Monday, January 31, 2011

Blunt (and Hilarious) Statement From My Husband

While at that emotional time of the month I had a heart to heart talk with my husband.

One thing I shared was that I felt little validation for what I'm doing: homeschooling and mothering I feel our alternative homeschooling lifestyle and my choice to leave my career to be home to raise my kids is not valued by society. I said if I were to go look for a job now it is likely that I'd not be of interest due to the gap in my employment, despite holding numerous volunteer positions including some that required more project management and people management skills than my former career did. I said I had many worthwhile skills that employers would want but they'd probably judge me negatively just because I've been at home in these years. And probably some people would call me a loser for doing what I do.

I also said that I'm sick of feeling judged by our society as doing something weird, homeschooling, plus even being a mother at home is now considered strange or seen as negative or not worthy of admiration.

My husband came out with this reply, "You are making a mistake looking for people in America, in this culture, to compliment you on what you are doing. You are doing something noble and worthy, raising two kids who are turning out to be nice good people who can actually think. The way (our ten year old) son was doing (skip) counting math using all different numbers last night while we played (the board game) Risk was amazing. I've never seen a kid add up all different numbers like that so fast and accurately. And look at what people in our society think about and talk about: they actually spend time talking about Jennifer Lopez's ass! That's what they care about: what her ass looks like! So if you are looking for THOSE people to pat you on the back and say you are doing a great job you are looking in the wrong place. You'll never get that from them. All that matters is what I think and what you think. What we think about our own kids is all that matters. That had better be good enough for you because that's all you are probably ever going to get. Stop looking for validation from strangers and even relatives, our neighbors and even your friends. I know what you are doing is right and best and that's all that should matter."

He's right, you know.

But still I feel better knowing some of you out there would validate what I'm doing it as you are also homeschooling and you know it's a worthy thing to do.

P.S. If you don't believe my husband that's what some people talk about and care about just do a YouTube search on those keywords and you can view many user created compilations of that specific topic.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do What You Think Is Best For Homeschooling

Today I had an epiphany. You cannot go wrong if after your research, thinking, praying and whatever other counsel advises you to do a certain thing, if you do it. Even if one or more people try to get you to do something different do NOT change course if it means going against what you feel is right in your gut and what you think is right based on your research.

The reason is sometimes after you forge down a path, even against odds, when and if the naysayers or dissuaders come around to 'see the light' and they join you on the path later on, you will not have been led astray by them making their own mistakes. Imagine how wrong it would be to allow yourself to have gone off the rails to join them when they later came to see what you felt was right in the first place, after they've abandoned their Plan A.

I have gone through a few situations where others said they felt I was making a choice that seemed wrong to them. Later they joined me the path I was on. It's amazing how they don't address this, don't apologize for their past behaviors, or tell you "you were right all along". There is nothing said buy you clearly see their action and that now they're doing what you are doing.

The proof is in the pudding. See reality for what it is and you be the judge of your own family's situation. Do not wait for outsiders to compliment you or to reaffirm what you know to be right and best. Even if later they do what you have been doing for years, don't expect a compliment that you've done a good job or that you made a wise choice.

The other thing I've been hearing from homeschooling parents with college aged kids I am already seeing to be real in my family's life: that in the end it's just you and your family and all those other people are gone. The homeschool moms who you may have seen multiple times a week for years may be gone. People drift apart or move or quit homeschooling. In the end you've got your spouse and kids and you will live with the results of whatever your homeschooling produced. Both your cheerleaders and your naysayers will probably be out of your life, then what? Therefore, do what feels right for your family as they're the ones you'll be living with or be around for the rest of your life.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Four Weeks and Counting

Today I confessed to the wife of my son's Cub Scout Den Leader that I was so burned out of Cub Scouting that I didn't respond to any of the numerous begging requests to help the Pack this year. I did help the Den do two activity pins.

I explained that I am so burned out that it's turned to a bad attitude, to the point where if I did volunteer to help put on the Pinewood Derby today, I'd have been toxic to those around me and may have caused more problems instead of helping.

I'm disappointed that I've arrived at this low spot. Looking back on these ten years of Cub Scouting there have been a lot more highs than lows. My years of volunteering as a Den Leader did a lot to burn me out.

