Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pondering Edible Wild Plants Again

This year we began a new organic vegetable and herb garden on this property. I had a wonderful garden at our last home. The deer here are so thick it deterred me from veggie and flower gardening for eight years.

Without making this a report on how the first year with this vegetable garden went, I'll share that May and June were terrible months. It was cold and wet. Near the end of June I checked Weather Underground when I had time on my hands and compared 2009 temperatures to 2008's and they were 12-14 degrees colder in both day and night! Also we had a ridiculous amount of clouds and rain. I wore fleece and long pants until the first of July.

What happened was that the carefully planted seedlings barely grew in those months. Yet all around the wild plants in the woods, on the edges of the woods, on roadsides and even in my garden paths thrived.

I was reminded again that the human cultivation of crops is not an easy thing to do. It seems crazy to me how powerful Mother Nature is and how strong the native (and invasive) plants are in comparison to cultivated edible crops that we desire to grow in a spot. Even a spot with perfect soil composition, good drainage and everything "done right".

My children have been learning for a few years about edible wild plants at the homeschool wilderness school they attend. They tell me things that I didn't know.

My maternal grandmother passed away in this last year. With the spring and summer season I was reminded of how she would wildcraft red raspberries, black raspberries, high bush cranberries and fiddlehead (ferns). She was a canner and a preserver, a maker of both sweet and savory preserves. She supplied our family with homemade preserved foods both from her garden patch and from the wilds of northern Maine. In the last few years of her life she relied on a paid caregiver to do the work of the canning, while she supervised, and she relied on the wildcrafted bounty given to her by her friends. Red raspberries would appear by the gallon full. But this year we would be without her canned preserves. I started thinking about learning to can.

July was brutally hot and humid as was August. It was so oppressive that I didn't want to be in the garden. Additionally I broke out in a rash, worse than any poison ivy I'd ever had, after weeding the garden pathways. For five weeks I itched and suffered and I was scared to venture into the garden.

The heat and humidity was perfect for a late blight to hit my garden. They say this variety came from Mexico in the 1990s and is a more severe strain of what affected the potato crop in Ireland in the 1800s. So my crops suffered. I lost over 50 tomato plants.

As my cultivated garden suffered, the wild plants thrived.

I began thinking about wild edible plants. I saw some wild edibles at farmer's markets for ridiculous prices! Purslane at $3.50 per HALF pound! It is a garden weed! Why would people pay that high price at a farmer's market if they could pick it from their own yards?

I began reading about wild edible plants. There is so much common sense there that I'm starting to wonder if Americans have gone plum crazy.

We Americans have gotten so used to grocery store shopping with its factory foods and fresh produce shipped in from all over the world that we not only rely on it but feel it is our only option. You know as well as I do that sometimes we pay too high a price for fresh produce that is not so fresh and maybe not so tasty either. The tomatoes that hold up well in the shipping process are inferior in taste to old variety tomatoes that bruise easily. I get the necessity of the situation but this is food and I want my food to taste good!

I recall reading that soil depleted of magnesium due to over-farming results in produce that is low in magnesium (even though traditionally that food used to be higher in magnesium). As a result many Americans are thought by medical doctors to be low in magnesium. This can cause many health problems ranging from insomnia or poor sleep to heart attacks. Yet Americans are not encouraged to even take (cheap) Magnesium supplements because they are not a brand name Big Pharma product that is being advertised and marketed to Americans! Only some medical doctors or alternative medical providers are suggesting that patients take magnesium supplements. Or people educate themselves then take it on their own.

Some worry of the health dangers of eating fresh produce with chemicals used in its propagation. So what of the wild edible foods growing all around us that never touch a chemical? Why not eat them?

I was reading a book about wild edible plants last night and was surprised to learn that wild parsnip is actually cultivated parsnip whose seed escaped from gardens and is growing in the wild. Yet people would recoil at the idea of digging a parsnip from a meadow but would buy it from the grocery store. Is that not odd?

Another thought I had about wild edible plants is that most of these I have never eaten in my life. I have been raised mostly on store bought food and have even become accustomed to eating things that don't even grow in the USA, ever. I have been conditioned to want to eat bananas and mangoes and all kinds of things that definitely don't grow here in New England where I've lived all of my life. And strangely, the wild plants that are native to New England, I have never eaten. There is not much of a sense of regional cuisine within the USA having to do with eating native wild plants. My maternal grandmother did that, but she was also poor and lived more off the land than my paternal grandmother (so I don't even think this is a generational thing).

I could gather wild edible foods and eat them. I was wondering what my friends would think. They would probably think I was crazy. "Why would you eat a wild plant when you can afford to buy food from the grocery store?" My answers are pretty much the same as when I buy store bought food. I want to spend the least amount of money possible. I want fresh wholesome foods. I prefer foods raised without chemicals. I want foods that taste good. I want foods with good nutritional value.

I am willing to try some wild edibles and see if I can get my palate accustomed to them. Instead of letting the thousands of acorns in my yard rot away or be eaten by squirrels I think I'll harvest them for eating roasted and may even grind myself some acorn flour.

It hit me the other day that some people I know live on diets of highly processed foods and they don't even cook. They buy prepared foods frozen or fresh and reheat them (or eat them cold). They eat foods that are empty calories or have little nutritional value. Then to get the nutrients they need they take a factory manufactured vitamin and mineral supplement. Do you not find it creepy that we are supposed to eat for sustenance and nutrition but many are eating garbage with little nutrition then supplement to get the good they should have received from the food? I find the whole idea crazy-making.

Does it make any sense for edible foods to be naturally created all around us using no man made energy or labor and to let the food drop to the ground and rot to nothing? Just ponder that for a moment.

Why is a family willing to spend $6 at the grocery store for a half pint of black raspberries when the same berries on the wild bush in their neighborhood are eaten by birds or rot and fall to the ground? Not only is that not frugal living but it is plain stupid.

Americans who are concerned with conserving energy and carbon emissions from food manufacturing, transport and food sales, ask yourselves why are you not eating the free food all around you in nature?

Organic home gardeners who toil over cultivated crops, ask yourself why not share in nature's bounty and eat what is growing wild all around you?

The more I think about eating wild edible foods the more sense it makes. Yes it takes some self-education or maybe taking a class or working with a mentor, but it seems worth it to me.

What do you think?

Is there a place in modern society for eating wild edible foods? Why or why not?

I think I'll start eating more wild edible foods. If that is one more thing that makes you think I'm weird, then so be it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 196 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 196 was published at Heart of the Matter (Online).

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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Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Family Favorites
Author: Beth Hensberger
Genre: Cookbook
ISBN: 978-1558324091 (paperback)
Full Retail Price: $14.95 (paperback)

My Rating: 3 stars out of 5 = It’s Okay

Summary Statement: To Use All Recipes Author Requires 4 Sizes of Slow Cookers & One with a Timer

This is the fourth book the author has written about slow cooker (crock pot) cooking. I’ve not read the other books by Hensberger.

My purpose for reading and using this book is that as a mother of two kids who this season, are out of the house three or four nights a week I’ve found it hard to make our usual from scratch “slow food” recipes. We have begun resorting to take out food, pizza, sandwiches, fast boiled pasta or cold cereal for dinner too much lately. We’ve owned a crock pot for at least twelve years but have not taken the time or felt the necessity to learn to use it. Now is that time.

This title is about family favorites but the “not your mother’s” had me wondering what she meant. From what I can glean the author is referencing more healthy meals, especially since this is mentioned in the book’s subtitle. I note the inclusion of some soy products into formerly meat-only or cow’s milk dairy products, but am not sure if that is for a perceived health benefit? If so, perhaps the author should read the book THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF SOY by Dianne Gregg. However I’m surprised at the content of some of the dishes such as the French toast casserole that uses a combination of half and half and whole milk plus butter. Other recipes contain cheeses, so the inclusion of high fat cow milk products makes one question the “healthy meals” aspect. Some of the processed foods she uses as ingredients contain corn syrup instead of using homemade foods from scratch. I understand the challenge with wanting healthy food that is home cooked yet wanting to save time. But just as reheating processed frozen foods is home cooking of processed foods so is slow cooking when some products are clearly chemical filled or contain corn syrup.

