state 'public option' that failed.

This is a perfect example of how good intentions didn't pan out. This shows how when ideas are sketched out on paper and numbers are crunched ahead of time, it doesn't necessarily mean what happens in real life winds up being accurate for cost nor does it necessarily meet its objective. Instituting a new, expensive, big government plan with good hearted intentions sometimes just does not wind up working in real life.

Note: If you don't know what community ratings are please take a few minutes of your time to research it. The issues surrounding community ratings and how they increase the cost to the consumer and sometimes wind up giving the members less coverage are real issues that everyone should know about. I know about community ratings from my past job at an HMO where some of our members lived in states with community ratings.

First Squash Harvest

Here is our first harvest of squash from our (organic) new vegetable garden.

The colors were pure eye candy!

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 8/05/09.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Survival Handbook Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure
Author: Colin Towell
Publication: DK Publishers, 2009
Genre: nonfiction
ISBN: 9780756642792
Full Retail Price: $30.00

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Tons of Information with Excellent Illustrations

Being the mother of two boys who are interested in wilderness survival skills and who are both Scouts I thought this book would be a perfect fit for our family. I was unable to read it for at least three months as it went missing in my house. I finally asked my eleven year old son about it and sure enough, he admitted he’d taken it, read some, and found a place to keep it on his shelf, claiming it as his own.

I am familiar with the books published by DK Publishing, being known for non-fiction topics with information spread across two page spreads with many illustrations and bubbles of text all around the page. Usually the books have photographs so when I saw this one had what looks like digital illustrations with less detail AT FIRST I was disappointed. However once I began reading the book and really looking at the illustrations I realized the drawings were able to show important detail that photographs may be harder to capture. Also, with the huge variety of topics and items illustrated, to photograph all this could be a logistical nightmare as well as very expensive.

The author, Colin Towell has military experience, having learned and practiced survival skills in the Royal Navy and in the British Army’s elite Special Air Service. He has taught survival skills for years.

This book has tons of information about surviving in all kinds of weather and in all different places from woodlands to the desert. It discusses surviving on foot and the proper use of four wheel vehicles in the bush as well as raft building and water transport. I appreciated the section on planning and on mental preparation not just a focus on “you’re in this situation, now what”. It is impossible to mention all that this book covers so I will list the general categories by chapter titles: Before You Go, On the Trail, Camp Craft, Taking Shelter, Water and Food, In an Emergency, First Aid and an Appendix with lists of wild edible foods and natural dangers (plants and animals). There is a list of resources and a glossary of terms.

Important to note is this book is over 300 large pages, and is hardcover with glossy pages and a nice binding. This is a book to read at home, not a small field guide to take along with you on backpacking trips or to store in your vehicle’s glove compartment.

I am very impressed with this book; it is packed with tons of information. The illustrations are useful and plentiful. If a person is interested in survival skills it is appropriate from childhood up through teenagers and of course, for adults.

The book is an official licensed product for the Boy Scouts of America and their Venturing program.

This book would make a great gift for anyone interested in survival skills who would enjoy slowly reading this, using it as a reference and especially for a person who desires to have tons of information all in one volume.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. I have agreed to not resell this book or give it away.

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