My younger son was so patient, at three years old, going to the Den meetings after getting my strict directions on how to behave. He was more calm in his chair and better behaved than the kids three years older than him. We did Cub Scouting to the max with my older son. As a Den Leader with afternoon meetings I had no choice but to drag my younger son with me. He could participate which was good but he was so patient. He did it all, then when it was his time to be the actual Cub Scout and had to do all that rank stuff again, it was boring to him. We did so many Council based activities the first time around and multiple years in a row that my younger son didn't want to repeat it all. Who can blame him?

We struggled with issues with the first Pack with low volunteerism on the part of the parents. After two years of pulling teeth my husband and I called it quits from our Pack jobs and my Den job and moved to another Pack. No one told us that it takes a couple of years of that to build up the momentum so I was shocked that the month we left (the next Scout year) the fruits of our labor with increased marketing for new Scouts and repeated begging for help wound up doubling the size of the Pack and they were oozing with volunteers.

Fast forward to now. I didn't even want to go to the Pinewood Derby today. That's a crappy attitude I know.

I will say I was disappointed to hear that my younger son didn't even want to compete but last week he decided to do it, five days before the race to be exact. My husband decided to let him use all the power tools himself, and he was thrilled. My husband supervised of course. My son beamed with pride after using those tools. I was happy then, that he decided to go through with it.

As I stood and photographed the Pinewood Derby today all I could think was, "Thank God it's over, one more month and we're done".
My son can't wait to cross over to Boy Scouts. He's been dragged to the meetings for the last three years as an observer on the sidelines who was banned per BSA rules from participating with the Troop (the opposite of Cub Scouting which is defined as a 'family activity' and accommodates siblings). He's ready to be a part of the Boy Scout Troop.




Onward and upward to the more important and better lessons-teaching Boy Scouts. I am happy my boys are turning into young men.









Update: It's the next morning after I wrote and published this blog post. I re-read this and decided I should not have been so hard on myself for not volunteering more on the Pack level this year, or last year. I have a lot on my plate, one hardship that's affecting me right now that I've not shared on this blog, and that's on top of the unemployment situation we're dealing with. I have done far more than my fair share for volunteering with Cub Scouts in the last ten years and I also hold an important position in my older son's Boy Scout Troop and put in many hours on that volunteer position. I'm busy homeschooling my kids in addition. One person can only do so much. I don't know why I let myself feel guilty for not doing yet more and more when some parents in Cub Scouting do absolutely nothing, nothing at all but write the registration fee check and get their kids to some of the meetings. I hereby absolve myself from any self-inflicted guilt about this.

Now I'm switching channels to concentrate on feeling happy about moving forward and onto the next adventure with Boy Scouting!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Art of Argument Homeschool Co-Op Class Redux and Curriculum Review



In the fall of 2010 I was the lead teacher at a homeschool co-op for informal logic using the curriculum The Art of Argument by Aaron Larsen (new and expanded 2010 edition). This course uses a student workbook and a teacher's manual. The purpose of this post is to share how the course went now that the course is over.
I had an assistant teacher who was present for more than half the classes. I was grateful for my assistant teacher who was prepared for the lessons because she often gave insight and ideas that I could not come up with on my own.

One issue I have with the book is the examples for each of the fallacies are not from real life but are similar to real life. I understand due to copyright law and trademarks and such that real examples could not be used.  However the examples are sometimes so simple that they seem dumb or unrealistic, too silly to really be true for an ad, for example. We had to make up some additional examples that we felt were better, more true to life.

Sometimes we used real life current events examples although we'd originally planned to not do that. Between the two of us we were able to add more examples so the students would learn the fallacy or shall I say truly understand it. I'd  originally wanted to avoid discussing current day politics so as to avoid conflict and to avoid getting into discussions with kids about matters they don't truly understand. I was worried the student would parrot politicial opinions they'd heard said but truly don't understand the actual issue. I also worried that their parents would accuse me of being biased or trying to push my personal views on their children.

Another thing we did was we asked the students to bring in magazine or newspaper ads that illustrate a fallacy. My assistant teacher and I did this as well and it really helped the students connect to real life situtations where fallacies are used in marketing and advertising today. Sometimes the student (or teacher) had an ad that they thought was suspect but they couldn't put their finger on it. We sometimes ruled those out and other times found one that was a match (sometimes that was in a future lesson).