Perhaps “not your mother’s” refers to non-bland, non-traditional American foods? I see some recipes are a bit more fancy, has more spices or are foods from foreign countries that are more modern (couscous or hummus or Thai recipes). Yet some are good old fashioned plain American foods like the Chicken Noodle Soup and the Crock Pot Roast. So to me the recipes cookbook seem like a mish-mosh.

Because I am new to slow cooking I really appreciated the introduction with basic information and tips. There is great information here that I think I can use to adapt traditional recipes to crock pot cooking such as which foods get bitter if added at the beginning and which break down over time. The section on cooking times and temperatures was helpful. For me this is the best part of the book.

A complaint is the author recommends for family cooking that we buy FOUR different sized crock pots for different meals. Some recipes use two crock pots per meal so owning two to use both at the same time is necessary. This was a let down as my goal was to use the one I already own to its fullest potential. Regarding pot size, a complaint is that the recipes do NOT contain conversions to use other crock pots. I hate the idea of buying three more crock pots just to try the recipes to see if our family even likes the dishes that the slow cookers can produce! Having to buy four different crock pots in order to make less expensive meals defeats the frugal aspect of this endeavor!

To test, I made one conversion of the French toast casserole and cut the recipe in half and used four layers of bread (not two). I assumed this would require an equal or longer cook time but in half the time the casserole was over the recommended internal temperature and was starting to burn on the pot. Due to the author’s choice to NOT include conversion ideas, so far I’m floundering with trial and error.

I also quickly realized that the cooking times will not work for our family’s schedule. After reading through the cookbook the necessity of having a crock pot with a timer so that it can cook on a higher temperature for a certain amount of time then be lowered to warm so it is hot but not overcooked when the family arrives home is obvious. This is touched upon on page 41 (not in the introduction where in my opinion it belongs). The solution is to buy a NEW crock pot that has a timer function. I’m not happy that to use slow cooking to its fullest in our family, I’ll have to buy a new slow cooker! I just checked prices and the cost of the slow cookers with decent timers are 2-3 times more than the non-timer models! Again, slow cooking seems to be more expensive than I’d assumed it would be!

I noticed by reading through some recipes that in some cases additional ingredient information or vital prep steps are in the introductory paragraph NOT in the body of the recipe. I have never seen this in a cookbook before! Usually all ingredients, possible substitutions and even garnishes are in the ingredient list itself and also noted in the directions, stepped out. Don’t skip reading the introduction paragraph!

To give a sense for some of the recipes that may help explain “not your mother’s” here are some: Hot Almond Milk with Saffron (Indian drink), Hot Tofu Artichoke Dip, Green Chile Slow Cooker Omelet with Warm Fresh Tomato Salsa, Thai Beef and Pasta Salad, Lynn’s Flank Steak Tostadas with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce, Vegetable Lentil Soup with Cumin, Coriander, and Lemon, Fresh Cream of Corn Soup (has silken tofu in it), and Chinese Apricot Pork Roast with Buckwheat Soba Noodle Salad.

There are no desserts in this cookbook.

A last issue with some of these family recipes is the fact that they have non-bland spices or are international dishes will refused to be eaten by picky eater children in the family. I realize that’s an issue with the kids not with the author but I’m just pointing it out since this is titled as a family cookbook.

I’ve tested some recipes. I’ll keep it short. The Ginger Ale tasted like a very spicy cayenne pepper soft drink and nothing like a commercial ginger ale I’ve ever tasted. My husband and two kids turned their noses up at it. I wonder if this syrup base would be better used to make a vodka martini cocktail (albeit only for adults in the family). The use of high chemical cinnamon bread, a non-pantry staple item that is expensive to boot, in the French Toast Casserole is disappointing. I’d like to have seen a conversion for normal bread we have on hand, and adding cinnamon. I tried the recipe and found it bland, needing more maple syrup for sweetener which we added on top. I shudder at the idea of ruining the taste of the gourmet and expensive Schraffen Berger or Vhalrona chocolate with the strong flavor of sweetened condensed milk (with corn syrup) and personally would prefer to use granulated sugar (organic or raw) as to me avoidance of corn syrup is one key to healthy eating.

The book does NOT contain illustrations of any kind. There are no color photographs to inspire or tempt us (other than the one on the cover).

I am left not feeling very empowered yet still itching to use the one slow cooker I own to its fullest potential. I guess that will take buying one or two other cookbooks from different authors who make more use of the round five quart slow cooker I own. I feel that to use this cookbook more, I need to spend more money on additional slow cookers and one with a timer to use the recipes in this cookbook and I’m not interested in investing money in that when I don’t even know if the dishes it can make are as edible as the usual food we are accustomed to eating.

I’m rating this book 3 stars = It’s Okay. Had this book not required four different sized crockpots and one with a timer I’d have rated it 4 stars = I Like It (even if I was not interested in every single recipe due to our family’s palate).

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I cannot resell the item for profit so its value to me is $0. I received no payment for publishing this review on

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shamefully Ripping Off the Elderly

I've had it with companies ripping off the elderly.

Tonight I have another example of this that I'll share.

The elderly are used to doing things the same way. They sometimes are stuck in routines. Some also place trust in companies they deal with, especially companies that have been around for a long time. This trust is placed at their peril.

The small rip-off's that the elderly endure, which they usually have no clue about, can add up. Seniors on fixed incomes need to watch their spending. The spending adds up. Even elderly people who think they are pinching pennies may be getting ripped off due to not shopping around.

It is too bad that fixed routine and overly trusting elderly people wind up getting taken advantage of.

Here is one example from this evening.

My mother-in-law has been subscribing to Good Housekeeping for years. It is published by Hearst Communications, a huge and longstanding company. She apparently renewed her subscription by following the directions on the bill they sent her. The bill arrived, it is for $24 for one year (12 issues).

When I saw the bill it seemed high to me. I check on (my favorite bookseller) and today's rate for new or renewed TWO YEAR subscriptions is $15 PLUS there is a September special to get an extra $5 off. That is $10 for two years (24 issues). Yet here my mother-in-law was going to pay FIVE TIMES that rate due to direct billing from Hearst.

(A second offer of $8 for one year was on too. That makes the Amazon price 75% lower than the Hearst direct billing price.)

Now I know my mother-in-law is not Internet savvy and perhaps therein lies the problem. She had the Internet for years and despite having time on her hands, didn't learn to use it as she didn't want to. But elderly people with friends and relatives can ask others for a bit of help such as "Can you double check the price of this magazine subscription for me?". Those of us who are quick with a keyboard and Google-savvy, especially those of us who understand the necessity of frugal living or at least don't like to be ripped off will be willing and able to help them.


Follow-Up: I have cancelled the expensive subscription and bought a subscription through for my mother-in-law.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 195 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 195 was published at Apollos Academy.

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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Want to See Older Kids in Homeschool Articles

Just a little vent here that I'm sick of seeing little kids in homeschooling articles.

I want to see older kids, tweens and young teens if not also older teens in photos and stories of homeschoolers.

One issue is that informal and fun learning is often cited in the article about homeschooling (in general) and it is true that is great. Learning can be done at the zoo and at a children's museum! Hooray!

The little kids, toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary grade kids seen in the photos are so cute. Okay they look good in the media story.

Always showing the littlest kids gives a certain impression. Perhaps this is why some thing that middle schoolers or high school aged kids cannot be homeschooled?

I understand some kids start to look awkward during puberty. I get that some teens have acne. Those are not the most beautiful kids to photograph for the articles. But please, can we see some? Those are real kids. Let's get real.

I am happy that homeschool mothers of young kids are writing articles and agreeing to be interviewed for media articles. But I've had enough.

I also know that teaching upper elementary and middle school grades can start to get a little tricky. In all subjects the learning doesn't always come easy or fast. And so it is not polished or always good news. I'd like to NOT believe that only showing positive stories making it all seem easy is a part of a propaganda machine. I'd like some more realistic stories please.

Am I going to have to start writing for publication in order to get some stories in the media with kids ten and older?

Thanks for listening to my vent.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thoughts on Educated Kids and Literate Adults

Some days I feel I have high standards for my children's education which includes our choice to homeschool.

Then sometimes I am around some homeschoolers (in person, over the Internet or through books and magazines) and suddenly feel inferior and that my standards are sub-par, or that I'm somehow failing my children, or that I'm doing alright but am somehow not doing something correctly (in their eyes) so am not fully optimizing my children's skills, talent and that I'm inhibiting their attainment of their fullest potential.

