Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Honeysuckle Infused Olive Oil

My Honeysuckle Infused Olive Oil



I decided to experiment with infusing oils with flower blossoms that we have growing wild on our property or that I could wildcraft elsewhere. My first experiment was with Japanese Honeysuckle which is a non-native plant that is classified as an invasive plant in my state (Connecticut). Thus my taking blossoms from the wild and preventing seed production and seed spread is helping perhaps in a small way to stop its further spread.

I used several recipes on the Internet for base reference but wound up doing my own thing and improvising. Here is what I did.

Gathered 1.5 cups of packed blossoms. Immediately put into a plastic bag and gently smash with a hammer.

Empty contents into a clean pint sized jar. Add olive oil to the top. (I used the cheapest type of olive oil.) Stir. Cap it tightly. Place in a spot not in direct sunlight. (Although some sources say to put this in the sun.)

Shake the jar a few times a day over 48 hours.

At 48 hour point strain the blossoms from the oil with cheesecloth. Squeeze the blossoms to get every drop out. Put blossoms in the compost bin. (I read that after 36-48 hours the blossoms no longer emit any oils or scent into the olive oil and that it also risks becoming moldy so I heeded that advice to not let it infuse longer.)

At this point from what I read, I should have repeated the process multiple times but I didn't have access to more blossoms.

I tasted the oil and there was a hint of taste at the end. I worried that it was not strong enough.

In case any water from the blossoms was present I put cheesecloth on the top and seal with an elastic band. Let stand 10-14 days in a dry place without sunlight. I had it in an air conditioned room. This allowed any water present to evaporate.

Then cap tightly, label with date, and store.

Note: Olive oil is considered healthful and healing. The scent does smell like olive oil. If a more pure honeysuckle scent was desired I'd use sweet almond oil instead.

---

I used this honeysuckle infused olive oil to make salve for use on my hands. When I heated the oil gently the room filled with the scent of honeysuckle. The salve has a fairly strong scent that is clearly honeysuckle.

---

My Honeysuckle Hand Salve

1/2 cup honeysuckle infused olive oil
1/8 cup beeswax (or more)

Put the olive oil and beeswax in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir. The goal is to melt the beeswax. Do not overheat. Just before it is all melted, shut the heat off and continue stirring until it is all melted.

Pour into clean container(s).

This is a bit greasy when first applied but it soaks in within a few minutes and it leaves the hands very soft.



Note: I felt this final product was a bit soft. I would use a bit more beeswax next time. This ratio of beeswax to oil was more firm when I tried 50% sweet almond oil and 50% apricot kernel oil so I assumed this would be the same, but was wrong.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Spot the Homeschooler

Where is the homeschooler in this photo of incoming 8th and 9th graders at a community sports camp (crew) run by Yale University?

Hint: There are four of them.

Which kids here seem the least social?

Funny how they blend in as mainstream, eh?

Where's my kid? Hint: in the middle, high in demand in between his friends.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Made a Batch of Soap Today

It's been a while since I made a batch of handmade soap. Now that all our regular homeschool and extra-curricular activities are over the first thing I'm doing is catching up on some things I have wanted to do but didn't have time for.

Today to reaquaint myself with soapmaking I made the simple recipe from Sandy Maine's book Clean, Naturally: Oatmeal Complexion Soap (and it is also in her smaller book The Soap Book). Yes, I own both.  I just modified it to "superfat" it (this is the first time I'm trying that). I added three ounces of melted shea butter after the saponification process. This extra fat will act as a skin emollient and will leave a layer of enriching oil on the skin to make it soft and keep it from getting dry.

Here are some photos of the soap in process today. It has to sit for a few days before being cut into bars then allowed to cure for about a month.

Truth be told the reason I make this from scratch is to get a superior product for a very low price. My cost to make this soap is less than the cheapest crappy soap sold in a store but a similar handcrafted product would cost $5-6 at full retail. I love the part about thinking about  making the soap and reading recipes and thinking about what I'd like to try next. The soapmaking is fun but the part where you have to get two separate pots of liquid to within 95-98 degrees at the same moment in time tries my patience and honestly is annoying. I can't wait to try more complex recipes, especially some with flower blossoms or strong scents.

All in all I find this fun. It's a lot of work though, this first step in the process takes abou two hours so it's time consuming.



The main ingredients: olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable shortening and blenderized oatmeal. Not shown: distilled water and lye, and the shea butter.



Melted oils:



After adding the lye and water solution:



The tracing stage, after the two solutions have saponified (turned into soap). Note the change in consistency and color, it looks more creamy. I had just started to add some oatmeal at this point so you may see some flecks. I was stirring it here, the tracing stage doesn't leave huge grooves like that!


The finished soap with all the oatmeal added then the shea butter added last, about to be poured into the mold (a 94 cent Sterlite plastic container the size of a shoe box).




"We're Too Stupid..."

Photos of this new awesome hotel's infinity pool 55 stories (650 feet up) tempted me. I wanted to go swim in it immediately!

I showed my kids and my twelve year old son's reaction was:

"I want to go there!"

Me: "It's in Singapore."

Son: "(faked sound of sobbing) Why can't we build that here (in America he means). We're too stupid! Why can't we make cool things like this?"

I didn't answer him but it may just be stupidity reigning as America's pool of qualified candidates for engineering degrees dwindle, or it may be the lawyers fault. I will confess to wondering if the building was designed in some way to prevent jumpers from using it to commit suicide.

Anyhow, this is my engineer-wanna-be son. He just showed me photos he took in Boston while on the family camping trip (which I wound up missing since I was really sick and spend the weekend in bed resting). Many of the photos he took were of cool contemporary buildings, not just the historic antique buildings. He also just showed me the new LEGO catalog with the LEGO Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater. This kid could easily transition into architecture with his creative eye and love of building things if his dream of pursuing an engineering degree doesn't pan out.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Telling and Writing Stories for Our Children

I am a firm believer that what our children want most from their parents is to know them, to know them more deeply and thoroughly.

My older son, before puberty hit, repeatedly said he wished time machines were real. I finally pressed him about where he'd go and why. All he wanted was to go back in time to my childhood and his father's to see what we were like and what our lives were before he knew us. He said he wanted to live our childhoods. This shocked me as I'd never want my kids to live through what I went through; much of it was typical and harmless but there are parts I've gone to great lengths to not have them experience, but they know nothing of these things. I'm not sure they should either (even when they are adults). On the other hand I should not be surprised that my son wants to know a lot about my youth because I feel the same way about both of my parents and about my grandparents too.