We had a class of six students in grades 6-11 although truly the real issue is the student's own maturity level and ability to think and communicate. This was an example of where a grade level is a bit mushy. We felt the sixth grader handled the course and content well while some of the older ones struggled more than the youngest one did. I believe this curriculum was intended for students in grades 7 and up (although at this moment I can't find that reference).

I felt this curriculum is taken to a higher level of teaching and learning when done with a class. What the students got from each other was an increased understanding of the material compared to what I can only imagine would happen at home with mom and one child (or two). The kids came up with examples that helped the other student's "lightbulb go off" where my example had apparently failed. The students said things that were funny and that lightened up the content. The discussions were interesting. We laughed along with the fake ads in the book.

All in all this was nearly a perfect class to teach. The kids were great, they were cooperative and attentive. Minds drifted and daydreaming was minimal for a 90 minute class that happened immediatley after lunch and recess. We didn't even take a regular break although looking back I'm asking myself why we didn't do that.

The teacher's manual is all that the teacher needs as it contains every page (in full size) as the student manual. There are tests at the back that can be copied and used. The student needs to have the student workbook. The workbook need not be written in although that makes it convenient. You could write on separate paper to keep the book clean for re-use with another student if you desire.

My complaint about the teacher manual is it does not provide much in the way of ideas or class discussion outside of what the student workbook has in it for questions they'd asked the students to write an answer to. We felt that just having the kids do the reading at home then to go over their answers in class was too boring. We wound up adding in things like asking them to work in pairs to come up with skits or written ads to illustrate a fallacy. Making up a politicial debate that illustrates one person committing a fallacy is one example of what the students would do.

Regarding the content I'd seen some negative comments on homeschool discussion boards about abortion being mentioned in the book. Remember this is a book for kids in grade 7 and older. Most kids know about abortion by then. There are a couple of examples that support the existance of a God and at least one that argues that God may not exist (some may find that controversial). In one place with the fallacy about the belief that if it's old, it must be good, it briefly states then would that mean that prostitution is good and should be legal now? Although the students read that at home we chose to blip over it in class to avoid it, as we were unsure if all the students even knew what that meant and we didn't feel it was necessary to discuss in class.

Honestly there are other examples in the book that would have better illustrated a fallacy but were actually NOT used as (I bet) someone (the publisher for example) would have been considered by some to be too controversial for some parents or teachers which may lead to people not buying the curriculum. Having read through this book about three times and having used the whole thing with one class my opinion is that the book is actually weak or low in controversial topics.

It could have really been packed with controversy but it is not. However that shouldn't stop the homeschool family who uses this book from adding in whatever examples you want, you won't be able to stop yourself from thinking of examples, to be honest. With the freedom you have to teach your children as you desire you could and will come up with many more examples to discuss.

This book is not a religious book. There are no examples relating to the Bible. The book links to the ideas of Socrates. If you wish to infuse religion into this book it would be simple to add in with comments you probably could make up off the top of your head; the same would apply for Athiests.

I felt this curriculum was great for teaching 28 formal logic fallacies. I have no major complaints about the curriculum. Having never been taught this material myself I learned things along with the students. After one or two read-throughs I felt capable of teaching the content. I liked that the book easily translated to use in a homeschool co-op with just minimal addition of other activities or more discussion than the book tells you to conduct. Yet the book also would work just fine at home with mom and one student.

The work that the students do for answering the questions is worthwhile and helpful to learn the fallacies. The questions are not stupid busywork. Doing those questions sometimes reveals an error in the student's (or teacher's) understanding of the nature of that fallacy, even when they thought they already understood it.

I feel the written parts of the book are easily understood, this is not complex writing. The real work comes with making sure the fallacy is understood and then wrangling with real life ideas to connect which fallacy is being committed, if any is at all. (Sometimes ads are just promotional and pursuasive and no fallacy is actually being committed.)

This curriculum is available as a student workbook without answers to the questions. The teacher manual has the full text in full size, as the student workbook with the answers, and some tests at the back to copy and use if desired. Having no prior education in informal fallacies I felt owning the teacher manual was necessary for me. Some of the answers were tricky to me, so I needed those answer keys.

