Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teach at Home or Co-Op?

It's time for me to submit course offerings to the homeschool co-op that is my children's favorite (and coincidentially, my favorite also).

I have been pondering over what makes sense to teach in a group versus at home? So far I have only taught classes which are superior in groups than one on one teaching at home (in that co-op).

Now I am pondering what I'm not teaching at home that I should be teaching at home and wondering if I should offer to teach it at co-op then make my kids take the class. (These are not better or more conducive to teaching in a group setting.) The reason I have fallen down on teaching a few things here at home is that we're too busy and we are more disciplined about attending 'outside things' than getting stuff done at home. If I teach it elsewhere I'll create the deadlines and assignments and I as teacher will have to stick by them (because that's the kind of teacher I am when I teach other people's kids). Then if my kids were in that class they'd have to do the work too, more than if I taught it at home alone.

It sounds ludicrous to admit this but it is true.

So one thing on my mind now is which things are do-able in a group? Which curriculums are not suited for group use? Which make no sense to have a once weekly class on and truly need two or more meetings a week to teach it properly?

One thing I like about this co-op is the person in charge, and the board, give me autonomy to develop the course as I see fit. Whether anyone enrolls is another story. Students love the four courses I'm teaching now so I'm doing something right. But my offer made directly to my students, to teach how to write a research paper including MLA notation didn't go over well.

It helps if the co-op has some kind of philosophy to explain their existance. If the co-op is mainly focused on academics the parents don't want to teach or can't teach their own kids then that is good to know. If the co-op seeks to be a social place where fluff and fun classes are offered that's good to know. If the co-op has students who are of certain ages that have the bulk of classes offered to those ages then that's good to know.

Then there is the issue of what kids really do need to know and that they may not always want to learn about that thing. Which leads us to the issue with homeschool co-ops that some parents allow their children full freedom of choice on what to take so they may go for the fluff and fun not what is good and necessary (and some families may strike a compromise balance between the two).

Then the last challenge is if the kid is forced to take certain classes we have the coercion issue happening where they may not put forth good effort or do the assignments which can cause problems in the class so we're back to some challenges with apathy that schools deal with.

And lastly if the kid is not happy at the co-op the parent won't be happy then they may choose to not enroll again. In order to function the co-op needs the students! The rent for the building must be paid, we have no tax revenue paying for the facility. So we have to try to keep both the students and the parents happy. It's not always easy.

What would be great for that one co-op is to hold a parent meeting to discuss what the parents really want, which courses should be repeated, which new ones should be offered and so forth. However, most of the parents are too busy to attend such a meeting. Homeschoolers around here are busy people.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Glorious Knitting Book Review by Christinemm

I found this book, Glorious Knitting (1985) by Kaffe Fassett on the shelf of a used book shop. I was immediately drawn to the cover art and once I flipped through I knew I had to buy the book.

A knitter of only two years at the time, the only thing I knew about its author, Kaffe Fassett was that he was mentioned to be a relative who was a well-known knitwear designer in a newer memoir/cookbook My Nepenthe which I read and reviewed (here).

This is Fassett's first book on knitting. I loved it at first sight. First I looked at every photograph then went back to the beginning and read it cover to cover. Twice since then I've re-read the book and skimmed through it other times for visual inspiration.

The introduction should be read not skipped. Here the reader is inspired to take the leap into colorful knitting. This book was published in 1985 and apparently back the most knitters were knitting in one color and adding interest to their projects by using different stitches or cables.

I enjoyed Fassett's encouragement to experiment with color and the statement that no one automatically knows about color harmony or is born with a color sense. People learn about how color works through playing with it, using it in knitting or other art mediums. (Fassett was first a fine art painter.) Fassett said that by doing and experiencing, one learns to really see things. Their power of observation is awakened, and whereever one goes, whatever one sees in real life can inspire. Fassett drew inspiration from fine art works in museums and what he saw while traveling.

Fassett tells his story of discovering knitting after seeing many colors of yarn at a factory in Scotland which he visited with his friend Bill Gibbs. Fassett wound up buying many balls of yarn that day and learned to knit on the train ride home to London. (Born in America, he was then living in England.) He later became a knitwear designer.

"Many people were afraid that the 'average knitter' would not be able to cope with numerous colors and complex-looking graphs." Fassett states in the book's introduction. He went on to teach knitting in color workshops and to lecture to knitters, liberating them to a brighter more colorful knitting experience. He stated Zoe Hunter was the designer of his garments.

Four pages explain color knitting then the book explodes into bright pages full of knitted garments and items. Patterns are provided but there are more projects photographed than patterns provided.

The book is visually stunning with professional models in amazing locations sometiems with interesting people of that country. The texture and color of some architecture or natural settings in and of themselves sometimes are breathtaking and inspirational. A dark sweater with black, purple and blues against a dark rock wall, red brick and purple hydrangea blossoms behind. Cottage gardens, tropical flowers, wildflowers, flowering trees, autumn leaves, textured stucco walls and blue washed doors with peeling paint. It's all eye candy.

The designs for the garments are typical mid-1980s: over-sized bodies and wide sleeves, tunic length sweaters over tight pants. Brightly colored tops over more plain pants. Wide shoulders and big coats. I won't fault the book for fashions of 25 years ago that are no longer in vogue (although right at this moment some of these are coming back).

I love the message of freeing oneself with color. The color harmony topic is timeless. Even though I'd never wear some of these designs as they are either too bold for me or no longer in style I am inspired by seeing them. The inspirational photos are worth the price of the book, even if your project winds up being a different design or shape to fit with today's fads or what works best with your body type. Fassett encourages knitters to adapt his patterns and colors after experimenting with their own yarn.

I was thrilled to find this book and went on to read all of Kaffe Fassett's books. (I plan to review all his knitting books.)

Highly recommended!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ripping Off the Elderly or Infirm Should Be Illegal

I don't have much sympathy for the generally dumb among us but I do feel badly when companies rip off elderly people who may either be confused by marketing ploys.  I feel badly for a person of any age who has suffered from a medical event that has impaired their mental function and ability to think logically and spot scams (i.e. stroke victims).