The other day my younger son, now ten years old said out of the blue that he has no memory of his life before age four. Why is it that kids seem to begin to retain memories of their early years at the exact same time they learned to read? I have this same experience as does my older son. My younger son complained to me that I never tell stories about him when he was a toddler or a baby. I don't think that's true but honestly I can't remember the last time I told a story, so maybe it is.

Last year I vowed to myself to begin writing some stories about my life and some thoughts about my children and our life experiences. I have not kept that promise to myself. As with any new creative project one must carve out the time for this and stick to doing it even when not in the mood. I confess I've just let this simmer as a wish or dream and have done nothing about it.

I want to make clear that I don't think there is much worthy of my childhood or life that strangers would want to read (if what I write was put together as a book). I imagine that these stories would be of interest only to my children. It seems to me that perhaps too many people are writing and publishing memoirs or a book of their thoughts. Some of the nonfiction essay type books would have been fine as just a long essay but the stretched out book form is pushing the envelope.

Some of the new books being published, I think, is just stupid writing, stuff like a guy who never worked a minimum wage job as a teen or while in college because his family was well off decides to do that as an adult and write about how hard it is. Give me a break. If he'd done that like I did when I was putting myself through school he not need "enlightenment" about how good his adult life really is. All I can think is that maybe those authors are narcissists to think their experience is so unique or so (fill in some word of your choosing) that the American public wants to read it. And if their real lives have nothing of value to say then they make up projects to live through then write of their complaints about it (another example is how hard it is to live without buying anything produced in China for a year).

I have thought perhaps that if I stopped blogging I could use that time for this new writing project. The reason I haven't done that is because writing this blog is almost effortless and often a quick thing. It's a habit and a routine that is not stressful for me. I have no real reason to abandon it and have multiple reasons to continue.

Doing deep writing about my life and my children's earlier years will require more emotional energy and reflection than I feel I have been capable of mustering up. If I'm to start this I need to psych myself up and make some plans and use self-discipline to get it done. Looking back on our busy spring with the new homeschool co-op and the competitive lacrosse team, I have no time for this endeavor during the school year.

There is the additional issue of sugar-coating versus revealing fact. I don't want my kids to, upon reading my writings, think less of their grandparents by telling the truth about their imperfections or even their large flaws and the negative impact it had on my childhood. Maybe it's best to just let them have their own memories and impressions. Perhaps the issue is the editing of fact from what I choose to reveal is the thing that will require too much energy than I feel like spending at this moment.

I'm sharing these thoughts to get you thinking about the topic.

Do you tell your children stories of your childhood? How often? Recently?

Are you telling them stories of their early years?

Have you written any down yet?

Do you plan to?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Material Stuff We Own

I had a very busy spring. We had lots, maybe too many appointments. There was much running around. That is not my usual pace of life. I was not home often.

I discovered if you are always running here and there projects don't get done. Things I normally do could not be done, the necessary or normal and the fun stuff. I haven't finished a knitting project since December. I lost momentum when two projects gave me trouble and I was unable to finish them.

We were so busy we barely had time to eat. If you don't know, we cook and bake from scratch often here, or well, we used to. We were not home enough to make the meals. We began eating take out food more. I did resist the fast food, so give me that credit! We found ourselves starving and eating whatever was around at home, not necessarily the best nutritional options. We were so busy we didn't have a constant source of food from the grocery store. Sometimes on the way to a homeschool class I'd have to stop at a deli to buy my kids sandwiches for lunch. This costs more money than I like to spend (when I can make the same sandwich easily at home from grocery store purchased food). How hard is it to throw ham into a roll?

My husband began working a new job. He works 15 hours a day now. I have lost the luxury of having my husband home in time to make dinner. He loves to cook and he enjoyed doing that. Now it's on my shoulders but I'm often not home in time to cook before we run out to the evening appointment.

This brings me around to the title of this post. We were having a hard time taking care of our material possessions. We were going to appointments, eating and doing laundry. I kept the kitchen clean and the dishes were taken care of. The pets were fed and the fish tank was clean. But the rest suffered.

Let me clarify. When you barely have any time just doing the basic living takes time. I kept the place clean and the kitchen counters were neat. There was no clutter in any of our rooms except just the top of the dining room table and the room I'm still in the middle of converting from a playroom to an art and craft studio. Just keeping up with taking care of the basic stuff in the house takes time. I have not let myself slack on that in order to do big projects for fun.

When you are not home much you don't have time to do things like create things like homemade strawberry jam and soap. Those are things I enjoy learning to do. Regarding the nourishing things I did for myself, I slacked and I had to settle for second best like reading a couple of pages of a book on the sidelines of the lacrosse field.

I did start a garden and that took top priority since it's such a time sensitive thing. I did keep taking photos and carried my DSLR camera wherever I went.

I'm noticing the stuff I own that I have no time to use. As I see it I start to feel how unnecessary it is to hold on to. Time is precious. How do I want to spend it? Will I ever read that Oprah Book Club book that everyone raves about? Am I done with rubber stamping now? Have I given up on finishing that denim quilt made from old jeans I started in the late 1980s? (Please don't laugh. So much time went into it so far I can't bring myself to abandon it.)

I've been reading books and magazines while waiting for my kids at whatever they're doing: lacrosse, Scouts, and so forth. I feel more scattered about reading them. If the book stinks, I don't feel forced to finish it anyway. I have been so exhausted I haven't been staying up late reading. I've got a backlog of book reviews to write and seriously am considering why I still do that. It's becoming a hassle.

I don't know if it's a midlife thing or what. I turned 43 last month and I just feel like life is short. I have five years until my oldest goes off to college. How do I want to spend our time together? How do I want to spend my precious alone time? Talking on the phone to friends? Playing silly Facebook games? Chatting on email discussion lists about homeschooling? Blogging? Which of the many books I own will I read next? Do I want to focus on one or two projects or will I keep doing a little here and a little there in a shallow manner as I did all spring?

Oh, one more thing. I did do a major project of decluttering 80% of my unfinished basement and getting rid of 25 boxes then a truckload, donated to charity thrift shops. I decluttered my clothing and both of my kid's. I'm letting the clothes go that my younger son doesn't yet fit into, the hand me downs that he will never wear as his quest to do everything differently than his older brother is intensifying.

What's important in life is what we do with our time and the interpersonal relations we have with others. What is not important is holding onto a bunch of material goods we are not using now and have no plans to use in the near future.