Our co-op had roughly 45 minutes for each fallacy. We were able to cover the 28 fallacies in 13 courses 90 minutes in length. We usually did two fallacies a class but for the short chapters with easy concepts ones we added a third to make sure we got through the entire book in this session.

I highly recommend this curriculum.

I feel every person, child and adult, should be learning formal logic and logic in school. It's a crime that schools have stopped teaching this.

Another book from the publisher about logic is a book of formal logic called The Discovery of Deduction (see the 2010 expanded version). That is stated to be for grades 8 and up. The publisher says Art of Argument is not a prerequisite for that.

The last step is building one's own arguments and that is The Argument Builder for grades 9 and up. After reading passages of that book it seems to be written on a harder reading level compared to Discovery of Deduction and probably would help a student to have worked more with formal fallacies first so it seems natural to do this after both Art of Argument and Discovery of Deduction.

I will be teaching a homeschool co-op class using The Discovery of Deduction this spring.

This curriculum is readily available through homeschool curriculum suppliers. Sometimes you can find it on Amazon.com, but not always. Be sure you are buying the 2010 new and expanded edition of The Art of Argument!



Disclosure: I purchased this for my family's use and for use at the co-op. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 2011 Digital Art Software Review

To read my product review of Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 2011, a software for making digital art click here to link to my other blog.

My kids and I have had fun experimenting and playing at making digital art with that program for a few weeks now. It's one thing they've been doing for homeschool art class.



Disclosure: I received a copy of this product from Amazon.com's Vine program. I was not paid to write the review, nor was I under obligation to blog it or to give it a favorable review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Pondering About Amy Chua's Tiger Mother Book and Her Ideas

BookTV is re-running interviews with Amy Chua on her first two books which are about economics and finance. The country is abuzz with discussions of her latest book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I am SO disapointed that BookTV has no scheduling for her new book and intend to contact C-SPAN about this today. I'd told them in the past we need more about parenting, education, alternative education, and health issues (i.e. Autism in children). So far this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

I reacted strongly after reading the Wall Street Journal article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". I pre-ordered the book immediately dying to know what Chua had to say. Here is my blog post dated January 9 which was two days before the book was released: My Reactions to One Chinese Mother's Thoughts on Mothering and Education.

I tore through the book starting the night it arrived (delayed by UPS due to a snowstorm). I finished it twelve days ago and have been pondering on the book. I have purposefully refrained from blogging about it so far. I had thought I'd write an Amazon customer review but reviewers are really getting slammed there and I'm not in the mood to be bashed.

I have mixed feelings about the whole situation. On the one hand the book should be judged as a book. It's a memoir not a parenting advice book. On the other hand people are forming opinions having not even read the book or hearing small pieces of information on a TV interview or in a print article. The crafting of interviews or the editing done in articles can pursuade the reader or viewer toward one opinion.

Any book review should critique the book for what it is: a memoir. I have resisted writing a review (but am almost ready to) because people are using what is supposed to be a book review to discuss larger parenting topics or even the topic of child abuse. Those topics should be discussed and I wish they were topics that Americans spoke about more frequently. However I fear if I try to write a level-headed and diplomatic book review I'll be bashed for not having major knee-jerk negative, judgemental reactions because Chua's mothering style and mine differ, although we agree on some of the major end goals.

After watching Amy Chua discuss world markets and economics on a 2002 interview with Brian Lamb on BookTV last night about her book, World on Fire, I'm having trouble accepting that the articulate, smart, soft-spoken, attractive woman is the same person as Tiger Mother who used cruel verbal assaults (among other things) on her young daughters to push them to highly achieve playing muscial instruments.

I need to wrap my mind around this a bit more before I dive into writing my book review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Delicious French Breakfast Muffins Recipe



While snowed in I decided to try this new-to-me muffin recipe: French Breakfast Muffins. Upon coming in from sledding, my sons and the neighbor boys devoured these with a two-thumbs up approval rating. I agree, they are delicious.

I adapted the recipe from Maine's Jubilee Cookbook: Generations of Good Eating. The original recipe was contributed by Mrs. Thyrle Hanson of Wesley, Maine, and is found on page 38.

French Breakfast Muffins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease muffin pan or put paper liners in the muffin pan or use the aluminum and paper disposable cups.