Here is a perfect example: TV Guide subscriptions.

The elderly, infirm, and/or shut-ins who enjoy watching TV may subscribe to the TV Guide.

This example is regarding my mother-in-law's subscription to the TV Guide which she purchased directly from them (without cost comparison shopping as she didn't know there was an option to get it anywhere else).

Her subscription for twelve months ends in eight months, yet the subscription renewals are already coming in. The one I hold in my hand pressures her to renew now for "PRICE PROTECTION" at $22.72 in four installments and gives a deadline more than eight months down the road. Now right off the bat some people would be confused as they may think it is a one time $22.72 payment. In any event let's round that up to $90 for a one year subscription.

But wait, I'm not being clear with my storytelling. The first two times I read the letter and bill I was confused about when her subscription ended. I couldn't find it and assumed it was a close date. It only seems logical that we'd be asked to renew close to the end-date. Then I finally spotted teeny tiny font that is 1 millimeter tall (yes, I just measured it) that says the date to tell me she has eight more months to go.

I checked Amazon.com today and a one year subscription for a new or renewal customer is just under $40. There is no push to renew now or renew fast.

What a rip-off TV Guide is.

More than eight months in advance of a twelve month subscription they send scare tactic renewal notices offering what seems like great savings deals that are more than double what a consumer pays when buying the subscription through Amazon.com. (Today's price on Amazon for TV Guide is $39.96 for a full year subscription.)

This is just one story of the many examples of companies trying to rip off my mother-in-law. We have at least two stories a month, sometimes a handful a month, and that's not counting the more than dozen charity begging letters she gets Every. Single. Week. which are somehow geared toward medical conditions her spouse died from (an appeal to pity) or tied to her religion (a fear of going to Hell if she doesn't donate more to anything related to the Catholic church).

There are no easy ways for a Power of Attorney to intercede to prevent junk mail, nonprofit organization mail and other sales pitches from reaching a person unless all the mail delivery is stopped. This however, doesn't allow the shut-in to receive magazines or certain newspapers. Thus the TV viewer can't get easily get their TV Guide subscription.

I'm not for Big Government but really it is a shame that some profits made by corporations are due to tricking the elderly, those suffering with medically related mental impairment or gullible elderly people. I almost wish it was somehow illegal to do things like this.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Duracell Mygrid Usb Charger Product Review by ChristineMM

Duracell Mygrid Usb Charger Product Review by ChristineMM

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5

My Summary Statement: Easy to Use, Love That So Many Devices Can Be Used With It

This device is so simple to use. It is basically a battery that you first charge by plugging it into a USB port on any type of computer you use. When it is charged you then plug any number of other devices into it to charge those.

I used this to charge my Android (Droid) phone and also a regular mobile phone on the first day I received it.

This is helpful when traveling or commuting to work because we no longer have to carry a variety of chargers to fit each device.

The best thing though is you can charge this ahead of time then use it while on the go. For example if you leave the house with a the MyGrid charged you can use it to recharge your mobile phone or smart phone while still on the go AND you can use your device while it is charging! There is no need to delay use of your mobile device and wait until you get back to a building with an electrical outlet, leave it in your car charging if you already own a cigarette lighter charging cord.

It is convenient mostly for travel and commuting to have one battery that can recharge various portable items such as mobile phones, smart phones, e-reader devices and audio players (MP3 players and iPods).

I have nothing negative to say about this product, just praise!

Disclosure: I received this product (value $28-36) from the Amazon Vine product review program. I was not paid to write this review nor was I under obligation to write a positive review. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Starbucks Natural Fusions Vanilla Coffee Product Review by ChristineMM

Starbucks French Roast (an unflavored, dark roast) is my favorite coffee which I buy in bean form and brew at home. I also enjoy splurging on fresh coffees from Starbucks coffee shops occasionally.

I had not tried Starbucks Natural Fusions Vanilla until now, and am happy with this because it has a good vanilla flavor.

Although I love the idea of vanilla flavored coffee, in the past, all the other coffee brands I’ve tasted which are served in restaurants, various coffee shops and take out restaurants (i.e. deli’s and gas stations) had a fake chemical taste that I disliked. So in the past I avoided any flavored coffees.

I have also tried some creamer products with vanilla and hazelnut flavors (not made by Starbucks) but those have a sweetner in them that has a strange, too-sweet taste for me.

When I saw both the Starbuck’s brand and the fact that this was a NATURAL vanilla flavor (made with vanilla beans) I decided to try it and I’m happy with it. It has a medium roast good flavor of Starbucks coffee with a vanilla taste that is not chemical-fake tasting and lacks odd aftertastes and the only sweetness is from whatever sweeter we choose to add.

Bravo Starbucks! Your “Natural Fusions Vanilla” coffee is just right!

Bonus: my package states (on the side) that if we bring the empty bag to a Starbucks coffee shop within 30 days of the “best by” date they will give us a free 12 ounce freshly brewed coffee at no charge!

Disclosure: I received an 11 ounce bag of coffee (approximate value $9) from the Amazon Vine product review program. I was not paid to write this review nor was I under obligation to write a positive review. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Creative Endeavors in 2010

I am a knitter. It sounds odd to say that as I've only been knitting for two years and my mind defaults to the old thought that "I could never learn to do that".

I a process knitter. This means that I enjoy the doing of the knitting. It means I don't knit to wind up with a finished product in most cases. I like to work with interesting yarns that I watch go through my fingers. I like colored yarn and variagated yarns with long strands of color change and multiple colors or different fibers in the yarns themselves (not one solid color).  I like knitting holding two yarns at one time to make it look different than if just one was used. I like yarns that feel good in my hands and ones that have some give. I despise acrylic as it is too stiff and tough to work with. Unfortunately my kids like their hats made of it best so I do work with it sometimes when I'm focusing on making a product not knitting for the process.