It's so freeing for me to get rid of so much stuff since I was a certified packrat before. I'm even letting go of hundreds of books. That's a miracle for me! I still have lots I could get rid of; this is a process that is never-ending. I also continue to guard against shopping for fun and buying stuff we don't really need. That's the other part of the equation. Also, I no longer accept things just because they're free or almost free, or I because I think I might use them some day.

I've been wrapping my mind about enjoying what we have right now, living in the moment, not focusing on accumulating material things to use maybe in the future. I feel happy about my kids right now and I don't need to cling to their old toys lest I lose a piece of my kids. My kids are still here and they're growing up every day. I shouldn't suffocate them with old books and toys and clutter from previous phases of their life.

Right now some shelves in my ten year old's closet have picture books on it and some book series he hated and never did read. There are some preschool age, high quality toys. Why? He's into playing the electric guitar now and xBox360 and lacrosse. That child is not a packrat; he can let go of material possessions easily. The other day he gave his Yu-Gi-Oh! card collection (worth many hundreds of dollars) to his brother. I cringed as I bet when he's an adult he'll ask for his collection to show his own children, and it will be all mixed in with his brother’s. My older son is a packrat. His room is overrun with a gigantic LEGO creation right now and every shelf is filled with souvenirs, ribbons, trophies and mementos from his experiences. It's overwhelming.

I just want to spend my time doing worthwhile things not spending time organizing the stuff, looking for where I put it, and cleaning up around it.

I've said before that an epiphany I had was that the home we live in is NOT to be a museum of everything we've done in the past. I want it to be more of a reflection of our lives right here and now. The storage places like closets and the basement can have some stuff we don't use daily, that's okay.

I don't need a record of possessions to prove we learned that topic in homeschooling or that I had fun raising my kids or to try to capture some memory or emotion. The memories and the emotions are in my memory. The stuff we own doesn't hold those memories; they are just reminders of it.

I’m adjusting to my children’s needs for homeschooling activities and methods. This means I need to not use some curriculum I purchased. I need to let go of those books and materials as they are not reflecting our home education experience. I can’t feel the joy of what we ARE doing if I look around and see all that we’re NOT doing or all the resources that at present are “going to waste”.

It feels so good to let go of stuff!

If you are a packrat I hope something here inspires you. If it wasn't drastic enough I suggest you watch some episodes of Hoarders. The reality TV show is free to view online if you missed it on live TV or if you don't have a DVR to record it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kick Ass Creativity Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Kick-Ass Creativity: An Energy Makeover for Artists, Explorers, and Creative Professionals

Author: Mary Beth Maziarz

Publication: Hampton Roads, 2010

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



Summary Statement: Author’s Writing Style and Tone Not Appealing or Helpful To Me; Also New-Age-y



I’ll get right to the point. Other readers may enjoy this book, if so, I’m happy for you. I don’t like this book so I am using Amazon’s rating star of 2 which they classify as “I Don’t Like It”. It just isn’t for me. Maybe I’m too serious, or that I take my creative endeavors too seriously. I was looking for an upbeat, fun, inspiring book but this just didn’t work for me.



Author Maziarz has a colloquial writing style. It feels as if a friend is giving you a pep talk which is good if you’re in the same groove. “Get ready and hold on tight, ‘cause this is going to be a rockin’ trip” and regarding your inner artist she says, “Let’s set that sucker free!”(page 1). This is not the traditional more professional written language style that book authors used to always use (and which I’m accustomed to). I know “kick-ass” is in the title but this type of lingo is throughout and it’s not the way I talk or what I like to read, it distracts me, to be honest. The author uses slang and trendy phrases like WTF, but changes it to “what’s the focus” (page 34) and uses slang phrases like “pissed off” (page 72).



Maziarz also is a bit over the top with her descriptions, it felt odd to me. “Every day you have the potential to make contributions to the universe that no one else can possibly provide. You’ve got something special to offer. You’re gifted, even.” (page 10) Perhaps I’m just sick of hearing that everyone is special and fantastic and that we’re all gifted persons...



The book is full of new-age talk which was a bit much for me. I’m just not into all that New Age stuff. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve had enough of it. A couple of examples are a chapter section “you are what you vibrate” (page 80) and “living clear” (page 93) which is a key phrase used in the world’s largest cult. Feng Shui is discussed on page 114. Maziarz refers to God as “Big Creative” on page 130 and says she has a creative team comprised of helpful spirits “muses, guides, ancestors, angels, guardians—whatever” and then says, “So screw it if it sounds a little nutty. It works for me. And it can work for you.”



I’m not tearing down the author or the book when I say this just doesn’t work for me. Sorry, but I just don’t like the book. I would advise the potential customers read a few pages of the book using Amazon’s look inside the book feature and see if Maziarz’s writing style clicks with you.



As a creative person I want all people to feel the creative juices flowing and to get unblocked and to create in whatever media you work with. We are unique people and not everyone may react the same way to the encouraging words of our fellow artists. Find what works for you; find encouragement in the writings that inspire you, whether it’s this book or some other written word or whatever! Then go create something and enjoy the creative process!



P.S. Two people who saw me reading the book mistook the cover’s information and thought Julia Cameron was its author due to her quote being above the title and the name in the same color as the title and the author's name in green which kind of blends into all that green just below her name. When they browsed the book they said, “Oh this isn’t like Cameron’s writing at all, I loved her stuff, but this is not for me.” So I’m not alone in not loving this writing style.



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Little About Mullein

I grew up in Connecticut thinking mullein was a roadside weed. In 1995 I became a home gardener, starting with ornamental flowers. When I'd see mullein growing as a weed I admired its foliage and didn't understand why in America it is not planted as an ornamental, after all, it's like giant Lamb's Ears, a plant many gardeners seem to love. Yet, I'd never seen mullein used in a perennial garden as an ornamental plant here.

In 1997 I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Chelsea Flower Show in London. I was in seventh heaven there so it was almost torture that the group I was with only allowed us three hours to view the show. There I was shocked to learn that in England, mullein is grown as an ornamental plant. It was everywhere! I loved seeing that!

I have mullein growing on the edges of my woods where it meets my lawn and driveway. I love it and leave it to grow. The other day my husband began scheming to rid the edge of the driveway of all plant matter. These are native wildflowers and naturalized non-natives, such as milkweed which is food for butterflies. I want to leave them there.