But then more validation comes my way from hearing things said by parents of schooled kids I know. I hear of low standards in schools, time spent doing this and that and see little result (of the hours in school and homework that seem to produce so little).

Or I hear of how a child formerly thought to be quite intelligent and unchallenged by public school just received very low grades on the CMT (Connecticut's standardized test). The parent's original perception of their child's brilliance is knocked down to a different perception of reality quite suddenly. (Or it could be the pitfalls of standardized testing and maybe the child is brighter than their score?)

Then I hear stories of smart kids, of visual spatial learners who are not the perfect fit for classroom learning yet are continued to be crammed into that mold and don't fit. I hear stories of kids that the world needs, with unique outlooks and creative thinking abilities that are not utilized much in the classroom and somehow along the way the child is thought to be average or closer to 'failing'. What a shame that a defeated student who develops low self-esteem and a wrong perception of themselves may wind up being an unmotivated and disinterested schooled kids who even in adulthood, may be enslaved by the narrow definition that someone put onto them. That's so sad to see happen to a formerly curious and bright child.

I hear stories of kids with learning disabilities whose parents struggle to help them learn and navigate through the school system and how much time, energy and stress goes into that and for what effect?

I also speak to other parents who share about their lifestyle and see that what I'm doing is this over here and what they do is that thing over there and the two are worlds apart. And their children are suffering for it. Like the kids who hate to read whose parents didn't read aloud to them, and whose parents don't themselves read. Is it any wonder that the child feels books are unnecessary? Or the kids who have been shoved in front of the TV since babyhood and wanted to be kept entertained by technology or placed in so many adult supervised organized events---do we wonder why they don't lay in the grass looking for shapes in the clouds? Or why they don't know how to entertain themselves or even how to play? Or how some get into a panic if they are not told what to do every second of the day, unable to organize themselves or to be at peace with an open schedule and peace and quiet?

(I would love to tell detailed stories to back this all up but it would get me into trouble with friends, relatives and acquaintances in the community. You will have to trust me that I have examples of all of these things.)

Then I hear statistics about American adults that are pathetic. Like statistics quoted by David Baldacci at the 2009 National Book Festival's opening remarks on September 26th (televised by CSPAN's BookTV), paraphrased:

Of American college graduates, 70% will never read a book again after their graduation and 80% will never read a newspaper.

The book and newspaper reading of non-college graduates is even less.

And 50% of American adults read at the two lowest levels of literacy.

And that 3/4 of adults that can read choose not to read.

So with all that in mind I think I'm doing pretty darned well with my kids. So far they have always been homeschooled. Raised with attachment parenting that allows for close bonds with parents and raised primarily by their birth mother, they have been raised by the two people who love them most in this world. Even if my kids do someday wind up in school I know they have a good foundational education as well as excellent role models in parents who are themselves autodidacts, readers of books, newspapers, magazines and journals. Their parents are independent thinkers who read information from numerous sources with conflicting opinions and come to their own conclusions. Their parents talk to others, who want such discussion, about our views and the reasons behind it, rather than parroting back sound bites provided by various propaganda machines, talking heads or pundits.

I think my kids will turn out pretty darned well. I know I've put a lot of thought and effort into my kids. That can only take them so far. They are right at an age when realizing that they must take personal responsibility for their education is becoming clearer. I can lead them to water but I can't make them drink. I can set up a good environment and give them healthy parameters, good limits, and encouragement. I can't take over their learning and do it for them, though. They also have to work to learn what they need to know and to learn to push through adversity when learning doesn't come quickly or simply.

I'll leave you with this quote from David Baldacci at the conference noted above. If you like this please find a way to hear his whole speech.

"America, a land of liberty founded on ideals that were carefully thought out by immensely well read people, could well be lost. Knowledge is what makes us civilized, tolerant and caring. Our ability to read and think, forming our own opinions and not simply chanting back what we're told to believe is really the only thing that separates us from those societies that don't care about concepts like rights and personal liberties, where very few control the thoughts of millions. Where people who cannot achieve what they want through reasoned argument do so with their fists. These are the very same forces which we are in battle with today."

He goes on to discuss literacy and how it is directly tied to ignorance and how of our own choice, people choose to be ignorant and illiterate, which is a shame.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Busy Doing

I am happy to be very busy working on projects around my house. Honestly this time I'm not annoyed, angry or resentful to be doing this work. This last week I worked on decluttering the basement, it's probably one third decluttered and still remaining is to clean all the floors of years of dust. I have the last third of work waiting to clean out the garage. After that I have to clear the vegetable garden because the late blight of the tomatoes and the colder then normal weather has killed almost the entire crop.

I have been keeping up with the "one hour a day" housecleaning that makes routine cleaning tasks easier than doing the whole place in one day.

In order to make time for these decluttering projects I am spending less time online. I have not been able to read as many blogs as I'd like. I'm even doing less book reading of late. I'm only checking email every two or three days.

Of course homeschooling my kids is also a high priority. And we're still adapting to the restarting of Scouts and other outside appointments.

A result of taking in less information is I have less opinions floating around in my head and thus they do not beg for release via blogging.

I've been happy and content lately despite not always liking what I heard in the political news.

I have shifted my focus a bit. I am on less email discussion groups than I used to be. I am trying not to chat daily online about homeschooling. I am letting other people answer questions that others ask in networking groups instead of always jumping in to help someone else. I would like others to step up to the plate more and help their fellow homeschoolers. I also would like to see more homeschoolers helping themselves to the easily available information instead of always wanting everything spoon-fed to them. I have learned that homeschoolers who are held too closely in hand by others sometimes fail to take the amount of personal responsibility required to make homeschooling a success for them and as a result, they and their enablers have set them up for failure.

I feel like I'm putting most of my attention to doing stuff and have been online less. I've been tweeting a lot since it is fast but I have to take care to not spend too much time reading other tweets lest I get sucked into the computer.

Life is good here. I hope you have been well also!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Self-Portrait 9/19/09

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 9/19/09 at mouth of Bee's River (Herring River)  at First Encounter Beach, Eastham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at sunset.

Facebook For My Kids?

My kids are pressuring me to let them open a Facebook account. Most of this is from my twelve year old. He has found out that most of the Boy Scouts in his Troop are on Facebook. These kids are mostly from public school and then two parochial private schools in the area (so this is not just a public school kid trend).

I've been on Facebook for a couple of months. I know I'm late to the game. But I feel like I reveal so much here on my blog to strangers plus I have friends and some family who read my blog. How much more do I need to share and do for my online time?

In the past I have shared negative views of Facebook for kids and tweens and teens and instead thought face to face socialization was better, or talking on the phone as second best. I still believe that. I see though that sometimes kids are in the house or it is late at night and they are just choosing to use social networking sites to communicate instead of the phone or face to face (which parents would object to both, late phone calls and staying out late at night). Other times the kids are just home with the parents (like around dinnertime) and this new technology is easy to log on and chat a bit before dinner is served. This is just a new thing that kids are doing that people in my generation didn't have the option to participate in.

Now that I'm on Facebook I can see the way it is secure and would feel safe having my kids on there (safe from predators).

And because my nine year old thinks he is older and is one of the type of people who live seeking fairness and equality, if I let my twelve year old on Facebook I will have pressure to let my younger son on it too.

My one reservation is the issue of the kids not understanding the ramifications of their actions. I worry about impulsive posts and not understanding the weight of what gets posted. I don't worry so much about cyber bullying as we could limit who our kids associate with. I worry about inappropriate things said from the other kids, even nice Boy Scouts. I also worry about the risk of future employers and colleges finding the old Facebook posts.

The Boy Scouts tell me they like to use the chat feature on Facebook. They live chat for hours and hours, some until three in the morning. They say their parents have no clue and think they are asleep and that the computer (in their bedrooms) is already shut down for the night, but they are wrong!

For now I'm holding off but it may not be for long. We'll have to see...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Good Lesson My Kids Are Learning

My boys have some responsibilities around the house that they are fully in charge of doing.

My nine year old empties the compost bucket in the kitchen into the outdoor compost bin.

My twelve year old changes the five gallon spring water bottle for the water cooler.

Both kids do all the household laundry, all of the steps in the process.