I am a rebellious knitter in that I don't like to be constrained to strict patterns conceived by others. I want to adapt the patterns to my liking, change the colors, shift the shape and to do different things. I like to work with the fibers and let them tell me what they want me to do with them.

In the beginning of 2010 I was enjoying process knitting using general kind of vague patterns by Jane Thornley that allow the knitter to select their own fibers. The knitter can mix yarns of different gauge, color, and texture. How the item turns out in the end (size-wise) can vary so this is a bit tricky to get to be something that fits well or looks good on the body. (Above is a shawl in process using Jane Thornley's Feather 'n Fan pattern with yarns I selected.)

This year I had two objects that I immensely enjoyed knitting up that hit a snag in the finishing. This derailed me from knitting. Knitting got to be about problem solving. I needed to do techniques that I had not yet learned how to do. Trying to learn from  YouTube tutorials or on Internet chat lists with help from strangers was not working. I got aggravated and abandonded knitting for months, maybe six months! I was very busy living life at that time and felt I had no creative energy left in my body or mind to deal with any type of handcrft or art making. Photography done while on the fly since I travel with my DSLR camera everywhere I go was all I could muster up for creative endeavors.

I then got the itch to start again but had no time or energy for creative knitting. I made some hats. Some other items were not turning out well with the yarn I was using so were ripped out.

In late September I spotted two carpet beetle larvae in a skein of white mohair wool yarn. I freaked out. I had to spend many hours doing a process to try to kill any possible eggs or other larvae that might be in the yarn. (Carpet beetle larvae eat any kind of fiber not just wool and they also eat through plastic bags so keeping them out can be tricky. I found them eating the wallpaper custom made by the former homeowner which is silk fabric made into wallpaper and they also were on the couches with cotton upholstery and on the wool embroidered rug!)

To save the yarn involves taking all the yarn in the house and doing a rotation in the freezer and back out again, then repeating it again. I also did a thorough cleaning and decluttering in the upstairs rooms of the house where more larvae (tiny caterpillars) were found. This took about three full days which was hard to scrape together in our busy fall which had at least two appointments, seven days a week, and included five full days outside the house from breakfast until after dinner.

The carpet beetles were a scary and gross thing to deal with. Apparently they come in through the window screens when the window is open and they love to live inside old yellow jacket nests, which our shutters and window casings often have in them. The adult's favorite food is spirea which was the plant which was in front of our entire house, so first and second floor opened windows in spring and summer were an easy way for them to get in. Through Internet research I learned that the little caterpillar larvae can remain in that state for years! I think I erradicated the monsters.

I have been itching to learn to spin and have ideas for art yarn spinning which involves the use of fibers from recycled clothing. I have resisted the urge to get into this as I fear I will overspend on new materials for that new craft. I had already bought a spinning wheel (which is not really functional in its current state) and had bought books on the topic. I keep teling myself I barely have time to knit with the yarn I already own so to stay away from spinning for now!

I attended the huge New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck New York in October by myself. This let me have more free time for browsing and shopping. I may have overspent there. Well it was not a lot, we could afford it, and it was fun to splurge on it after living on a very tight budget for so long. I have enough yarn from that trip for about four long sleeved sweaters. I figured what I bought would keep me busy for about nine months. Then my husband was laid off about six weeks after that festival (something we did not suspect would happen) and I now feel badly about the spending (especially since the credit card bill for those purchases arrived the day after the lay off). Ouch.

What I need right now is some mindless knitting projects that I can take places to knit without much thinking. It can't be things with lots of chart reading or anything pretty new to me like knitting socks that needs counting of rows and lots of increasing or decreasing. I would also like a more creative knitting project to work on while I am home and am in the mood.

The only thing holding me back from deciding on what projects to work on is I need to organize my yarn after the whole freezing process. Currently it is still residing with each skein in its own ziplock bag (very uninspiring to me as I like to hold the yarn and feel it and see it clearly which is not easy with it all in bags). All the bags are then in large garbage bags sitting in the hallway. I need to get it out, look it over, and organize it in safe storage places that maybe will deter future insects. I also need to sit and sort the yarn from the knitting festival and contemplate what new projects I will make.

So far 2010 has been a busy year for me, doing things with my kids and homeschooling them. Knitting and other creative pursuits have taken a backseat to parenting and educating them. I  need to find a way to squeak creative endeavors back into my schedule while keeping my children and their education as my top priority. Supporting my husband emotionally through the job search process is also important. I know knitting and other creative pursuits will help me relieve stress and perhaps can keep worrying away. I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, I'm not on prescription medications to help my mood or anything else, and I barely ever drink, so I turn to making art and doing handcrafts for pleasure and stress relief. I think that's a healthy way to handle life's problems! I don't go to therapy but if you see me sitting with pointy needles and knitting away, that's me "doing therapy".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...

...from my neck of the woods to yours.

Photo taken 11/25/10 by ChristineMM while on a nature walk with family after a big Thanksgiving dinner, in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Trees of New England Book Review by ChristineMM

Title:  Trees of New England A Natural History
Author: Charles Fergus

ISBN: 0762737956

My Star Rating: 4 stars out of 5 = I Like It

Summary Statement: Enjoy the Interesting Text but Wish It Had More Illustrations

This book is an interesting read; it’s not a field guide. General facts are told about the trees and sometimes personal observations or stories.

Each tree has a map showing the region it grows in and one or two hand drawn black line illustrations per species. There are not enough illustrations nor are they consistent enough to double as a field guide. For example some illustrations show the full tree giving us a sense of the shape while others show just the leaf and other times, the bark. I wish each of these types of visuals was included for every tree.

If you are interested in medicinal uses or practical uses for the trees (i.e. which are good for home heat burning or which are used for making wood furniture and so forth, only some trees have that information. Sometimes how the tree was used by Native Americans is included.

If you want to know more about trees than a regular field guide teaches you and you are interested in trees of New England you’ll want to read this book. Anyone who can’t get enough information about trees would feel this is necessary for their library.