Mullein is a biannual. In the first year it doesn't get over a foot high and is only leaves. In the second year it grows tall, up to seven feet tall with many leaves and a flower stalk that can be over two feet in length. The flowers blossom singly starting low. The flower stalk keeps growing over the season and the blossoms flower going upwards as the season comes to a close. The entire plant inclucing the stalk with the seeds dries over the fall and winter. Some of these now-dead plants remain standing into June and July. If you shake the dried flower spike the tiny seeds fall out.

Here are some photos I took today of my mullein in its second year.



Bumblebee having breakfast.


Smallest bee I've ever seen.

A few minutes later after I'd walked away I felt a tickle on my arm and looked down to see this bee. It left little pollen footprints on my arm!


Wildcrafted mullein blossoms.

If you are interested in learning what can be done with mullein for herbal medicine and how to harvest the blossoms, watch this video.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Real Housewife Caroline Manzo a Learning Disability Advocate!

The latest episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey featured housewife Caroline Manzo having a heart to heart talk with her 23 year old son Albie. Albie informs his mother he received a D in one class and his current GPA at law school was 1.913. He was informed by his law school that since he fell below the minimum 2.0 GPA he was expelled.

Albie stated on camera he has a slow processing speed when reading that takes him three times longer to read and comprehend the written word and that the law school knew this when they admitted him.

Becoming a lawyer has been Albie's dream for years. He said he worked hard in high school to get the college prerequisites and then worked hard in college to qualify to be admitted to law school.

Yet one of his professors told him a person with a learning disability like him doesn't have what it takes to receive a law degree and work as a lawyer and to go find a new career path.

Ouch.

Caroline Manzo choked up with tears upon hearing this and it was obvious this was sincere not acting for the camera. With tears in her eyes she quickly shifted gears to give Albie a pep talk and to not let anyone stand in his way. She encouraged him to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer and to find a new law school to attend.

It was so moving!

I'd love to embed a video but I can't find one online today.

Look, I watch all the Real Housewives shows for entertainment. It is fun to see how others live especially my tri-state neighbors in New York and New Jersey. None of these women's lives are anything like my Fairfield County, homeschool mom life. This show is an escape for me, watched at the end of the day right before going to bed most times.

On this rare occasion my husband was still awake and saw this part of the show. I listened silently as I cried upon hearing this segment and Caroline Manzo's pep talk. When it cut to commercial my husband said, "Wow." It was said in a way that was meant to be a compliment.

This segment is so far the best on this seaon's show.

Thanks Caroline and Albie Manzo for choosing to share this on television. Just hearing that one segment will move many families. Caroline, I'm willing to bet you'll begin to get invitations to speat at LD conferences for parents and educators.

Go Caroline!

Go Albie!

P.S. Caroline was my favorite New Jersey housewife even before this segment aired. Now it's underscored!

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Kid Trend: Playing The Game

Have you heard of The Game?

Is your child playing The Game?

Mine are.

It seems every kid I know is playing The Game. The ages range from elementary grade kids to high school.

Materials: None

Cost: Free

Who can play: Anyone, but I consider it a children's game.

Object: To forget you are playing The Game.

Starting the game: You automatically begin playing The Game when you learn what The Game is.

Game Play: You are winning The Game when you forget you are playing The Game. When you remember you are playing The Game you must immediately state out loud, "I lost the game!" no matter where you are or who you are with. You may also add other words to this declarative statement. Examples "Oh man! I lost the game! It's been seven days! I can't believe it!!"

Continuing the game: The game restarts as soon as you say "I lost the game".

Enrolling new players: If someone asks you what you are talking about when they hear you say "I lost the game" you must explain it to them. Once they hear what The Game is, they have begun the game. They do not have a choice but to begin game play.

Cheating: If a game player remembers they are playing the game and does not state aloud "I lost the game" they are cheating. They did not end the game for themselves as no player can do that. They think they have stopped the game but really they are just cheating.

Spoil Sports: Those who state they won't play the game after they are enrolled are poor sports. Really they are playing it but they think they are not, so really they are cheating.

Ending the game: This game has no ending. But so long as you have forgotten you are playing The Game you are winning, and your mind will be relieved of this burden.

Enjoying the game: It is fun to enroll new players in the game, especially if you are trying to explain the game to the new player and they simply cannot grasp its concept. When more than one person understands the game and the new person can't it can be really funny as different people try to explain the game.

The Game is also fun in large groups. My son learned about it when a Boy Scout walked into a room of about 20 Scouts and loudly said, "Oh no! I lost the game!" at which point all the other Scouts (other than my son) had to say, "I lost the game!" Then my son asked what it was and he was enrolled. Kids have fun ribbing each other about making them remember The Game and also laughing at themselves or being annoyed that The Game was lost.

The Game is infectious and silly when people you didn't know were playing the game suddenly cry out "I lost the game". The Game spreads across different groups that kids interact with such as: Scouts playing it then it spreads to a homeschool Scout then it spreads to a homeschool co-op group then one of those kids spreads it to his baseball team in his hometown. Well that's one situation that happened with my older son.

What kids say is annoying about The Game is when they are trying to forget about it and they can't, it is frustrating.

Kids must use restraint when playing the game. It would cross a line to repeat every 15 or 30 seconds "I lost the game". There is a little leeway in how often this must be said. If a group just talked about it, that's enough for the time they are together. Perhaps that's an unstated rule that is more about social graces. This is supposed to be fun not annoying remember?

---


So parents if you overhear any kids saying "I lost the game" now you know what they are talking about.

Are your kids playing The Game?

I don't know if this is all over America or just in my area of Connecticut. Let me know!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Taking Time to Watch the Bees

I love bees. I watch bees. I get really close to bees. Bees don't scare me. Mean yellow jackets do. Bees really don't mind being stalked by humans or having camera lenses hovering over them.

Here are some bumblebees gathering nectar on my lavender plant.

I love my camera! My old point and shoot couldn't handle shots like these.








(double click to enlarge)

Photos copyright ChristineMM taken 6/16/10 in my garden in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Inspiration for Teaching

In my opinion there are two sources of information about best teaching practices which provide inspiration about education and learning.

The first type is writings about education reform ideas written by current or ex-teachers and/or school administrators. They must first outline the problems with public education or mainstream educational theories and practices. Then they tell what they think would be better. I include here general discussions about education, not targeted to one ethnic group, wealth level, or regional location.

The second type varies just a bit differently. These are writings by teachers (present or ex) and/or school administrators which write about children who have failed in the system using the system's definitions. These usually target a population such as focusing on inner-city, poverty-level minority children. These writings usually also involve a discussion of schools that are a physical wreck and complaints of underfunded schools.