They are learning that stuff builds up and things need maintenance on a regular basis regardless of what else is happening in real life or how busy they are.

This week both of them said things about them being busy so that should exempt them from doing the jobs, that in their personal busy-ness (which includes of course, optional fun stuff they do in their 'free time'), that my husband and I should pick up the slack.

No way!

We're teaching them that with these couple of jobs they do, they have to take responsiblity and do them. The food scraps don't stop buildling up so long as we're eating fresh fruits and veggies. The dirty clothes don't stop getting dirty because they played with a friend all day and were not available to do the laundry.

Many things in our family are give and take. We share and help each other all day long. But on these few tasks I'm drawing a line in the sand to teach them that they cannot shirk duties just because they're tired from playing a video game (!) or because they worked hard on their homeschooling lessons and feel mentally taxed.


It is our hope that this is part of teaching our kids a good work ethic.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Modifying Curriculum to Help a Homeschooled Child

Today we're encountering an issue with my older son's math curriculum. I thought I'd share a concrete example of how homeschooling parents can tweak curriculum in order to custom tailor it to their child's unique needs.

I am surprised at the way that Teaching Textbooks 7 is handling fractions. There is not a lot of repetition of simple fraction work. It goes quickly into multi-step problems. For example there was not a lot of easy practice of finding lowest common denominators before moving into multi-step problems using LCDs. The challenge there is the student can get the answer wrong but we don't know if the issue is the non-mastery of finding the LCD or in doing the operation (addition or subtraction) or if they failed to reduce their final answer. For that matter, the reduction of fractions was not covered enough either.

Today my son was frustrated by subtraction of fractions with mixed numbers and different numerators. To do that problem requires four steps. First conver the mixed number into a fraction. Then make the fraction have the same number as the numerator. Then do the math operation. Then either reduce the final fraction or make it into a mixed number (15/60 = 1/4). By going so quickly into that kind of math problem in the lesson, the student has too many steps they can make an error on during the process. By only knowing that the final answer is wrong, the student does not know at which point they made a mistake. Not enough practice of the first steps in the process didn't make those concrete for my son yet so he was not confident that certain portions of the process were definately correct. He was guessing at what he did wrong.

Because the lessons only have about 20 answers in them that count toward the score, even getting 17/20 correct yields a not great looking grade of 85%, a solid B. I wish there was more practice in this curriculum (Teaching Textbooks 7).

My son has hit a frustration point.

The decision at this point is to stop working on the curriculum. I am going to custom make some math problems that practice each part of these processes. I will look around on the Internet a bit for free worksheets. If I can't find any I'll make them up myself.

Once my son has mastered these more concretely I'll put him back on track with Teaching Textbooks 7.

I have never been a math phobic person. I know some homeschooling mothers worry about teaching their kids math. I will confess that I forgot most of these math operations and had to re-learn them in order to help my son. It is simple because I just follow what the curriculum is teaching my son (since this program is designed to teach directly to the student) then I know what to do and I can help him directly with specific math problems that he is stuck on. I am reminded of how much I loved doing fraction work as a public schooled student. It was easy for me to learn and I loved the repetitive process of doing the work and getting right answers. I loved how math was so black and white, it's either right or wrong, there is no gray area.

Homeschooling moms who hate math or have bad memories of learning math in school may be surprised at how easy it is to learn math when they look at it with their adult mind.

And when your homeschooled child struggles to learn something it is not hard to come up with work-arounds to help them, all it takes is a little creativity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Son Graduated From Speech Therapy Today

I'm so happy to announce that my nine year old graduated from speech therapy today!

He began six months ago with a mild issue with the L and with half of his R's being a problem. The problems were only with certain letter combinations and only in certain spots in the word. That is why I thought maybe it was a problem but other times he was accurate. He was almost nine when I brought him for a consult and I was told both /L/ and /R/ should have self-resolved by age eight. If not self-resolved, I was told, the child is putting their tongue in the wrong places to make the mistake and needs training on the right way to make the sound then has to practice it enough to make the body and mind form a habit of doing it the correct way. That was the situation with my son, who had no other oral issues complicating the matter.

He went weekly until summe when we slowed way down and then had two visits this month.

The speech therapist said he was the second fastest student she ever had. The former was 16 and wanted to be in a play but was told she couldn't have the lead unless she got rid of her lisp with /S/. So she worked like crazy to fix that under the deadline (good for her!).

In this process I got to see how my son reacts when in a teaching situation with a stranger for a teacher. Come to find out he is one of those good pupils that does everything the teacher says (like a teacher's pet). In that way he is the kid, apparently, who acts up for their own parent and is more well behaved for other adults.

I also learned from this experienced speech therapist that most kids don't like to do homework when their parent tells them to. (There was homework for this.) I found out that most kids therapy is longer because they will not do the homework and will not practice and only 'perform' for the speech therapist. She was surprised my son did what I said. Well if he did not we'd be in real trouble with the homeschooling now, wouldn't we?

My son was greatly offended to hear he was incorrect and making an error so when he found out he was doing something wrong, he wanted to fix it. He is a perfectionist so learning he was imperfect bothered him. His learning curve was fast in the beginning. His progress slowed after the 3.5 month mark as what was happening was he could fix the sounds when thinking about it and talking slowly and deliberately but when speaking fast and spur of the moment, especially with his friends when the kids interrupt each other to get a word in edgewise he was going back to the old way of saying the letters, saying them wrong.

Unfortunately our insurance does not cover speech therapy for this reason (only paying for it if a person has a medical condition that messes up their vocal cords or has an injury or accident affecting their mouth). So this was an all out of pocket expense for us. I am happy that expense is over as it cost $50 per half hour lesson.

I'm proud of my son and his accomplishment.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Forced Today

Last week I realized that the pickings in our upright freezer were getting slim.

We buy meat, vegetables and fruit in bulk at low prices and freeze it for future use. We also prepare some pasta sauces and homemade soups and stews in bulk and freeze them in family serving sized containers.

I realized we were low on some items that needed replacing but we didn't shop for that yet.

Last night upon getting home from being away for 48 hours we found that the freezer was not working and everything had defrosted. Some items were a little frozen but others were ice cold but defrosted. Due to the way the events unfolded (in a panic) we are not sure if the door somehow got opened or if the motor broke or what. We don't know if the melted blueberry juice and water that was on the floor leaked out of a closed door or if the door was left open. I know I was the last one in the freezer right before we left and I do know I shut the door!

Today I was forced to use up a lot of this food. I used frozen vegetable scraps to make stocks from scratch. I used frozen homemade stocks and frozen meats to make chicken soup and beef stew. I had to run to the store to get more celery, carrots, and stocks too.

The kitchen looks like a bomb went off. It is so messy to do this all from scratch! Cutting up all the veggies, cooking meats, separating chicken from bone, boiling soups and all the rest makes a real mess!

I revised the homeschool plan to include errand running to the store. After that I told the kids to explore in the basement stash of science kits and hands on activity kits to find something to do. They dug out two crystal growing kits and did those. Then they found two sets of hieroglyphic writing activities and worked on both of those. An unanswered question is why do the two different companies give different symbols for different letters or sounds?

Next up is to figure out how I can use defrosted organic mango cubes.

I need to figure out something to do with defrosted, flavored chicken sausages (smoked apple and maple, sundried tomato and basil). I need to come up with something to do with about five pounds of hamburger meat bought, made into patties and frozen three weeks ago.

I think I'll use the three remaining pounds of organic corn to make a corn chowder.

I've got a London Broil, one New York strip steak and Prime Rib for four people here to cook up.

I have a lot of work to do that is for sure!

And very importantly, we need to figure out if the freezer is functional or not!


Gladware does not do well in the freezer. Specifically, liquids can seep out of the seal. Some of them fracture while in the freezer too. This means if the freezer defrosts, the liquid comes out and you have a real mess. Also even if the freezer is working correctly the food gets freezer burned or dehydrated and ruined.

The black plastic containers with clear lids such as used for Chinese take out food do not do well in the freezer. Sometimes the edges break and leave a portion of the food exposed to the air.

For some reason some of our vacuum packed food with the sealing machine is not keeping the seal. Defrosted meat juices ran out of some of these. This is a mystery.