I’m rating this 4 stars = I Like It because the text is interesting and provides details that I have not found in other books. The reason I’m not giving it 5 stars = I Love It, is I wish it had more illustrations showing the full tree shape, the leaf, the bark and the fruit or nut if applicable.

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a library. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kids Think the Darndest Things

Today my ten year old son walked up to me while I was cleaning the kitchen and said, "I always wondered what Dad's face would look like if he came home from work and said he'd been fired."

Such a funny thing for a kid to think about.

Well he found out last night.

The word is there will be more rounds to come. Maybe they'll wait until a few days before Christmas or Hanukkah for future rounds?

As for me I can't believe we're going through this again. I'm thinking about what course of action to take, if we'll do what we did the last time around (patiently wait and try to remain hopeful). What new paths must be forged. Should drastic action be taken? How fast should we make bold moves?

We're willing to move almost anywhere for a decent position with some kind of job security.

I've already started looking at job postings.

My mind is swirling with confusion.

So far nothing I do seems to help, prayer included.


Well if nothing else it's another litmus test for my husband I to see who our real friends are. The ones who scatter were never worth having in the first place...

Monday, November 22, 2010


My cat, not the cooking spice. She was rescued from the streets of Bridgeport, born to a feral stray mother cat and gathered up by "crazy cat ladies" (a term I use with the utmost respect) who then dedicated hours and hours of their time and also their personal money to care for wee little kittens then to work to get them adopted to loving homes. The ladies we worked with insisted we adopt two kittens at once (that was back in 2005).

Photo was taken to test my Droid camera back in April 2010 on the day we bought it. The light is just right here and captured the look of her soft fur. Sometimes photographing cats is tricky business. Her ears are back and she's a bit tiffed but the photo caught her fur nicely and her eye color.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Prince Back?

I heard this song on the radio and swore it was Prince. The tone of voice and also the music and the entire style sounds like 1980s Prince to me. It brought me right back and made me feel like I was a teenager again, hearing a new Prince tune.

Here's an article in which the band admits to copying Prince's style. I don't like the idea of copying a muscian's style. I'm in favor of developing one's own style of art and music.
Regarding the video which I watched to see if Prince was actually the singer in a new band called OK Go, I have these comments:

1. This is one of the lamest videos I've ever seen.

2. This is very low budget. Wow.

3. Is it me or is all this stuff from IKEA?

4. The dogs act more human than the people, who are too robotic.

5. This is a silly video.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

More Biology Learning Materials

Here are three more resources my eighth grader is using to learn biology at a homeschool co-op. This fall session is not covering the entire year's content, so we will continue studying biology at home with independent study when this co-op ends.

1. Reading Charles and Emma: Darwin's Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman.

2. Reading Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-Experiments in Science and Medicine by Leslie Dendy and Mel Boring.

3. Listening to audio and video podcasts by NPR's Science Friday (free on the internet).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two Great New Books on the Elements

These two books are on the reading list for the high school level biology class my eighth grader is taking at a homeschool co-op this fall. I had never heard of or seen these books until our participation in this class.


The first book tells an interesting story from history for each element in the periodic table. This is an example of a not-in-vogue but fantastic (to my mind) genre "narrative nonfiction". The book is written by a physics major with a fascination for the elements, who prefers writing for his career.

I have been so busy and had no time to even glance at this book. Then I read an email from the teacher who said she expects the parents to read this also. Great, something else for my "to do" list. I have zero interest in the elements. I started reading it and am hooked. I'm learning things, interesting things. Why don't schools teach science like this?

Highly recommended. (It was published in 2010 and at present is only available in hardcover.)

The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean


I first glanced at the second book which another student in the biology class had at the co-op. I decided to buy it as anything highly visual and beautiful draws my visual-spatial learner in. I later saw the note that this was on the optional but recommended reading list for the biology class. After I bought it, just a couple of days ago I spotted it at Costco.

This is a gorgeous book with color photographs and lots of visuals. To me the illustrations seem better than the text. This is a book for adults and the text is a bit dry in some spots. One not-dry piece states, "Another idea that turns out to be stuipid as it sounds is using arsenic as a pigment." I had to laugh at that. The entire book is not so funny though.

The Elements a Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray (2009). At present this is only available in hardcover. It has a wide format and would be considered a coffee table book by nerds and geeks everywhere (and homeschool families hoping that the strewing about of educational books may lure in curious kids).

Also, thanks to the Amazon Gold Box deals I discovered there is a flashcard set companion to The Elements called The Photographic Card Deck of The Elements. I bought that too. Couldn't resist.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Attended PostSecret Event

I've wanted to attend a PostSecret lecture for a few years. I finally got my chance when Frank Warren came to Connecticut earlier this month, because this time around the lecture was not restricted to students who attended the college that hosted the talk. I brought my husband along. He indulged me with his presence.

Frank Warren seems to mostly tour college campuses and I'd wondered why. I thought maybe it was hard to book other types of locations. Now I know why. The talk definately had an aim to get its message to young people.

The general message with PostSecret is to reveal that many if not every person has (or had) secrets in their life. When a person has a secret they sometimes think they are alone with that issue and they may struggle or feel isolated due to that perception. Some people are tortured by their secrets or ashamed or any number of other negative emotions relating to keeping the secret.

The act of sharing a secret, even sharing a secret in writing on a postcard sent anonymously to Frank Warren as part of the project that PostSecret is, can be freeing to some people. Some people become liberated just by sending off their postcard.

The act of reading the postcards submitted to PostSecret, whether on the PostSecret blog or as published in the various PostSecret books can help the reader realize they are not alone, when they see others kept a secret that is also their secret.

Another good result is people from all walks of life and from different countries can see similarities between people in the PostSecrets they see. We are all more alike than we may realize.

Unfortunately due to negative past circumstances or life events or problems, some people become depressed and even suicidal due to issues that they are keeping secret. PostSecret has always had a goal to help prevent suicide. This has been done in various ways from publicizing the existance of HopeLine or seeking contributions for suicide prevention or just bringing awareness to how PostSecret readers may someday help prevent someone they know from actually committing suicide.