The books in this category discuss a change in teaching methodology put into practice WITHOUT MORE MONEY and can be applied even in beaten down, physical school buildings. Learning and test scores do improve with changes in teaching despite no additional funding.

In some cases the teachers ran a private school with a different philosophy and teaching method than the public schools (Marva Collins) while others wound up quitting teaching (John Holt, James Herndon, John Taylor Gatto).

The Money Spent

The solution is not just to throw money at the school to improve student learning outcomes. I recall hearing statistics in an author talk on BookTV (the title eludes me but if I think about this and poke around on the BookTV site or Google I could find it). It was that when achievement scores are listed it is like this:

1. wealthy towns (top scores)
2. blue collar, middle class towns
3. cities with lower income than the above two

The spending per student is this:

1. wealthy towns (from resident dollars mostly)
2. cities with lower income than the rest (from state and federal dollars largely)
3. blue collar, middle class towns

Thus the argument was made yet again that more money does not necessarily equal better physical buildings, better teachers, or equal learning experiences for the students.

Back to the Teaching

I am on the last pages of reading a new book Teaching as Leadership. I've been slowly reading it over a number of months now. This book is about Teach for America's method. I knew what TFA was but I didn't understand their process and it's intriguing for a number of reasons.



First, I need to explain what TFA does, in case you don't know. College graduates agree to teach for a couple of years (even when their major was not education) in order to do service to discount their student loans. They work in cities where kids are underprivileged and at-risk. I have heard in the media that these are places that are hard to lure union teachers to work in.

What I didn't know what TFA has a certain teaching method that is completely different than what is normally done in public schools. This method is taught to the TFA teachers in a short period then the TFA teachers are thrown into the fire. The most surprising thing to me is that a TFA teacher uses method B in a classroom right next door to a union paid, experienced teacher using method A (the same old, same old). In this case despite no extra money and the building being in whatever state of imperfection or disrepair that it may, students suddenly are learning more and scoring higher on tests. There is an attitude change and a new positive outlook on learning within the children.

I see this TFA initiative as a kind of back door education reform. By offering to help with short term fixes (short stints by rotating volunteers) I guess the teacher's union never saw them as a threat. TFA fulfills a need. I just can't believe though that TFA uses a special and better method that winds up upstaging the union member-paid teachers. I'm shocked (in a "I love it" kind of way).

I find it hilarious that union member teachers who oppose education reform methods have allowed TFA to come in and basically start education reform right under their same roof. I guess the only way they were given a foothold was because the schools were desperate for cheap labor, the need was so great that they let it happen.

The pathetic thing is that when a TFA teacher has success using this other method which I consider to be education reform in action, the old school teachers in the building don't change their ways for the sake of the children and learning's sake. They stick to their old ways. This is what is meant when some people accuse school teachers of not putting the needs of the children first and saying that the teachers are in the job for the money or their own power or whatever they get out of working in the teaching field. This is what is meant when people say:

"Learning is an unintended consequence of school. School exists to employ teachers."

Once a parent in town, a mother of a Cub Scout who was in the Den I was co-Den Leader of tried to engage me about homeschooling my kids and the proposed education budget which would raise our property taxes by 11%. I didn't bite. I know when to not have controversial discussions especially when children are right next to us (we were shoveling mulch for a Scout service project where parents and siblings were helping). She then went for my husband and said that we must homeschool because we don't care about the kids who attend public school and we probably don't care about the quality of education in this town so we must then always vote no on the budget. (In my town each voter casts a vote for all expenditures.) This mother had recently been placed on the Board of Ed as a replacement for someone else who stepped down. She got into it with my husband and when he said the line above she seemed to lose it and started shouting. I told them to knock it off, kids are hearing this (her son looked scared to death). I note that a few months after she was active on the Board of Ed she pulled her child out of public school and enrolled him in a very expensive private school.

Actions speak louder than words.

To wrap it up my point is this book is fantastic. I read these books to get inspiration for my home education experience. I have a lot to say about it, some of which is that what homeschooling parents like me are doing is actually outlined in this book as the optimal way! Yet I had never seen it written out in one place like this. Much of this I learned through experience and trial and error with my own kids or hearing a tidbit here and trying it then seeing how that worked.

How to set goals, how to plan lessons to achieve that goal, and how to custom design an education is all here, in an attempt to persuade teachers to take on this way of teaching. I'm so surprised that it's what I'm already doing. So I read a book for inspiration and new information and find out that it is encouraging school teachers to do what I'm already doing. Wow.

Back to Teaching as Leadership

If you are curious about the book, I'll briefly share this.

The book starts off trying to convince the reader that these kids who have failed, have imperfect home lives, low incomes, really are capable of learning and excelling at school.

Once that pep talk is over the book launches into a detailed explanation of the core values of TFA.

The TFA site has their philosophy explained. This book expands each item in the framework in detail. You can read that on this page. Make sure you view the 'expand all' view which has a paragraph under each item.

For an even more detailed description of the six principals, see the book's website and click on the items in the left sidebar. The site has lots of information.

Homeschool curious parents or new homeschooling parents who feel lost may benefit from reading this book. I say this as I don't know of a book written specifically for homeschoolers which puts these same ideas into writing in a neat, tidy package as this does. If that is why you are reading Teaching As Leadership you may want to skip past the beginning and launch right into the details of their six "leadership principals" that describe their framework.

What I Want

What I'd like to see is this framework used with EVERY STUDENT in America.

I also now know the kind of motivating talk and boosting students that they can excel and that learning is important and good is NOT HAPPENING in my wealthy town. It seems crazy to me. Does everyone know this goes on? That it's not happening in mostly white towns with wealthy income levels and high performing schools that student apathy reigns with dominance? Do you know that the psyching up students for academic excellence does NOT take place in those classrooms?

What happens in real life is that students who like to learn or score high on tests and who take learning seriously are labeled nerds or geeks and are uncool? They are ostracized by the others, by the ones who goof off and seem to not care about learning and care more about sports or fashion and current fads and trends, or loving their material possessions publically usually can care less about actually learning. They just go to school as they have to.

In some circles the parents do not talk up education as they feel it would sound elitist. While they may be in the elite due to their income level and education level they don't encourage their children to perform academically so they can wind up with a job on equal footing as they have. It's strange and a notion I cannot understand. Perhaps they feel that by encouraging academic success in their child they are putting down or looking down upon children who are not performing at that higher level? Is this a guilt thing? Is this due to the zero-sum mindset (which I loathe and believe is not real).