Home sealed foods or foods bought from the store in sealed packs last much longer than in freezer zip top plastic bags. The foods stay frozen longer if the freezer defrosts in the vacuum packages (those were frozen and the zip top bags were all defrosted and showed signs of oxidation).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Portrait of a Killer Hat in Progress

Above is my Hat Wars 2009 killer hat in progress. I knitted the hat while riding from home to spend a weekend in Cape Cod, then while at Cape Cod, then finished it while riding home from the Cape.

On Saturday our family took a nature walk on this beach, Coast Guard Beach, a town beach in Truro. I knitted in the car on the way there and then walked and took lots of photos. It only seemed fitting to snap a photo of the yarn and hat in progress, a portrait of it, on the sand dune. I then knitted on the ride back from the beach.

The fun thing I was thinking was the hat's target lives in Washington state, so this hat will make its way across the whole United States, from one coast to the other.

The hat is The Boy Hat, free pattern available here.

(I finished the hat today and it will be mailed out tomorrow when the post office opens. I need to take a photo of the finished hat and do plan on sharing that photo in the near future.)

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 9/19/09 in Cape Cod.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Refreshed, Rejuvinated

A nature walk on an Atlantic Ocean beach.

Time with strong forces of nature makes humankind and our culture feel inferior, unimportant, and unreal.

Really looking and seeing reveals many things to feel joyful about.

Taking photographs to my heart's content.

Blue sky, sun, wind blowing through the trees, mid-70s, low humidity.

Access to a lovely beach, strong waves crashing, salty air blowing, negative ions refreshing.

A feeling of freedom, I can go anywhere, do anything.

An empty schedule.

Time with my husband and children.

Life is good and it can't get much better than this!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fried by Friday Morning

A realization about this fall's new homeschool and family schedule hit me today.

Both of my kids are fried by Friday morning.

This fall my kids are at night appointments three nights a week. One keeps them out until 10:30 pm at an academic class for homeschoolers.

Then they spend six hours on a weekday doing hiking and being outdoors (in all weather, hot, rain, cold or whatever) for an experiential class they take with homeschoolers.

Those first four days of the week are filled also with homeschool lessons at home, doctor's appointments that can only be done on weekdays during the day and other random errands done on an urgent basis (non-urgent stuff can wait for a weekend).

To be blunt, by Friday morning my kids are shot.

It is not panning out well to have a full day of homeschool lessons at home on Fridays. I don't know where to go with this issue.

Weekends are then busy with errand shopping, seeing extended relatives, or are spend traveling. Other weekend activities include church attendance with large classroom religious education (which can be chaotic and noisy). Also Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts camping trips with time outdoors in all weather, sometimes uncomfortable sleeping arrangements and sub-par food can be rough on the body. The days when we're home are often filled with my kids seeing their schooled friends who are too busy during the school week to see them socially.

I'm not sure how to address this. Before I had spread the kid's homeschooling lessons over the four days that they are home. I'm thinking now to make the load heavier on the subjects they do daily and then to leave Friday for something special.  Friday could be our art day, our history read aloud as a family day, our day to do a science experiment or anything else that is more "once weekly" or "twice monthly".

One thing I want to avoid is having Friday be a day to sleep late, watch TV all day, and play video games all day.

My thinking cap is on. If you have ideas please share! Thanks!

Love This DIY Project

I was so impressed by this DIY project, to use common materials found in people's homes, a camera and some open source computer programs to get said items into the upper atmosphere to take photos of Earth!

Read about it here on Wired.

The college students who did this will be sharing a tutorial for free, so anyone else can do this.

I showed this to my kids and it blew them away. My twelve year old engineer wanna-be wants to do this right NOW.


DIY Power!

Hooray for the geeks!

Hat Tip: Mental Multivitamin

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How I Spent an Evening (8/30/09)

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 194 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 194 was published at Dewey’s Treehouse.

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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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Process We're Using to Document Homeschooling Work

This last summer my kids did about three hours a day of homeschooling lessons daily. The exception was when we were traveling or they were in camps or spending entire days with their friends having summer fun.

Because their work was all independently done I decided to put the onus on documenting the work accomplished on them for the first time.

I wrote a simple list of work to be done in vague terms in a Word document and printed it off. They had to fill in blanks.


Math: 60 minutes a day
Teaching Textbooks 7
Lesson # ____________ Score _________
Lesson #_____________ Score _________

Science: Read science books 60 minutes a day
Start page number ___ ending page number ___
Finished book today: yes or no (circle one)

You get the idea. The subjects done over the summer were read science books, read fiction books and math.

I have decided to extend this record keeping for the regular school year. Today I spent time documenting vague check lists like this, expanding them to include other subjects. This is an imperfect system as I'm trying to have one sheet for each of the five days even though some of the lessons are 3x or 4x a week only.

I made a separate sheet for once weekly or once monthly activities. I will have one sheet per month. That sheet has spots to fill in dates they attended a weekly class, with five blank spots (just in case there are five weeks in that month for that day of the week). Two examples:

Attended art history class, group lesson taught by museum docent (90 minutes direct instruction 1x month or 2x month)
Museum: ____________________
Topic: _____________________
Date attended: _____________

Museum: ____________________
Topic: _____________________
Date attended: _____________

Attended experiential science class (1x week = 6 hours direct instruction per class)
attended on: ____________
attended on:_____________
attended on: ____________
attended on: ____________
attended on: ____________

These sheets will be printed off on my home computer, three hole punched and put into a three ring binder.

This new record keeping system will free me from my former system of writing hand written notes in a spiral notebook. I had given up on using the computer software EduTrack due to it taking too long for data entry for assignments ahead of time then tweaking the database to show actual work accomplished.

These sheets that will be used daily will serve as both a check off sheet for my kids to do work independently as well as a documentation of work finished.

I had orignally planned to use a calendar with a check list of topics to do that day filled out by hand by me, but right now I'm thinking that is not detailed enough and to use that in addition would be not necessary and would require more work on my part.

I'll let you know how it goes as the year progresses!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements 7 Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements 7
Authors: David Asch & Steve Caplin
Publication: Focal Press, 2009
Full Retail Price: $39.95

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

Summary Statement: Great formatting, Lots of Processes, Good for Me & I'm a Beginner

I own Photoshop Elements 7 and am disappointed at the fact that barely any directions or information is provided in writing to help me learn the program. I find it very hard and frustrating to learn from their help section. I used to own Elements 3 and for six years barely used it as I didn’t understand the program or even what was possible to do with the program. After purchasing Elements 7 I vowed to teach myself to make better use of the program and to use it to do what I wanted that I was sure it was capable of doing. I realized to achieve that I’d need a book from a third party to learn from. Before I purchased any book I had the chance to accept a review copy of this book. I consider myself a beginner user of Photoshop Elements 7 and this is the first book I’ve used to teach myself with.

This book works with PS Elements versions 3 through 7.

The first thing I was happy to learn in the preface is how Photoshop Elements 7 compares to Photoshop. Full retail price of the Photoshop is ten times the cost of Photoshop Elements. I keep hearing that Photoshop is what everyone should own if only they can afford it. However in the preface it says this “As the ‘baby brother’ to the full Photoshop CS4, Photoshop Elements has long suffered the stigma of being a cheap, unprofessional product. Cheap it may be: but it contains 90% of the features found in the full Photoshop and, as we’ve seen from user-created artwork, it’s anything but unprofessional. It’s true that Elements is rarely used in a graphics studio or publishing company. But this is mainly because it doesn’t include the high-end prepress features found in Photoshop; using Elements doesn’t mean that you’re working with a substandard application.” Okay, fantastic, I now knew that PSE7 is not junk!

In order to do some techniques that apparently Photoshop does, one has to “cheat” in PSE7. This book teaches those cheats as well as other steps to photomontage processes. A person may say “PSE7 can’t do that, you need Photoshop” but according to the authors of this book, that is not true, you can often get the same exact effect and end result by doing processes they teach in the book even if you use different buttons or actions in the process itself.

The best thing is that the book is laid out with two page spreads on one topic. All you need to know to do a task is on those two pages. The book is heavy on illustration with stepped out images for each step as well as text to explain it. Introductory paragraphs tell background info before you get started. A ‘hot tip’ is present for every process as well. I feel the stepped out illustrations combined with text and the way the authors get to the point, don’t fill the book with extra words is just fine for a beginner to learn from.