For muffins:

1/3 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
1/2 cup milk

For topping:

1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, melted

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer. Then add egg.

Put mixer on low and about half of the dry ingredients and then half of the milk, then the rest of the dry ingredients and the rest of the milk. Mix until thoroughly blended.

Spoon dough into muffin tins.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 25-30 minutes.

Let cool in pan for a few minutes then remove.

When muffins are cool enough to be handled, melt the butter. Then dip the whole top of the muffin in melted butter then roll in the cinnamon and sugar mixture.

They taste like a cake, similar in taste to a crumb cake but without the large crumbs on top. The flavor of the cinnamon and nutmeg is throughout the muffin instead of just on top. They're delicious.

Enjoy!

Photo copyright ChristineMM, 2011.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Slowfood Frugal Eating for Families (Involves Freezer Cooking)

It's that time of the year when moms start talking about freezer cooking. Once-a-month cooking is another thing that sounds appealing to some busy moms. I read a book about that once and was discouraged and felt physically sick after. The foods were not stuff my family eats. They were unhealthy and go against  all the research in the last 30 years about what people should avoid eating for a healthy heart and low cholesterol and other such things.

The once-a-month freezer cooking books I read included menu plans such as cold breakfast cereal once a week or pancakes for dinner on another night. I don't even count those two things as real dinner meals (sorry). I will confess to eating some of that when my husband was on business trips and the kids and I were busy but I refuse to call that a real dinner and it doesn't involve cooking in bulk. One book also included deli meat cold sandwiches for dinner on some nights. Again, not a real dinner in our home, that's lunch.

Here is what we do to try to eat meals mostly from scratch and to do cooking in bulk and try to save money with some frugal living practices.

My ideal situation is a dinner which will be cooked that night without leftovers. I don't like leftovers, so I'm not into making a big batch of something and eating it for a full week. That's not what this post is about.

We try to eat frugally as even when we can afford it we feel foolish wasting money on meals that are too expensive for no good reason. When on a tight budget we have no choice but to eat frugally.

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First, we own a separate freezer which was a 'scratch and dent' discounted sale price.

Vegetables and fruits flash frozen have more nutrients than fresh produce sometimes does (especially that which traveled long distances, was picked before ripe, or has been sitting on shelves for weeks or months). In the northeast we do not have a steady supply of local produce year-round and many common foods eaten by Americans are not even grown in this region. We also do not have as much access to organic fresh foods as some other places in America have.

We buy organic frozen vegetables and fruits from Costco, BJs, or Trader Joe's. We take out one portion to eat at that meal and cook it for that meal as a side dish or whatever it is that we're eating such as a stir-fry meal or a snack of a fruit smoothie.

If organic fresh or frozen produce is not available we settle for non-organic frozen sold in bulk. We only buy high quality fresh produce. In other words if given the choice between fresh and old and in bad shape or frozen, we buy frozen.

We also buy fresh fruits and vegetables from Costco when the items are available. Sometimes the price for fresh produce is 66% less than at the local grocery store. Some people complain the sizes are too large when buying at Costco. What we do for example is buy the box of kiwis and eat them until they are gone (such as for one week). Then next time we shop, we buy mangoes. This is different than if I bought a couple of kiwis and a couple of mangoes at the grocery store. It's no big deal, trust me. The apples, oranges and grapefruit last longer and are easy to buy by the large box or even a case and eat on a nearly daily basis, and are gone before they rot.

We buy giant packs of fresh mesclun greens or romaine lettuce for salads at the warehouse store. The giant packs are less expensive than the smaller packs, so even if some (less than half) goes bad, we still save money.

I also check the day old produce section at the grocery store when I'm there. Sometimes the prices are great and the produce is decent, while other times the produce is too rotten for any human to actually eat.

Fresh potatoes and fresh onions stay fresh a long time if stored properly, which is in a chilly place such as in our unfinished unheated basement. Buying 20-40 pounds at one time at the warehouse store helps save money instead of buying 1-4 of a thing at one time at the grocery store.

We use some canned beans and canned imported Italian tomatoes which we buy in bulk at the warehouse store. We keep these on hand so we can make meals at a moment's notice.