I didn't know what was behind Frank Warren's drive to prevent suicide but at this talk it was revealed. A childhood friend of his committed suicide which impacted his life. In the talk Warren also revealed a secret he kept about his own childhood which he says may have been the impetus behind his original idea to do the PostSecret art project in the first place (it being a kind of hidden beneath the surface type thing, that later was illuminated).

At the lecture, as with all of these, Warren invites people to speak at the microphone to reveal a secret if they wish. The most moving was a young man who said he traveled on a bus from down south all the way up here, alone, to reveal a secret he'd been keeping. He said he felt safe doing it here since he knew he'd never see any of us again in his lifetime. It was hard to listen to the secret as his inner turmoil about it was just difficult to see. After he said the secret a stranger-young woman approached him and hugged him. He then walked to the back and I'm not sure if he walked right out of the auditorium at that point or if he was just going to recoup in the restroom.

Most of the people in the audience were college aged, so I was 20-25 years their senior but I wasn't the oldest one in the room. Actually this was a flashback experience for me as I attended that college as a freshman right out of high school and I remembered freshman orientation being there. I also had attended a muscial to see a college friend perform in this auditorium which was a lot of fun. He was a good actor and his strength was performing arts, he shined when acting. He also liked being the center of attention where ever he was, as if he was always "on". He later became addicted to cocaine (according to his parents) and while in his 20s, wound up murdered! The last I knew the suspect was a drug dealer and there was talk that he owed money to the drug dealer. This was a white kid from the suburbs from an upper middle class family, so the story was shocking to say the least.

It felt odd to feel so old in that audience, when I don't feel old inside. What I felt was different for me is that in the time since I was their age I came to terms with some unfortunate circumstances in my life and have shared them with one or a few other people. Thus, I have no earth shattering secrets left to reveal to Frank Warren via an anonymous postcard.

I already have grasped the concept that we are not our circumstances, what others did to us does not enslave or entrap us, we can forgive and let it go. Like Frank Warren said of some of his negative life experiences, I agree that I'd not want those things removed from my past as they helped shape who I am today.

Life is a process that we're always moving through. Life circumstances change. I prefer to think of my past as something I'm still processing and moving forward from rather than something to bury and hide from.

Frank Warren is an excellent speaker. He has received training to be a suicide hotline phone counselor. I don't know what other training he's had but he is very good at saying things to respond to people after they publically share their secrets. How people are responded to after sharing something very personal is important and Warren did a great job with that.

I had one of my books autographed at the end. Warren even complimented me on my sweater, one I'd hand knit, so that's something I'll never forget. I don't have a photo as those were prohibited until after all the autographs were signed and I needed to get back to pick my kids up from my parents by then.

I'm impressed with the work Frank Warren has done with PostSecret and feel it is important work. I don't know what his future holds or what will become of PostSecret in the years to come.

I'm glad I attended the event. I'm grateful that my husband was willing to go along with me too.

Note: The PostSecret blog changes every Sunday at 12:01 a.m. and there is no archive. The content of the blog can range from G rated to X rated. The secrets range from silly to seriously disturbing to heart breaking. I have both laughed and cried from reading them.

I wish there was a project for kids for PostSecret as something like this would be great to talk about with even young children. However this is a controversial topic as it brings up the topic of what kinds of secrets would be shared as even some of the children's own secrets would reveal content that qualify as too tragic for some children to bear hearing about other kids enduring. Yet if one child knew something was happening to another child and they knew they weren't alone it might help them in the same way that teens and adults are helped. It's a tough subject to even ponder.

Minor Blog Technical Challenges

I've been writing blog posts when I have spare time and setting them to auto publish when I'm busy.

Only later do I realize they never published and are oddly, sitting in my drafts folder.

How annoying. Sorry readers, for the break in blogging, it was unintentional.

Monday, November 15, 2010

America: The Story of Us Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: America The Story of Us an Illustrated History
Author: Kevin Baker
Publication: A&E Television Networks, History,  2010
Produced by: Melcher Media

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: Chronological Survey of American History with Many Visuals; For Adults, Teens or Read-Aloud by Parents to Younger Kids

This is the companion book to a documentary mini-series AMERICA THE STORY OF US that aired on A&E's History Channel in the spring of 2010.

This book is written to an adult audience and is fine for teens or even upper middle school students. For kids it would serve best as a read-aloud for family study or for homeschooling families.

The book is loaded with visuals ranging from drawn illustrations to historical photographs or facsimilies of historical documents, and maps. Each two page spread has at least one whole page of graphics and some are comprised of two thirds images to text ratio.

The book moves at a good pace and never gets boring.  The time period covered goes from the arrival of the colonial settlers to 2010 including the election of President Barack Obama, who also penned the introduction. The content does not candy coat history either; hard topics such as the treatment of Native Americans, slavery, and poverty in the early 1900s is covered.

This book is now a part of my family's library about American history and we are using it in our homeschool studies.

I love the chronological arrangement of historical events and all the visuals and the interesting text, therefore this book has earned a rating of 5 stars = I Love It.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publicist: Jane Wesman Public Relations with an agreement to blog my review. I was not coerced to write a favorable review nor was I paid to write this review.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not Shying Away

Last spring my then nine year old son joined a travel lacrosse team for the first time. He boldly joined without knowing a single soul on the team. Being homeschoolers first and foremost we've chosen to attend things or join organizations to do the thing and whether we knew anyone or not was irrelevant. Later as we came to know other homeschoolers we would either bump into people we knew or we'd plan to do something together from the start.

My son had some struggles on the team as the socialization of those third and fourth graders was different than we've been teaching him to act like and it was different also from the kids he knew from homeschooling, from Cub Scouts and even his involvement being present at weekly Boy Scout meetings (as a younger sibling). This son is a rule follower who has a thing for justice and fairness. He feels if a rule is stated all should follow it. When he follows a rule he expects others to as well. He wants to follow the rule. He doesn't like it when some kids break the rule(s) and the adults in charge let it go. He feels a sense of risk if he chooses to break the rule then gets caught. He wants the adults to like him and to be happy with him so he hesistates to break the rules.