I had two main questions. First, is this the book that could help me learn to use the program in ways I wanted to use it and second, is this a book for beginners?

I do believe that a curious beginner can learn just fine from this book. Knowledge and skill builds up so if you want to do an advanced technique from the middle of the book you may first need to spend time learning the foundation steps taught earlier in the book. This seems perfectly reasonable to me. So to thoroughly learn the program, the terms and processes it would be best to start at the beginning and go through a good number (if not all) of the exercises, even if you think you don’t need to know that process. Spending time learning the program before the exact moment that you desire to do something seems to be the best thing to do. I know that will take some time but I can envision less frustration on the day that you decide you want to do a certain process right then and there. The issue is in order to do something more complex like put open eyes on a person who closed their eyes in one shot, the beginner may not realize they first need to know processes A and B to try process C.

The book is meant to be used as tool, to go through it and learn as you go along. This makes it perfect for those who learn best “by doing”. If you are looking for a text heavy book that is very watered down then maybe a more basic introductory book to the program would be best for you, I’m not sure, because this is a preference thing that is unique to each person. If you are a beginner who feels confident that if they do what the book says, that you’ll learn, then this is the book for you. Beginners who know they know little but who feel capable to “learn by doing” will be just fine and can learn a LOT from this book.

As the subtitle states this book is heavy on artistic techniques for creating photomontages. This is useful for the family photographer for things like putting open eyes on a person whose eyes were closed or swapping heads or cleaning up backgrounds or changing backgrounds, how about putting a blue sky behind that famous building you visited on a cloudy day? Fun techniques like changing a parked car to look like it’s moving with a blurred background are also taught. If you want to play with your photos and do cool things with them, or even add text to an image, this book provides all you need to know.

If you still wonder if this book is good for a beginner I’ll share that I put it in the hands of my nine year old on his first time using PSE7 and he was able to follow the directions and do what the book taught him to do! He also had much less fear about learning the program and a lot of laughs while doing funny things to photos he had taken.

I’m rating this book 5 stars = I love it. The price is reasonable. I feel a beginner can learn from it. It teaches a ton of information in one volume (more than I will ever want or need to do with the program). I love the clear directions and the stepped out visual instructions.

The things I don’t like about the book which are not enough to downgrade the star rating or my love of the book are: some of the images they created look fake. Some examples are the pumpkin carved page 185, bad skin tones on page 201 and 203 of famous people’s heads put into a family photo, and shadowing or light not quite looking right on page 211. Also not counted in my rating is that the book contains directions to do things I’d never want to do as I realize we all have our own preferences for how we may want to use the program plus I’d rather have more processes in the book than less. Lastly, I would have liked (even a small) gallery of just photos that showed stunning photomontages to inspire me or show the range of possibilities and that showed superior examples, rather than just seeing them as the ‘end’ shot on the process pages.

Note: The book is set up to teach to Mac and Windows users which I thought was great. At the time that I'm writing this review, I read that after the book was published the program had not been released to Mac yet. This is something that Mac users will have to research yourself to check the status of. I didn't feel that the book's authors should be criticized or the book downgraded due to a decision made on behalf of another company.

The Computer Program Photoshop Elements 7:

Compare to the Price of Photoshop CS4:

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through the Amazon Vine product review program for the purpose of reading it and publishing a Vine review on

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Trying to Keep to Limits Requires Mindfulness

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post: Reasonable Limits.

I wanted to make it clear that I think this issue with setting reasonable limits is key to a few things.

1. First, to not over-commit to tasks or appointments, say no to doing things, space out medical appointments, and decline some volunteer positions that I'm asked to do. I am trying not to set myself up for failure.

Keeping priorities in mind is important. For example if tempted by the doctor's staff to book the appointment on a certain day which would mean we have two doctor's appointments in a day and also trying to get all the homeschooling done, if homeschooling is a priority then only book one appointment that day and complete both things successfully. Leave the second appointment for another day when again doing both homeschooling and the appointment is attainable.

2. Second, have a lower expectation of what can be done in one day so that the things planned do get done and success can be felt, goals can be achieved instead of always failing. That applies to things like what homeschooling lessons can be done in one day, what lessons can be done that day plus the outside appointments, what household tasks can be done that day in addition to the rest of the day's plans and so forth.

3. Limits as to how much new stuff gets brought into the home. Does the kid really need more LEGOs? How many pairs of pajama pants are adequate? Yes that t-shirt is cool but he already has 40 that fit now. Is that new lovely skein of yarn necessary since I already have three skeins of sock yarn waiting to be knitted up?

4. When in the home, on a daily basis when going around the house AND when doing decluttering projects, ask yourself about limits. The kitchen drawer is overflowing and is hard to get stuff out of; do we need that many specialty gadgets? The cabinet is crammed; do we need four different types of blenders? The pencil cup is overflowing with over 30 pens; do we ever need 30 pens at once? When cleaning a son's room, are 15 bouncy balls mostly from birthday party goodie bag gifts really necessary to keep and have rolling around the floor underfoot every day? I brought in today's newspaper and added it to the 'to be read' pile. There must be 45 papers there unread, will I just add to the pile or read some today or just grab some of them or grab the entire stack and put them in the recycle bin?

This asking yourself about your limits can be done throughout the day as an awareness thing and taking little steps here and there randomly is good. When doing something like getting a new bottle of shampoo from the closet if a mess is spotted why not take five or ten minutes to quickly tidy up and declutter it right then and there? Don't put off small things to be a big decluttering project done some day in the future.

Don't say, "This pants drawer is overflowing, some day I'll go through all my clothes." Why not take a few minutes and go through it right now instead? "Oh there is a pair of pants that is so uncomfortable I never wear them and those are too small and those seem to be worn only to funerals so why not hang them in the closet instead and use the drawer for pants I wear daily instead?"

5. When tackling a big decluttering job try to be as realistic and brutal as possible about limits. Set limits and make yourself stick to them. It would be great if we all had a friend or relative to help us declutter that can be a voice of reason for us but if that is not possible (or if your helpers actually wind up encouraging you to keep stuff), then you have to be your own voice of reason. Keep telling yourself over and over about the limits you decided upon.

6. If you feel you can't get rid of something try to figure out the root emotion behind it and tackle that.

One example I have about that is I find it hard to get rid of picture books my kids have outgrown. I have figured out that I had such a great time mothering my kids at those young ages that I'm putting too much emotion into the books themselves rather than knowing that I have an intact memory of many good times that will remain even after I let go of the material possessions.

The thing is I am saving some books that are not even their favorites. I somehow transferred the love of our favorite picture books into liking too many picture books. I don't have shelf space to keep all these books out and they are in boxes. They do no one any good in boxes. If they have to be stored in the basement or garage they risk being ruined by mice or heat or maybe dampness and mildew, so what is the point of keeping them? Wouldn't it be better to let them go now and be used by someone else in this good condition rather than keeping them and getting rid of them when they are ruined in the future?

I also have my children who are alive and growing up. Instead of over-focusing on the past or focusing on how I loved a certain stage of childhood I should be celebrating my children today, the stage and age they are now and enjoying them thoroughly right here and now. I believe this is part of practicing mindful parenting.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Reasonable Limits

In the last year and a half I have been making a conscious effort to make some changes. Seeking balance, having a more calm household (not always rushing here and there to too many appointments). I kept hearing the voice of a mother who briefly tried homeschooling and told my friend she was quitting as all the homeschool moms she met in my area were unbalanced and obsessed with their children in an unhealthy way. I never met her but wondered if she thought I was unbalanced? Her remark bothered me and it made me reevaluate my life and how I spend my time. Could it be that I was unbalanced in an unhealthy way?

I started making some changes. This process has been gradual. Each time I make a change I think it will have a large impact. Usually the effect of the change is small, not enough of a result as I'd hoped for. Yet making even a small change is not always easy or simple. To try to make more strides, I have to make more changes and see what happens then.

There is an internal struggle I have about limits and what is reasonable and attainable. My issue is that I want to do a zillion things all at once with immediate results and of course would like no problems along the way and success and happiness with everything tried. Yes I know that is unrealistic.

I don't quite know why I am sharing this but here is a peek inside my mind.

Some people think I do too many things. I feel like I don't do enough.

Some people think I have accomplished great things but even when I win something that I've worked to earn I don't always "feel" like anything is to be celebrated. I'm on to the next thing.