We buy meat at the warehouse stores or if we see it on sale at the grocery store. We buy it in bulk, cut it ourselves at home sometimes. Steak can be quite expensive when bought pre-cut, so we buy it as a roast and trim and cut it ourselves. A cookbook can teach you this, cooking shows on FoodTV can teach it and so can YouTube tutorials, I am sure.

We then pack the meat in a vaccuum seal device in family meal serving sizes then freeze it. For example if we always eat four chicken breasts at dinner we pack it 4 breasts to one pack.

We defrost meat inside the packaging in a bowl of cold water in the sink while the faucer drips one drop at a time into it. This method is safe and individual items such as chicken parts and steaks and hamburgers defrost anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours. Hot dogs defrost in just minutes. Due to this I can pull the meat out of the freezer a couple of hours before dinner, or at lunchtime. You could also pull this out a day in advance and defrost it in the refrigerator.

Recently our vacuum sealer machine, the standard model FoodSaver broke and the manufacturer said we should be using the FoodSaver hunter version (Game Saver) which is meant to have the motor run more often at one time in order to do a quantity of packing then not be used much for a while. The regular model, we were told by the manufacturer, is apparently meant to used a couple of times at once only. So we purchased the GameSaver model when the standard model died.

We do notice the meats stay fresh longer when vacuum packed. Sometimes we have frozen meat in platic wrap or in a freezer zip top bag so we see side-by-side comparisions. The vacuum packed items don't get freezer burn while the ones with air in the packaging or with thin plastic wrapping do get freezer burned.

We buy ground meats in bulk and form our own hamburger patties. The difference in price between pre-formed patties and raw meat is ridiculous.

We make our own meatballs. Frozen factory made meatballs have ingredients we don't care to eat and we feel ours taste better too. We can make them as garlicy as we like or as tender as we like. We make them in large batches then freeze them on a cookie sheet, then transfer to large zip top bags the next day to keep frozen until we need them. We take out the number we wish to eat at the meal and heat them in the sauce (put them in frozen and slowly heat up to defrost and warm them).

We make our own pasta sauces from scratch (except when we indulge our older son in Ragu from Costco). Using ingredients purchased in bulk we make giant batches of sauce then freeze them in one-meal sized containers. One pint of sauce is what we use for one pound of pasta. We make our own pesto sauce too and freeze it. The only difference is if the sauce uses a fair amount of parmesan or romano cheese or is a cream sauce we leave that out and finish making the sauce in the reaheating process. For example we use a standard basil pesto recipe but at the part where you add the cheese, just don't do that, and freeze it then. When reheating, add the cheese at that point. This is because the cheese doesn't freeze well. A vodka cream sauce takes about ten minutes to make from start to finish so we make that fresh from scratch and avoid the freezing part altogether.

We buy Barilla pasta from Costco, BJs, or on sale at the grocery store (whichever is less expensive). We try not to pay more than $1 a pound/box. Although we have made pastas from scratch it is a timely project so our slowfood eating journey has the exception of using dried pastas.

Almost all the salad dressings we use on salad are homemade. This is less expensive and easy. Once you get used to making your favorite blends, using a store-bought brand seems like 'settling' for someting inferior in taste. Also, have you read the ingredients on a bottle of store bought salad dressing? If you can't pronounce it maybe you shouldn't be eating it.

We make huge batches of soup from scratch and freeze them in pint containers. We leave the pasta out of the soup (if applicable) and add that in the heating process when we serve it. Pasta does not freeze well in soups.

When we have meat bones, beef, ham or poultry, we either freeze it until we have time to make stocks from scratch or we immediately make the stock then freeze the stocks. Our grocery stores do not always have a supply of beef bones for sale so we buy them when we can.

I save scraps of onion, carrot and celery and freeze those in zip top bags in the freezer and then use that for flavoring stocks instead of using premium parts of fresh produce. You can use onion skins, the ends of carrots, leafy tops of the celery et cetera. Just do not use anything moldy or rotted. We freeze homemade stock in pint sized containers.

If we don't have enough homemade stocks on hand we buy organic when available, in bulk at the warehouse stores. If not available we buy at Trader Joe's. The last place to buy them is the grocery store which has the most expensive prices.  We keep these on hand so we can make nearly any soup or sauce at a moment's notice. We buy high quality and low sodium. If you use a bad meat broth or stock it can ruin a recipe, trust me.