My son was not used to kids talking back to the adults in charge and refusing to do what they said and some even using profanity to the coaches' faces. My son was not used to the kids aged eight and nine swearing a blue streak to each other or making fun of each other when unprovoked, and also hearing fat jokes and "yo mamma" jokes. He didn't understand why the felt the need to talk with profanity. It didn't take him long to learn that it's cool to swear in many kid's eyes.

My son was also not used to being the target of teasing and unprovoked physical attacks such as while jogging for warm-up's being whacked on the back with a metal lacrosse stick or being poked in the gut so hard it made him feel like he was going to puke. He was used to treating people well and being treated kindly in return. He was used to being his authentic self and being accepted. He began to learn that for self-protection one must mask one's true self to others and put up walls of toughness in order to not appear to be available to be picked on.

My son really liked the sport of lacrosse. He didn't like that he was not as skilled as some of the other players especially those who said they picked up their first stick at age three or four, or the coaches' sons who obviously got years of informal practice in the yard. These coaches advised we let our kids carry the stick everywhere they go and have a ball in the stick's pocket indoors to practice cradling. My kids don't walk back and forth and all around our house "doing nothing" so that really was not happening here but I digress.

May 2010

My son enjoyed being on a team and part of the team even when he realized his skills were sub-par due to inexperience, and the other kids weren't passing him the ball so he could make important plays. He was put in defense which of course is important but it's not the position that gets the goals or blocks them thus there is little glory there.

Of all the kids on the team, my son made one friend who lives in the other town twenty minutes away, and the family is busy and has their hands full with volunteer work in addition to parenting three kids. Sadly, my son can't see that boy much.

This fall the league offered an outdoor early fall session once a week and he wanted to do it. The attendance was sketchy so he wound up playing and practicing with the kids of mixed grades from 5 to 8. My son held his own despite being sometimes the only fifth grader there: the smallest and least experienced.

For late fall he is doing the indoor lacrosse session so once weekly I'll be schlepping him there and hanging out on the turf waiting. Come to find out one kid he didn't know from that outdoor session is actually in his grade and he's in the indoor one as well. I was happy to hear that kid exclaim loudly when he saw my son that, "Hey! I know you!" then he was friendly toward my son.

November 2010

 The other kids doing the indoor clinics this fall were on his team last year. None of them gave him a greeting when they saw him. My son remained quiet so it goes both ways I guess. Another reason besides not attending the public school here that my son is an outsider is that he's also not on the travel football team like most of the boys are. As one mother told me the kids on the lacrosse team have been together season after season for football and lacrosse plus they all go to the public school.

I am happy that my son is happy playing lacrosse. I am proud that he is not shying away from lacrosse because he's not in the clique. I am glad my son is holding his own. Some of the kids are pretty tough at least on the exterior so I feel like I'm throwing him to the sharks by letting him continue in lacrosse. Some of my homeschool mom friends counseled me to pull him out to avoid this negativity. Honestly I feel my job as a mother and also as a homeschooling mother is to raise my children to be independent and able to function in this world and to deal with adversity and conflict as they come up in life.

Remember my son wants to stay in it. By allowing my son to continue playing spring lacrosse with this team and doing the associated clinics for the other two seasons I feel that my son is participating in the real world and experiencing mild doses of some adverse conditions and he's learning to cope and he's having fun playing the sport too. I'd love to see him move into something of a socially thriving mode by being more popular or getting more positive attention, than being either the underling who gets picked on or the kid who blends in and gets ignored. We'll see what happens (how that turns out is out of my control anyway).

Me waiting on the sidelines.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chapbook Entry: In the Mind's Eye by West

"Recently, studies of the microscopic structure of the brain and of early neurological growth patterns have provided the beginnings of solid evidence for a view of the brain different from that which has long been accepted. It is a view that emphasizes the great diversity of brain structure and capability rather than its presumed "blank slate" homogeneity. From this new perspective, it is becoming apparent that early growth processes can sometimes produce substantial diversity among different brains and that this diversity frequently has great benefit for the larger society over time, promoting forms and magnitudes of creativity that might not otherwise have been possible. Those who learn with great difficulty in one setting may learn with surprising ease in another.

This fresh perspective suggests that we should be more concerned with results than with trying to get everyone to learn things in the same way, especially if we are  more interested in creating new knowledge than in merely absorbing and passing on old knowledge. In some cases, the conventional education system may eliminate many of those who have the greatest high-level talents, especially when these talents are predominantly visual rather than verbal.

The unfortunate losses occur because of wide-spread misconceptions about what visual talents are capable of doing and where they are required. Teachers and professionals at all levels understand, of course, that visual talents are important for the visual arts, graphic design, architecture, photography, film-making, and the like. But few of those who are teaching the basic courses or designing the basic tests may fully appreciate that these same visual and spatial learners are, in some important cases, indispensible for the highest levels of original work in certain areas of science, engineering, medicine, and mathematics -- even in areas not usually thought to be highly visual. Consequently, some of those with the highest visual talents -- those who may have the best opportunity to produce really original work in certain areas -- may be barred from those areas where they might otherwise have made the greatest contributions."

-Thomas C. West, "In the Mind's Eye: Visual Thinkers, Gifted People with Dyslexia, and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images and the Ironies of Creativity, Updated Edition, pages 11-12. (emphasis mine)

That is a wonderfully stated piece. If this topic interests you I suggest you re-read the passage a few times and see which things come to mind on each re-reading.

If this is of interest to you I recommend reading the book. I've just started reading it after having it on my wish list for a couple of years then purchasing it over six months ago but letting it sit, neglected, on my shelf.