One impact that having a too-busy life had with me was I suddenly realized I had no time to feel gratitude for the good things that I was experiencing. One example is I love to take photos and did take them but had no time to even look at them. How ridiculous is that? While some moms choose to spend time scrapbooking and pouring hours into examining their own memories I was not even looking at the downloaded digital photos. I started making some changes to try to slow down to enjoy this life I'm living rather than just moving on to the next appointment and the next and the next.

As I back away from various committments and try to do less, I have found that some things have been neglected in my busy-ness in the past. I was way behind on filing papers that should be kept carefully. I was behind on filing printed photographs from before I owned a digital camera. I was behind on putting updated photos around my house in the frames. I was behind on hanging decorations on the wall that I'd bought. I was behind on decluttering my clothes and really should have been doing that on an annual basis.

At those times I felt it was a higher priority to be an active parent and to do fun and good things with my time. I let some things slide like keeping the house spotless.

Last year I took on a new perspective that to respect my belongings, I should care for them well. I live in a very nice house but was not appreciating it, thinking it was a burden to clean and maintain.

While doing things like decluttering the garage I'm unearthing stuff that's been sitting there for two or three years. I ask myself what was I doing with my time that I was not putting that stuff where it really belonged? Was it good enough for me to neglect the garage like that?

As I go through the house to declutter it and to reorganize it I see I own too much stuff. There are not enough hours in the day to do all that I want to do. I have craft materials to do X, Y, and Z with. I have books I want to read. I have cameras to use to take photos. I have stuff, too much stuff. Maintaining the stuff, moving it around, organizing it, that all takes so much time, time away from doing the things with that stuff I acquired.

I feel like this process of going through stuff and getting rid of it never ends. I thought I did great in 2008 when I got rid of lots and lots of stuff. Yet in 2009 there is even more to get rid of. And I don't feel like I've brought in a ton of new stuff!

I find it hard to find time to do big projects like this garage decluttering job. Trying to do those while fitting in the regular schedule of homeschooling my kids, eating three meals at home each day (from scratch), cleaning my own home, volunteering with Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, tending to our medical care and dental care, and all the rest takes time.

I think it comes down to limits. I seem to have an issue with a skewed idea of what I want to do and what I can actually do in real life. In my mind I wish I could do so many things and just don't have the time. Living with a feeling like I always have an unfinished 'to do' list puts me in a negative situation as I always feel like I'm not measuring up, not doing well because it never is done.

I also over-estimate how much time projects like decluttering take. I have grand hopes that with a whole Saturday I should be able to tackle the entire gargage. Wrong. In between stuff like eating, answering the phone and whatever else happens in the day I find I don't achieve as much as I'd thought I could. So that means another Saturday or Sunday in the near future will need to be booked off to make time to finish it up. That means more plans to decline, more telling the relatives, "Sorry we can't do that thing with you" and other such things.

As I look around my house I see intentions to do things and all that is not done. I have been making decisions about what will never get done or what I no longer want to do, then I let go of that stuff. This is because even if I don't buy anything new I still won't have time to do all that I had hoped to do with this stuff I own.

This is something I've seen on TV shows about clutter and I believe it to be true for myself. What it is, is when a home is filled with things that are not being used and remind a person constantly of what they have not done, it is negative and it is an oppressive feeling. If instead a home is filled with things actively being used or else has open free space where gotten rid of clutter used to be, a freeing and light feeling exists.

Since I've been trying so hard to keep my house clean and to get every room to be clutter free (not 100% accomplished yet), I have a happier feeling. I look around expecting to see a cluttered table top and instead see an empty table or just a couple of things on it like a lamp and perhaps a couple of framed photos. Wow, what a relief for the eyes to not see clutter!

I feel that my time is limited and I've been getting more selective about how I spend it. Some things I used to want to do with my time are now being labeled as undesirable.

Another wonderful thing that has happened to me is that keeping the house less cluttered and more clean makes it easier to keep clean and keep decluttered. Then when I do spend time tackling a pile that built up or putting stuff away that was left somewhere that it didn't belong, or doing the actual cleaning of the house, I am not feeling resentful or bad about myself.

Yesterday I wound up spending the whole afternoon helping my twelve year old son with his bedroom. This is the son of mine who likes clutter and mess. What started off as a simple tweaking of the way his room was organized wound up being a deep cleaning. He did most of the work while I watched and directed him. I wanted him to be the one to do the work to put away all the stuff he'd not put away before. I was not angry with him or resentful for having spent my day like that. And the room was not that bad, and the bones of the organized structure of the room were in place from the reorganization I did earlier this year, so the picking up went quickly. When the room was emptier it was fast and easy to deep clean.

I'm moving toward a healthy feeling of pride in my home. This is a very different view than I held in the past, when I hung up a plaque in my kitchen that said, "A Messy Home Means a Loving Mom". Where I'm at now, with the age that my kids are (nine and twelve), and helped by the fact that I don't work outside the home, is that I think I can juggle mothering, being a wife, homeschooling my kids and keeping a reasonably clutter free home that is clean. In between all that I've still been able to find time to do creative work for my own personal growth and fulfillment (blogging, knitting, photography), although I wish I could do more creative endeavors.

I'm working on resetting my mind's perception of limits and what is reasonable. I'm trying to celebrate the victories and feel good about what I have accomplished rather than thinking negatively about what is still not done.

So that is some of what has been on my mind lately...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How the Transition is Going for Homeschooling This Year

Things are so smooth with the transition to the new academic year! Since in the past I have blogged complaints, trials and tribulations I don't know why I hesitate to share positive stories, perhaps I fear they will sound braggy or fake? But here goes a report on how we're doing with homeschooling since it is mid-September.

We did a light schedule of homeschooling through the summer for the first time ever, doing 45-60 minutes of math, 45-60 minutes of fiction reading and an hour of science living books reading on various topics for my 7th and 4th grade sons. This was to be done before playing video games or watching TV. Also to be done was the chores of which the major one is the kids doing ALL the household laundry. The video games were limited (1 hour weekdays and 2 hours on weekends) and the TV was mostly banned during the daytime. When we traveled or did lots of summer stuff these responsibilities were lifted. If a friend was over all day long they may have played video games for four hours, you get the idea.

So when fall came and it was time to restart all the outside activities, homeschool academic classes and Scouts, there basically was no real transition. Perhaps I should rephrase. What I mean is there was no new shift in routine. The kids still woke up and started their routine without me having to tell them to. My kids had made it a habit to have their routine of getting up, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, showering and getting dressed. They then got some laundry going if necessary and then went on to do their homeschooling with them overseeing their own lessons. With this routine I do not say “okay kids I want you to do your math now” or other such directives. They have internalized the routine.

The major thing that has not happened that I consider a typical transition is the power struggle about actually doing their homeschooling lessons or not liking being told what to do instead of having all free time to play and laze around. Also I got zero flack about learning academic content and no one has said they want to go to school instead of homeschool or that homeschool lessons are dumb, boring or (fill in the blank). There are no power struggles between me as homeschool mom and them as homeschooled children.

Actually things have been very smooth around here all summer with hardly any power struggles of any kind, another fantastic thing to experience. I think my kids finally get it, that it is pretty cut and dried. They have responsibilities, I have responsibilities, they have to do theirs, I have to do mine. I don’t ask more of them than they can handle. I don’t have stupid power game rules like some parents (my kids see some of that with some kids they know) and they are happy that my husband and I don’t do that nonsense with them. There is a kind of give and take in this family as well as a level of respect. I don’t verbally abuse them, they don’t verbally abuse me. I don’t talk to them like they are an idiot, they don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. I don’t play mind games with them, they don’t play mind games with me. I am consistent with what I say and do and with consequences, so they know to not try to push the boundaries too hard as they know the boundaries are firmly set and I don’t backtrack on what I say. When I say we have to be out of the house in 45 minutes, they are often in the car waiting by 35 minutes. They have learned all this the hard way by pushing limits and pushing boundaries. (One kid learned it faster and easier than the other but it has been learned by both at this point!)

This fall I have slowly added in additional subjects. The transition is still not complete, we have not yet tackled all that I want to do in each day but we are getting there. I'm confident we'll be just fine.

The biggest shift is getting used to being out of the house for more appointments and adapting to not having as much free time left in the day to do the things we did with all that extra time we had in the summer.