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Sandwiches (They are Lunch not Dinner)


Sometimes we buy a large piece of meat such as a ham, on sale, and then slice it to eat on sandwiches. Recently we paid 99 cents a pound for a spiral cut glazed ham. The one thing we do splurge on is deli meat from the grocery store (Boar's Head usually) which is sliced to order. However it kills us to pay $11 a pound for deli meat. Don't laugh but we're trying to figure out if there is a home meat slicer like the deli uses so we can roast our own chickens and turkeys and beef roasts and get thin enough meats to substitute for fresh deli meat.

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Bread

The bulk of breads we eat are from the warehouse store. We freeze them and pull them out as needed. We don't keep them too long, two months is probably the longest. We don't want them to get freezer burned. We don't bother to wrap those specially for freezer storage.

An advantage of store bought bread is we can buy organic or whole grain. I don't have a cheap supply of organic flour  nor do I keep a wide variety of grains on hand for making whole grain bread from scratch.

I do make bread from scratch when I have time and when it's enjoyable for me. The problem with homemade bread here is my family will eat two loaves a day when one loaf of storebought bread will last us a week. So the savings to make it from scratch go down the drain if they eat two loaves a day instead of one loaf a week!

Then again, the homemade bread isn't filled with chemicals or certain ingredients (such as avoiding soy for a soy allergy) that some people may seek to avoid.

If we have Italian bread or any bread that goes stale (but not moldy) we let it harden then process it in our food processor to make homemade bread crumbs. To keep fresh, since they don't have preservatives, we store these in a plastic container in the freezer. We use those to add to homemade meatballs or to bread meats. That saves a little money.



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Breakfast

For breakfast, we mix our own pancake dry mix from recipes found on the FoodTV website. It is a lot cheaper and there are no chemicals. My kids can make their own pancakes.

We make french toast from scratch using the store bought bread, it's simple. My kids can make their own too.

We buy organic cereals from Trader Joe's which cost a lot less than equivalent non-organic or organic cereals from the grocery store.

We buy oatmeal in bulk, the basic one with more fiber, and make it on the stovetop. Did you know the really fast oatmeal has most of the beneficial fiber processed out of it? That's how it can cook up so fast. My husband loves steel cut oats. He makes a week's worth at one time and refrigerates the leftovers to eat each day.

We used to make waffles from scratch before our waffle iron broke. I will admit those frozen waffles are pretty decent tasting and so easy though, but really they have ingredients I'd rather avoid.

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Dessert



We do not eat dessert daily. The desserts we eat are usually made from scratch at home. We find we can eat two or three chocolate chip cookies and feel satisfied where we'd want to eat a whole sleeve of Oreo's or Chips Ahoy. There is some research I've read that says that corn syrup does not turn on the body's hormones that signal the body feel satiated (feels full). Thus we try to avoid store bought cookies and baked items.

Sometimes the from scratch desserts are cheaper and sometimes they wind up more expensive. However at least we're avoiding trans fats and many chemicals by making them from scratch at home.

We don't keep ice cream on hand as we'd eat it daily and are trying to avoid doing that for health reasons. Homemade ice cream is delicious but it's more expensive than buying prepared and it's a big project. When we make it we do small batches and eat it all immediately.


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Other Staple Items


We buy butter at the warehouse store. This is about $1.50-$2 a pound less than if we buy it in the grocery store. We wrap each pound box in aluminum foil then freeze it. That combined with wrapping other foods well keeps the butter from absorbing freezer odors, as there are no freezer odors. It also doesn't get freezer burned that way.


We buy organic milk and half and half and almost all dairy products in bulk at the warehouse store. (The unavailability of fresh local raw milk has thwarted my attempt to drink that recently.) The long shelf life of the pasturized dairy products allows us to buy it in bulk at the warehouse store.


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Paper Goods
Paper goods are from the warehouse store as are cleaning chemicals, except for the cleaning stuff I make from scratch such as laundry detergent, glass cleaners and bathroom cleaners. We save money in that way too, although that's getting off-topic from slowfood and freezer cooking.