There are others who feel that it is more important to love the whole child for who they naturally are rather than trying to mold or shape them into a scholar. They seem to think that if they love their child who is excelling academically that their love is conditional and based on academic performance. I don't understand that mindset at all. (This is a huge topic that could be discussed at lenght but I'll hold my tongue. Suffice it to say homeschoolers in my area sometimes accuse people like me with goals and standards for education as harming their children.)

In the last ten or more years the public school money flows to the kids with learning disability labels while programs to help with all student's academic success are cut and programs for gifted and talented students are sometimes non-existent. I recall a recent media article where a California school district was choosing between necessary replacement science lab equipment for high school science classes (for the smarter kids on a college track who needed to do biology and chemistry) or help for low-scoring kids still struggling with basic things like reading and writing. They chose to help the struggling kids more.

But now I'm getting off on a tangent so I'll just stop there.

Book Recommendations

I do recommend Teaching As Leadership, it's well written even though it's a bizarre experience to see homeschool methods I use written up cloaked in educational-ese language and constant references to checking for test scores as proof it's working. It's freaky for me because teachers who may love TFA's method may be the same one accusing homeschooling parents as not knowing what they're doing or possibly ruining their kids by keeping them out of school.

A great book by new teacher James Herndon talked about the problems in a mess of a school The Way It's Spozed to Be. He blamed the system and funding but changed his teaching and made an impact. He was fired over his different teaching methods.

Later Herndon went to work in a white middle class town that he thought would be wonderful as the school was funded well, but found out, and was shocked at the student apathy there. The book How to Survive in Your Native Land talks about that. I read these about ten years ago and loved them, and in the time since have re-read them once.

Herndon quit teaching in the end.

(Look around for used copies as it seems Native Land is out of print and listed in multiple listings on Amazon. Right now Spozed is in reprint in the 'Innovators in Education' series but used copies of the out of print editions are also available.)

I find Herndon's writings inspirational reading, they're fast reads but their message made a deep impression on me. The main message is that 'teaching method matters' first and foremost and that the teaching can be done in any setting and be effective.

I also was led to believe that the education system was so broken and that large scale reform was so daunting, that I didn't want my kids in the system.








Friday, June 18, 2010

Gold Medal Win at the State Science Olympiad


Here's a photo of my older son, a 7th grade homeschooler, with his gold medal for an event he and his teammates won at the Connecticut state 2010 Science Olympiad.

This year my son and two local homeschool boys worked together on two events. One was a structural engineering bridge model building event and the other was to create a rubber-band airplane model and to keep it in the air the longest. They came in first in the state for the flying event and fourth in the state for the bridge building model.

The team is comprised of homeschoolers from our county. 2009 was our first year and it was a big learning curve. We were the very first homeschool team in Connecticut to participate in Science Olympiad. We had a very small team and only did a small number of the more than twenty events held. In 2010 our team expanded to ten members (still shy of the maximum number of fifteen per team) and the team members competed in 18 of 23 events.

Without bogging you down with details the bottom line is the team's overall placement in the state will never be near the top if the team does not compete in every event. Due to the timing of the events in this one day competition, each student must compete in multiple events. Scheduling is tricky as it seems there are sometimes four competitions going on at the same exact time. Team members cannot be in two places at once!

In the first year my son and one other student were surprised to take first place in the bridge competition. In this second year more time was spent on the new-to-them plane flying event and only half the time was spent on the bridge. They loved learning through this hands-on experience. Not only did they learn facts but they also learned that you get out of something what you put into it. They knew as the competition approached they'd not done enough building and breaking of test model bridges in order to try to make the best bridge they could. Their move from 1st to 4th place in that event proved that point to them.

My son's participation in this event is not all about the winning. Honestly this son of mine has never been interested in competition, until his experience last year. He got to see what it felt like to do well and especially when up against school kids. A number of teams are comprised only of students in the gifted and talented programs. A couple of the schools are magnet schools specializing in science and technology. I feel our team of homeschoolers are competing against either the best of the best schools or against public schools with fantastic, experienced, enthusiastic coach-teachers.

Last year's experience was my son's first feeling of being a part of something bigger, part of a group working toward one goal. He was just one kid on a team and he was one team in a sea of kids from across the state. This changed him somehow, I'm not sure why or how but it did. It motivated him and made him feel he was competent, perhaps. In 2010 he was motivated to try harder and do more. He spent more time and energy on preparing for the competition this year.

Still there is much room for expansion and improvement. If he only tries, and if he helps motivate his teammates, they will do better. Already he and some teammates have made a committment to expand the team to its full capacity. The positive buzz from this spring's competition created a demand and already the 2011 team is full!

I offered to take a leadership role with the team for 2011, in order to contribute more and step up efforts to make this a true team experience.

We homeschoolers are a bit of a disadvantage as we are spread geographically across a county and we struggle to find times to be able to meet face to face to prepare for the events. My son and I would both like the team members to know each other well and for everyone to have a bit of an idea what each event is like. Since we have no long-time experienced coaches we parents are learning this as we go.

As I prepare to hit the 'publish' button for this post I'm wondering if this will be considered bragging by some parents. What I'm doing is sharing an experience.

I'm also thinking what a shame it is that in this wealthy place, Fairfield County, Connecticut, with so many public schools (and private schools) boasting of their academic excellence, that only one from a not-boastful and a lower end of the wealth spectrum and not top of the list per standardized test scores (Shelton) participates in the Science Olympiad middle school division. Where is Darien? New Canaan? Ridgefield? Wilton? Greenwich? Westport? Weston? Easton? Redding? Why is my town not participating?!? I'm aghast to be honest.

I strongly encourage other homeschoolers to look into partcipating with Science Olympiad in your region, it's a national competition. There is a lot to be learned not only about science but about teamwork, sportsmanship, social skills and perhaps also some new friends will be made along the way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two Winners of ABNA 2010 Announced

Earlier this year I was a reviewer of submissions for ABNA 2010. This was a contest geared toward first-time novelists, or formerly self-published authors to submit their manuscript for consideration. Anyone can submit. It was an experience to say the least.

Unforunately I did not have the pleasure of reading either of the winners. One winner is for adult fiction and the other is for young adult fiction. Long story short the winners get their book published by Penguin and a cash advance of $15,000!

Here is the press release if you are curious about this competition and maybe want to join in 2011!

Amazon and Penguin Group (USA) Name Patricia McArdle and Amy Ackley Winners of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Patricia McArdle, author of “Farishta,” and Amy Ackley, author of “Sign Language,” win the competitions in the general fiction and young adult fiction categories, respectively.