A benefit of having done some lessons during the summer is my kids are way ahead on their math, my 9 year old has done half of his math curriculum in exactly two months. This means I could either slow down on the math lessons to put more time to other subjects (and study other, different things above and beyond what public school kids his age study) or I could keep him on this track to continue to be working above grade level. I also like the wiggle room for when the inevitable sickness will hit and when we take at least two if not three weeks off at Christmas time.

As for me I am continuing to keep busy doing big projects. After four years of gathering up, on Labor Day I finally tackled cleaning out the garage and getting rid of stuff, most of this was brought in as inherited items from three deceased family members. The garage is 70% done. I am finishing the master bedroom closet reorganization today. The basement is on the to do list as is the linen closet.

I'm also busy trying to keep up with doing one hour of housecleaning a day and it is working out great. On a daily basis, I am trying very hard to keep the clutter down and to not re-accumulate too much stuff that lies around everywhere. This is working out well and the other day I had an unexpected guest show up and on another day a repairman was here, and I was not embarrassed about anything in my home or ashamed at either the clutter level or the state of the cleanliness! Hooray!

We're off to a good start this year!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"A Common Case of Everyday Reality"

Some Americans need s shift in perspective about reality and life. Not everything ever will be perfect and things don't always go as planned.

I think the young in this country (teens and twenty-somethigns) are pretty wimpy as a whole. They have little tolerance for the slightest of inconveniences. When real problems, big problems hit, it surely will crush those people. It seems our culture has lost some our sense of resiliency. Perhaps by over-pampering this generation when they were children, they are ill prepared for real life. I say this because it seems to me that people seem less able to handle adverse situations. Add that to the fact that many people have upped the ante for "acceptable living conditions" and feeling entitled to luxury vacations and luxury cars that they can't even truly afford, and we have a problem on our hands.

I think that some people need to hear the message in this song. In this song, the problems in this man's life drove him to fall off the wagon and he is trying to get himself drunk to escape his problems. The friend who intervenes at the request of the man's wife reframed the man's problems as "a common case of everyday reality". I love that phrase.

Take a listen to this song if you don't already know it. Can you take something good away from hearing this today?

What is the worst thing happening in your life today? Is it really a big deal? Do you feel bad about that thing or do you instead think of the 99 other positive things happening and feel gratitude for them?

My biggest problem Thursday was I realized I'd run out of half and half for my coffee and had to use 1% milk instead, which tasted gross to me. Although I flinched when I drank it and didn't enjoy it much I didn't waste time thinking about it as a problem in my life. With that as my biggest problem that day, I felt very happy and didn't complain about that to anyone. Yesterday I had not one single problem to complain about. Today my biggest issue was that I realized the Wal Mart cashier forgot to give me a bag of stuff I bought yesterday so I had to make a special trip back there to pick it up.

Things like those are fodder for some Americans to bitch and moan about. You know what? I've dealt some serious issues in my life, big stuff, heavy stuff, and small beans stuff like that is a stupid waste of energy to complain or even thing about.

Don't sweat the small stuff!

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books Published Today

Today as with every Saturday, bloggers share blog posts of thoughts on books or book reviews. Submitting is open to anyone and the simple directions are on the blog post.

Visit this blog post to see what others are reading and saying about books. Visit the same page to submit books today.

Semicolon Saturday Review of Books September 12 2009 Edition.


Finding Book Blogs

A way to find good books to read is to read blogs of book readers.

If you don't know many, why not start with this list? Maybe you can find a couple that you find interesting.

Here is the list of blogs that are up for winning a blog award "Book Blogger Appreciation Week" in various categories.

Have fun.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Josh Nufeld’s Graphic Story About People Affected by Hurricane Katrina

Title: A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge
Author: Josh Nufeld
Publication: Pantheon, August 18, 2009

Last weekend I saw author and illustrator Josh Nufeld discussing his new book “A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge” on CSPAN’s BookTV. This comic strip style artist was interested to hear the stories of real people and what happened to them during and after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This curiosity was piqued, he said, after feeling that the reality of the people of NOLA and their situations was different than the way the media portrayed them while millions watched. He knew this firsthand as after Katrina hit he volunteered with the Red Cross and spent a few weeks helping people. Seeking the truth further about the full impact on individual lives, he selected six people of differing ethnicities and of different ages to interview. He said he wanted to find out the truth and then to tell their stories. (For more details about how he selected these people watch the BookTV lecture or read the long interview that appears on on the book’s product page.)

These stories were then told in serialized format online at SMITH magazine. The series was popular. He then took the Internet published stories, added 25% more to them and published it into a book. So fans of the old stories will still find new information in this book.

The talk on BookTV was interesting and it included a slideshow of some of the artwork and told the beginnings of the stories enough to tempt us to want to hear more.

I want to know how this turns out so I plan to read this book. I also love graphic novel stories for adults and am interested in the story for that reason as well.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Self-Portrait March 2009

The story behind this is in mid-March my boys and I went walking around out woods. I saw the old Christmas trees from years past and noticed some Christmas ornaments that accidentially were left on the tree.

I held one up and took a photo of me holding it to show my reflection in the glass ball.

Photo taken by ChristineMM March 2009. Image was digitally color corrected as it was over-exposed.

Stitches a Memoir Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Stitches: a Memoir
Author/Illustrator: David Small
Genre: memoir (graphic illustrated format book)
Publication: W.W. Norton & Company, September 2009

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

Summary Statement: A Powerful and Emotional Graphically Illustrated Memoir

Parents, Teachers and Librarian’s may recognize David Small’s name because he has written and/or illustrated picture books for young children such as IMOGENE’S ANTLERS. This book however is a memoir, a story about his childhood and it is written for adult readers.

Illustrated in shades of gray and black, this memoir is told in comic strip style (graphic style). The colors are fitting and help set the tone of this sad, dark and sometimes scary story. A fact of life is that adults are complex people and not every adult’s life is wonderful even in the United States of America. Even in the 1950s, a time that is looked back on as an ideal time for children and families, the time that is the setting of this story, things were not perfect or ideal for every family and child apparently. Sadly, sometimes children are born of parents who have problems and issues, who are flawed and make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes hurt their own children.

I was moved to tears by this memoir. As a child Small was obviously had good powers of observation and an emotional sensitivity to be so aware of, and affected by the problems in his family, by things said and done or not done by his mother, father, and grandmother. Disconnection from an always-working father and the awareness of the family’s tight finances are two examples of the real life adult issues that clearly affected Small as a child. Of course he was greatly affected by the secrecy about his throat cancer and surgery which left him mute (something openly discussed in the marketing materials).

I’ll not divulge other details in the story lest it spoil the book but if I could I’d give more concrete examples of the deep issues this story contains. This story provides food for thought and some issues within it could make for spirited discussion, such as with a book discussion group. Although I read through it in under and hour I know I could discuss the topics with others for a good two hours or more!

Another component in the story that may be of interest to some people is that the story tells of Small starting to draw at age two and using drawing for pleasure and as an escape even when it seemed to not be praised by the adults in his life. As the story wraps up we hear of how drawing and illustration has become his career.

After reading the story all I could think of was bad things happen to good people and unfortunately sometimes those people are young kids. It is uplifting to know that some kids who have grown up in adverse conditions or bad life experiences and those with imperfect families can get through it and get on with their life in spite of the problems they faced. Despite knowing that fact, my heart ached for the boy David Small.

This is powerful storytelling. The illustrations especially the body language of the adults and the dark tones clearly convey emotion. The constant viewing of gray and black tones and the continuing negative body language that permeates frame after frame almost overlay the entire story like a heavy blanket, giving an additional layer of pressure and darkness to the story above and beyond the detailed story that is being told at each segment of the book. Replicating that type of steady tone in a book told in traditional word format stories is not as easy, in other words, the way that Small illustrated his story in both images and colors is masterful. Small really pulled off a feat with his memoir. Bravo David Small!

I want to underscore one more time for parent readers of my book reviews and because I often review children’s books--- STITCHES A MEMOIR is a book for adults or older teenagers. Just because this book is told in graphic format and features the life of a boy does not mean it is recommended reading for children.

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of this book from the Amazon Vine product review program for the purpose of reading and writing a review of it. The ARC cannot be resold and its retail value to me is $0. I was not paid money to write this review.

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