Friday, November 12, 2010

List of Reasons to Join a Homeschool Co-Op

Here is a general definition of a homeschool co-op: homeschooling parents rent a building with multiple rooms and teach groups of kids classes. An alternative is to hire professional teachers or subject matter experts to teach courses in their field of study or a general teacher tutor to teach multiple subjects. Usually more than one class is offered per age range at any given time and the subjects can vary greatly so the registration is a bit more like registering for college courses then what students in American public schools do, or at least those in middle and elementary grades. Many co-op's are one day a week but sometimes busy co-op's expand to two or three days a week.

You may ask how is a homeschool co-op unlike a very small private school? The answers I can provide based on my experience would be that the atmosphere is more home-y than any school I've ever been to. The kids want to be at the co-op, even if they are not thrilled with the content of perhaps one or two classes. In those cases sometimes the parent pulls the child out of the class. Other times the child chooses to take the "less than ideal" part so they can be there for the rest of the good parts of it.

Generally co-op's are optional for families which is not at all like any type of school; it somehow changes the whole dynamic and general "vibe" of it (hate to sound so touchy-feely but truly I can feel the energy and difference between a harmonious homeschool co-op and the tensions felt in other group activities we've pareticipated in with kids). Anyone who has ever felt they could "cut the tension in the room with a knife" cannot deny that there is another sense that humans have, a sense of "feeling" in the air. (This is not to say that people can't also get bad vibes from a co-op, it does happen, especially if problems arise.)

Some Reasons to Join a Homeschool Co-Op Instead of Doing 100% of Studies at Home with Mom

1. Some children can use some experience with a non-Mom teacher. It can be good to be held to a certain standard of studies and school work that comes from someone other than Mom. Perhaps this is most true for boys in upper middle school grades or for kids who have always been homeschooled who have no reference point for formal school and accuse Mom of expecting too much, being to strict, or other accusations that some homeschooled children make.

2. Sometimes another teacher is a better teacher of a certain subject. Other homeschool parents can be subject matter experts (such as former math teachers, former attorneys, and former engineers). Sometimes the parent just doesn't have the patience to teach a child a certain subject.

3. The other homeschool parent-teacher or the hired teacher may be passionate about a subject which inspires the student when their own parent lacks this passion and enthusiasm. I imagine this is more of an issue for high school content and some middle school grade subjects.

4. Homeschool Mom is burned out of teaching or trying to teach their child subject X and needs a break. Other teachers may bring a different technique, method, or have a higher energy level or passion that helps the student through their struggles or their plateau or past their resistance to learning the way Mom tried teaching them.

5. Homeschool Mom is burned out of homeschooling in general and needs a break. (Different co-op's have different arrangements and some are completely drop-off for some parents who are willing to pay higher prices for the privilege.)

6. It can be good for homeschooled kids to see what classroom learning is like, to learn classroom etiquette and some need or like to see how they compare to their peers in learning situations. (Some smart homeschool kids oddly assume they are dumber than their peers and develop poor self-esteem, this may be due to falsely assuming all learning should be easy and fun and when they struggle at home to learn, they assume all their peers must "get it" when that's just not true.)

7. The organization of papers and homework can help the student learn those skills. The way work is done at home doesn't always necessitate the organization of as many papers as formal classes do. It's good to learn these things especially if the student expects to attend some kind of school or college later on.
8. Homeschool co-op's can provide a different type of positive socialization. Kids can make some new friends than through other homeschooling activities they participate in. If a decent amount of time for lunch and recess is given then that's a great time for friendship making. Other friendships develop by being around the same kids all day for ten or more sessions per semester. Pre-existing friendships can become deeper. There is also the bonding that happens when kids go through things together including struggling over a homework assignment or other things that happen in a classroom.

9. Enrichment: some co-op's are heavier on fun or enriching activities which are fun and good. This can round out the child's experiences, providing different experiences that are taught at home.

10. Groups can hire teachers and split the cost yet still have a small student to teacher ratio. Ten kids taking a physics class from a teacher and splitting the cost is cheaper. For example, one of my son's teachers usually charges $110 an hour for 1:1 tutoring but in this case we split the cost ten ways.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I've Been Nominated for a Blog Award

Votes are now being accepted for the Homeschool Blog Awards 2010.

I have been nominated for "Best Homeschool Mom Blog".

(I have been so busy I didn't even know nominations were being accepted or that voting was open until a blog reader of mine let me know they cast a vote for me.)

So if you want to vote for me or any other nominee, click here to link over.

You don't have to vote on all the categories nor do you have to vote for everyone at the same time. In other words you can go vote on one category now then if you have time tomorrow go look at other categories and vote on those if you want.

Here's how to vote. Go to that page and scroll down to find the categories with blog names in red font. Click on the category to see the blogs that were nominated. Then click on the blog to highlight the circle and save your vote by clicking on the vote button. (The rule this this year is one vote per person in your household/IP address with a 5 vote max per IP address. Wow, that's generous since in prior years our family voted just one time. Although apparently different networks and systems can make voting more than once tricky for you.)

The best part about these awards is finding new blogs you may not have known existed.

The best part for the winners is they receive prizes if they win!

This is the only time you'll hear from me about this. So thank you in advance if you vote for my blog to win "Best Homeschool Mom Blog".

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 252, 253, & 254 Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 252 was published at Corn and Oil on October 26, 2010.

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 253 was published at Dewey's Treehouse on November 2, 2010.

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 254 was publishd at The Homespun Life on November 9, 2010.

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.


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Enjoying Teaching Other People's Kids

Even better than leading Cub Scouts as a Den Leader is teaching other people's kids things in formal classes. I am really enjoying my time working with homeschooled kids.

I won't pretend that some kids are sometimes challenging or that sometimes a course's content was not a good fit for a child which increases tension and changes the group dynamic. However mostly the kids I have been working with since last March in homeschool co-ops are good, interesting, unique people. Even the most challenging kids due to struggling with the class's content or it being not a good fit, yet they are still good kids at heart and likeable people when viewed in the big picture.

Bit by bit kids reveal their personalities and express their thoughts to teachers, which reveal more and more of who they are as time goes on. I am sure that school teachers know what I'm talking about.