SEATTLE – June 14, 2010 – Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Penguin Group (USA) (NYSE: PSO) today named the winners of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, the international competition in search of the next popular novel. For the first time in the competition’s history, two grand prizes were awarded: one for general fiction and one for best young adult novel. The winners, selected by Amazon.com customers, were revealed at an event held at the Amazon campus in Seattle this morning. Each one will receive a publishing contract from Penguin Group (USA) that includes a $15,000 advance. Patricia McArdle is the winner of the general fiction category for her novel, “Farishta,” which will be published by Riverhead Books. Amy Ackley is the winner in the young adult fiction category for her novel, “Sign Language,” which will be published by Viking Children’s Books. Both of these novels are available for pre-order now on Amazon.com, at www.amazon.com/abna.

“Thousands of Amazon.com customers participated in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award by posting reviews and casting votes for the winners,” said Jeff Belle, vice president, U.S. books, Amazon. “The results of this year’s vote were the closest we’ve ever had, which is indicative of both the competitiveness of the entries and the exceptional work from our finalists.”

“It is such a pleasure to award two grand prizes this year and to have two wonderful new authors publishing with Penguin. We congratulate Patricia McArdle and Amy Ackley on their talent and achievement,” said Tim McCall, Penguin’s vice president of online sales and marketing.

Patricia McArdle, a resident of Arlington, Va., is a retired American diplomat whose postings have taken her around the world, including northern Afghanistan. Her novel, “Farishta,” centers around a female American diplomat who, transferred to a volatile, remote outpost in northern Afghanistan, provides aid to refugee women fleeing the violence. She becomes their farishta, or “angel,” in the local Dari language. Julie Barer of Barer Literary, LLC, one of the contest’s expert panelists, described McArdle’s “Farishta” as “a moving and fascinating story of one woman’s work in a place that few Americans have experienced beyond newspaper headlines and CNN stories. Both the originality of the setting and the quality of the writing make this debut stand out in the crowd.”

Young adult fiction winner Amy Ackley of Brighton, Mich. is a mother of three whose career has included a variety of jobs, from public administration to labor relations for top automakers. Ackley left home at the tender age of 16 and has supported herself ever since. Inspired by the loss of her father and two close friends to cancer, “Sign Language” tells the story of 12-year-old Abby North. Her first hint that something is wrong with her dad is the scar that appears on his stomach after he goes in for kidney surgery. Soon, the thing she calls “It” has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted and nothing is normal anymore. Nancy Werlin said the novel “tells its story beautifully and movingly, and it earns its hopeful ending. Ackley is without question a talented writer.”

The 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, which began Jan. 25, 2010, drew thousands of entrants, representing all 50 U.S. states and 22 countries. The contest is co-sponsored by Amazon, Penguin Group (USA) and CreateSpace. For complete terms and conditions on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and to view the winning excerpts and reviews, please visit www.amazon.com/abna.

###

About Penguin Group (USA)
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. is the U.S. member of the internationally renowned Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) is one of the leading U.S. adult and children's trade book publishers, owning a wide range of imprints and trademarks, including Viking, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Penguin Press, Riverhead Books, Dutton, Penguin Books, Berkley Books, Gotham Books, Portfolio, New American Library, Plume, Tarcher, Philomel, Grosset & Dunlap, Puffin, and Frederick Warne, among others. The Penguin Group (http://www.penguin.com) is part of Pearson plc, the international media company.

About Amazon.com
Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), a Fortune 500 company based in Seattle, opened on the World Wide Web in July 1995 and today offers Earth’s Biggest Selection. Amazon.com, Inc. seeks to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices. Amazon.com and other sellers offer millions of unique new, refurbished and used items in categories such as Books; Movies, Music & Games; Digital Downloads; Electronics & Computers; Home & Garden; Toys, Kids & Baby; Grocery; Apparel, Shoes & Jewelry; Health & Beauty; Sports & Outdoors; and Tools, Auto & Industrial. Amazon Web Services provides Amazon’s developer customers with access to in-the-cloud infrastructure services based on Amazon’s own back-end technology platform, which developers can use to enable virtually any type of business. Kindle and Kindle DX are the revolutionary portable readers that wirelessly download books, magazines, newspapers, blogs and personal documents to a crisp, high-resolution electronic ink display that looks and reads like real paper. Kindle and Kindle DX utilize the same 3G wireless technology as advanced cell phones, so users never need to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot. Kindle is the #1 bestselling product across the millions of items sold on Amazon.

Amazon and its affiliates operate websites, including www.amazon.com, www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.de, www.amazon.co.jp, www.amazon.fr, www.amazon.ca, and www.amazon.cn. As used herein, “Amazon.com,” “we,” “our” and similar terms include Amazon.com, Inc., and its subsidiaries, unless the context indicates otherwise.

Forward-Looking Statements
This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management's expectations. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com's financial results is included in Amazon.com's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and subsequent filings.

About CreateSpace
CreateSpace is a leader in manufacture on-demand services for independent content creators, publishers, film studios and music labels. CreateSpace provides inventory-free, physical distribution of Books, CDs and DVDs on-Demand, music downloads via Amazon MP3 and video downloads via Amazon Video On Demand. CreateSpace is a brand of On-Demand Publishing LLC, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN).

###

Contacts:
Amazon Media Hotline
206-266-7180

Penguin Group (USA)
Marilyn Ducksworth / Stephanie Sorensen
212-366-2564 / 212-366-2576
marilyn.ducksworth@us.penguingroup.com / stephanie.sorensen@us.penguingroup.com

CreateSpace
Amanda Wilson
843-760-8165
amandasu@createspace.com

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this blog post or to mention ABNA 2010.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whoopie Pies Book Review by ChristineMM




Title: Whoopie Pies Dozens of Mix ‘em Match ‘em Eat ‘em Up Recipes
Authors: Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell
Genre: cookbook
ISBN: 978-0811874540
Format: Hardcover
Full Retail Price: $16.95

Summary Statement: Fun and Yummy. Fun. Fun. Fun. Did I Say This is a Fun Cookbook?

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

I’m a New Englander-home baker-slow food maker who has only eaten Whoopie Pies sold in plastic wrap on counters of gas station convenience stores. They were huge, sweet, and a bit much to take, due to the sweetness almost making my teeth hurt.