Nearly all the homeschooled kids I have taught so far have not erected walls to protect themselves. They are pretty transparent and show their authentic selves without fear. It's true they act in ways that leave them more vulnerable. Lucky for them they are treated with respect and kindness by most if not all the homeschool-parent teachers at the co-op's. The fact that they are authentic and so open makes getting to know them easier.

For me one of the best things about participating in a homeschool co-op has been working with kids. Sometimes I'm learning along with them and other times I'm teaching them things I already have mastered.

I am grateful for homeschool co-op's for some opportunities my kids have had there being taught by other parents or by professional teachers.

Doing one co-op last spring was great. This fall we are in three different group learning situations. The entire family schedule for us this fall is over-booked. The combination of doing too much and juggling everything from attending so many appointments to my kids having homework from so many different classes to me teaching five different classes is just too much.

We're in the process of figuring out what to pare down for the second half of this academic year. Everything is made up of good and bad or easy or difficult, that's life. Even the things I'll be relieved to leave behind just so we can have more free time will also be missed for their good parts.


I wish I could show you photos of joyful faces of kids in my co-op classes but due to privacy concerns I can't. Oh how I'd love for you to see the sparkle in their eyes. I'd like for you to see my kids working and learning alongside other kids too, but I can't. So here are some photos taken at co-op that I'm allowed to share.

Bread during, then after, in my cooking and baking from scratch class.

My older son working at Write It / Do It Science Olympiad class that I teach.


Older son with a creation from hands-on physics class.

Hands-on physics class taught by a professional teacher with degrees in physics and astronomy.

A Say It / Do It creation that an almost nine year old created (a modified class I created inspired by the Science Olympiad).

Mac and Cheese from scratch from cooking class.

The view out the kitchen window at co-op. What a great place to be for multiple hours at a time.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Enjoy Your Homeschool Journey

I've been thinking for the last month that we should really check ourselves to see if we're enjoying our homeschooling journey.

With the academic worries I've been through this fall and the changes due to joining new group homeschooling endeavors life has been chaotic here. We have all been stressed out. Even my husband has been affected negatively by the kids and my too-busy schedule. I thought the new things we started doing this fall would relieve stress and improve my children's learning and mastery of academic content. How much of that is really happening in relation to the time dedicated to being in all those places is not enough.

One reason I was tempted to put my older son in school next year for high school was I had a vision of me being happier and more joyful doing that than I was feeling at the moment. It was a seductive thought.

I can't tell you how happy I'm feeling since my husband and I made some decisions about quitting some of these homeschool endeavors when they end this term. There is one more decision that needs to be made after a parent meeting is held at the end of this week. Until I hear what is said I have no idea if I will continue or quit that thing. I am also relieved to know I have a solid plan for homeschooling my fifth grader with a goal to enter high school in ninth grade.

We are all feeling happier in these last couple of weeks knowing that change and relief is in sight. Change has already started to happen because my son's new sport ended last week and he's not going to do it again this winter. That is due to their new schedule which increases to three nights a week and directly conflicts with both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. We have also placed academics on a higher priority and my older son needs the time to do his homework for homeschool classes with paid teachers.

I feel hopeful and happy about our homeschooling now, even though I have another six weeks of living a hectic schedule. It feels fantastic.

Homeschooling should be joyful and happy not something that one relates primarily with stress and worry and fear.

The rest of this homeschool year will involve harder academics, more disciplined studies, learning more 'school like' things like note taking, reviewing content, studying for tests, and test taking (for both content of topics they are learning now and standardized tests). The rest of this homeschool year will be more home education and less academics at places outside of home with paid teachers.

I envision the increase harder work done in a relaxed home with 1:1 tutoring by me with each child working separately from the other, to be a more effective use of our time. The pace of our life will slow and our home will be more peaceful.

How's the harmony in your home?

How's the pace of your life?

Are you too busy also?

If this were your last year of homeschooling how would you like to spend it?

Think about what changes you might make to create memories of homeschooling that are happier (however you define that). Then start to make changes. You'll be happy you did.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Street Art Doodle Book Outside the Lines Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Street Art Doodle Book: Outside the Lines
Author: (75 street artist’s work) compiled by Dave the Chimp

Publication: Laurence King Publishing, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-85779-682-1

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

Summary Statement: Fun Coloring Book by 75 Graffiti Artists; Almost G-Rated

This is a unique coloring book featuring art by 75 graffiti artists (street artists) from around the world marketed to children (and will be of interest to some teens and adults). The book is designed to allow both coloring inside and outside the lines. Some pages are mostly coloring inside the lines and others have plenty of white space to add onto. Some pages have text to encourage us to color outside the lines.

In the introduction Dave the Chimp speaks directly to children encouraging them to color this book, color outside the lines, and copy these in drawings of their own. (This is how I know the book was intended for use by children.)

The art styles vary greatly. Some ways I can describe the art in this book are:














A few are subversive and creepy.

The things features in this book run the gamut from doodles to animals to people to monsters and robots to cartoons and fantasy worlds.

What Age is This Book For?

What removes the G-Rating of this book is the one two-page spread features two Japanese Geishas topless with street art style tattoos all over their torsos with breasts exposed, each with one clear nipple (pages 212-213). I realize that art often contains nudity and don’t have a problem with that issue personally but am mentioning this for parents of young kids who may wonder what age this book is appropriate for: you make the judgment call if this is appropriate for your family.

In any event teens and adults interested in street art who like to do more ‘adult’ type coloring books will love STREET ART DOODLE BOOK.

The level of detail requiring developed fine motor skills to color in well will prohibit this from being used with precision by preschool aged kids and honestly the detailed pages are for upper middle school aged kids, teens and adults.

I know some adult artists like to color in detailed coloring books for a creative break sometimes so if you love street art and enjoy doing that this book is perfect for you.

There is such a wide variety of art to color in over 250 pages that graffiti art lovers will find something to ignite their creative spark.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Amazon.com’s Vine program. I was neither under obligation to give a favorable review nor was I paid to review it on the site, nor was I required to blog my review. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.