This cookbook is fun and whimsical and upbeat. The original whoopee pie with chocolate cake and marshmallow filling is here of course as are many new concoctions dreamed up by the authors. I found the directions easy to follow and the basic recipe was delicious. These are superior tasting to any I’ve purchased as the filling was not sickening-sweet.

My children loved baking these with me. We have plans to explore more of these recipes in the near future.

The artistic layout of the book is appealing. I love the high quality photos which are both mouth-watering and whimsical. This book basically screams FUN!

I have two minor complaints that don’t warrant downgrading this book from 5 stars = I Love It. They are that the recipes have a LOT of white space on the page so I wish the font for the directions could have been made a bit larger. Second is my whoopie pies cracked and I wonder what I might have done wrong. There was nothing written to troubleshoot problems or to say something like (I’m making up this reason) “don’t over-beat the batter or they may crack in the oven” or “if they crack your oven may be a bit hot despite what the setting says, try turning down the heat a bit”.

Again I loved the book as did my kids and their friends who looked it over. I can’t wait to make more of these!




Disclosure: Amazon.com’s Vine program provided me with a review copy of this book for the purpose of publishing a review on their site. I was under no obligation nor was I paid to also share my review on my blog.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 229-223 Published



I’m behind on publishing links to the Carnival of Homeschooling. I apologize. I’ve been so busy with homeschooling, the homeschool co-op and year end wrap up events. Life has been a blur lately, and honestly, I don’t like this crazy pace.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 229: Under the Golden Apple Tree

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 230: Bugs, Knights, and Turkeys in the Yard

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 231: No Fighting! No Biting!

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 232: Homeschooled Twins

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 233: The Informed Parent

This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.

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.

Enjoy!

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Half the Battle Is...

I've come to the conclusion that half the battle to get something done is just to show up. Too many people fail to even show up and thus the project fails. This includes meeting deadlines for returning to show work completed or other tasks assigned, not just showing up for the first meeting.

The next thing is to just follow the directions. If you just show up and follow the directions I'd argue that 90% of the task will be successful and will meet the expectations. Many who fail, fail due to not following the directions, even very simple directions.

It seems to me only about 10% of the issue is having skill to do that job above and beyond what was directly stated in the directions. Many things are set up that the last 10% doesn't even need special skill or expertise or even "extra effort". Also in that 10% is caring about what is being done. A person can do something with 90% success without even caring.

I find that if I show up, follow directions, and apply my expertise and skills to do what was asked I am accused of doing "too much" and "going overboard" or "going above and beyond" or "being too detailed", when to me it seems I'm just doing a basic level of what was expected.

Also, if I get something done early I get odd looks and it surprises people.

Lately I repeatedly see this with expectations that others have of my children's work. Things like working on a Boy Scout merit badge with a stranger adult Merit Badge Counselor, or teachers of homeschool classes. SOME of the volunteers for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts also do this with the boys.

Everyone seems to expect so little. I'm trying to teach my kids a good work ethic. I have them show up with assigned work completed. I try to have them understand the concepts not just fill in the blanks to get the answer quickly. Later my kids complain they were told they did too much, or what they did was met with shock and awe. My kids ask me to explain this.

Two times my twelve year old followed the directions and was the only one in the whole class (of over 15 teenagers) to do the project correctly. He received raving compliments from the Merit Badge Counselor and from three of the stranger-Scouts. (I think his project was very good but it was not stellar, to be honest.)

In one case my son didn't have time to do the project as stated so he got an incomplete, but two Scouts who brought in ridiculously sub-par projects that didn't follow any of the directions were passed through and signed off as having completed it. My son was angry with ME as he didn't earn his merit badge yet the others got it, the ones who didn't follow the directions. He felt I held him back by not letting him submit a project that didn't follow the directions. He wished he'd submitted his half-done model of a space station that he had to invent and design.

I had to finally just say I guess those adults had low expectations. And I can't help it if adults in charge of teaching a class or leading Scouts choose to not follow BSA guidelines or other stated guidelines and pass kids through who didn't really complete the work. What can I say? I told my kids I can't really explain why those adults did it. We follow directions in our house, we put forth good effort. If we don't have time to finish a project, it doesn't get finished. But we don't submit a half-done lame thing and try to pass it off as completed -- not in our family.

I think we have come to a point in our culture where low expectations are taking over.

I fear this will be part of America's downfall.

We need to teach our children about high expectations and to have a good work ethic. We need people in society who work hard and do their jobs correctly. Period.

Well in the meantime I am really stressing to my kids to show up (early or on time) and to follow directions for in class behavior and for after-class assignments. If they do just that I think they'll be not just average but measured against low standards, they'll be above-average if not considered excellent people and employees.

Map of American's Moves

County to County map shows migrations in and out of a county you select.

Here is my county: Fairfield County Connecticut.

Can you say RETIREES MOVING TO FLORIDA?

And do you see the younger people moving to many other places to work? This is an expensive county and college grads really can't afford to live on their own here. This is a transient area and other working people move in and out to go elsewhere for employment.

Hat Tip: Why Homeschool

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homeschool Resources for Art and Art History

Here are notes from a homeschool support group meeting I attended in April 2010 about art and art history resources.

I started this group and everyone's favorite part of my meetings was the show and tell of books and resources which we did at the end. Then one year we changed the meetings to only discuss one or two academic subject areas and share resources. Everyone loved that format.

I am happy that the leader has continued this tradition. This year she's doing the one or two subjects per meeting topic.

These are the suggestions of materials that other mothers or I shared. Sometimes two or three mothers were going to recommend the same item.

These are in no specific order.

---

Stephen Caney's Ultimate Building Book by Stephen Caney




Adventures in Art book series
one book is Paul Klee Animal Tricks ISBN 3791327593



Sticker Art Shapes Kandinsky ISBN 9781845078072



A Weekend with Matisse by Florian Rodari



Artistic Pursuits curriculum
grades K-3 book one




There are others in the series for different ages, see website here.

Monet and the Impressionists for Kids by Carol Sabbeth



Gvstav Klimt a Painted Fairy Tale (Adventures in Art)



Georgia O'Keefe the Artist in the Desert (Adventures in Art)



Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg



Gettextbooks.com a source for cheap textbooks

Bob Raczka, good author, multiple books:
Name that Style
Here's Looking at Me
and others





Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art: field trip!

Picturing America (teacher's resource): this was a freebie through the NEA but is out of print now

Artist in Overalls by John Duggleby



Norman Rockwell Museum: field trip
see art room in basement if you go

Famous Artists Miro by Nicholas Ross

A Weekend with Rembrandt