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Warehouse Shopping Comments

We go to Costo once a week and Trader Joe's about once a month. We spent $75-150 a month at the grocery store. We try to never buy anything at the grocery store, honestly as it is all too expensive in our eyes.

To be honest my husband does the warehouse shopping. He likes it and he feels that when I go I find impulse buys that increase our spending. He goes with a list in hand and sticks to the list except for keeping an eye for whatever the new in-season produce is. He also times the visit right after church on Sunday when the place is deserted so it's a fast trip with little stress.

A few of my friends quit the warehouse store as they said their bills for a couple of visits a month were over $100 which they felt was "spending a lot of money". However they are paying 30-70% more at the grocery store for the same exact food items, but are making 4-7 trips weekly instead of their former two trips a month. This is simple math people, so do the math. Spending $30 six times a week at the grocery store is spending more money than $150 twice a month at Costco. Or, check the math on the unit price, that works out less expensive too.

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What We Eat for Dinner

When it comes time to make a meal we go to the freezer to pull out frozen meat and vegetables. We serve a fresh garden salad and sometimes a side dish of vegetables from fresh veggies in the fridge.

Other nights we have Barilla pasta with a frozen sauce we made previously with a side salad.

Sometimes we eat soup for lunch or for dinner with a side salad, a side veggie or even a small portion of meat in addition. (My husband claims soup and salad is not enough for his dinner, it's not "filling" enough.)

We do not eat bread at every dinner as we try to not over-eat carbs and we try to keep the white starch consumption down. We'd rather have our bread as part of a sandwich at lunch.

We also don't always eat a side grain of white rice or white potato as we are trying to avoid white starches. So we may eat two veggies with a meat or even two veggies and a green salad with a meat dish.  We try to avoid white potatoes as a daily side dish due to the carbs and the fact that they have a high glycemic index. My husband likes brown rice as a side dish, but I'm not a fan; when we eat rice it's brown rice but that's not even once a week.

Being that my husband is Italian-American we eat a fair amount of pasta. My kids eat more than my husband does actually as that is sometimes their lunch.

We do not eat casseroles (a common dish in once a month cooking cookbooks).

Perhaps six times a year we eat homemade macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie and Shepherd's Pie. Perhaps six times a year we eat a store bought frozen quiche or chicken pot pie (from Costco).

We eat hot dogs and hamburgers mostly in the summer, cooked on a grill, and mostly when attending a party held by someone else and have no choice but to eat those foods. Those are not a once a week dinner meal in our home, not even in the summer.

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Snacks

We do not keep chips or crackers as snacks. On rare occasions we'll have crackers on hand to eat with cheese as an appetizer when guests visit. We are trying to avoid either the bad ingredients in those items or to reduce sugar intake or to reduce general carb intake.

We have dried fruits (organic when possible) for snacks.

We have a variety of nuts for snacks.

Fresh fruits and raw veggies are also good snacks (a banana, a grapefruit, grapes, raw celery sticks).

Trader Joe's is our best resource for dried fruits and nuts. Costco has certain kinds of nuts, especially shelled nuts. We also sometimes buy nuts direct from small family nut farmers via the Internet.

My kids don't fill up on snacks in between meals. I want them hungry for the real meals. If they are hungry, such as my teenage son now seems to be all the time, he often eats a typical meal food as a snack, such as scrambled eggs, an egg sandwich, or a ham sandwich, or even a fresh cooked pasta dish.

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Drinks

I'm including this category as this post is also concerned with frugal living. I feel some families can either spend quite a bit on prepared drinks or are taking in more calories from drinks than we do.

We drink spring water purchased in bulk and use a water cooler, as we don't like the taste of our well water.

We do not buy sodas, soft drinks, energy drinks, or juices as a general rule.

I know diet soda has no calories but I'd rather not have anyone in our family consume the artificial ingredients in diet sodas, so we don't.

I buy coffee beans at Costco (Starbucks brand) and grind the beans myself and brew coffee at home. I do not buy coffee prepared at stores or coffee shops unless it's a special treat or I'm meeting a friend for a social engagement.

My husband drinks black tea, prepared at home. He used to take tea bags or loose tea to work and make his own hot tea (rather than buy it at a coffee shop at a premium price).

I drink some herbal teas and infusions for health and wellness reasons, prepared myself from herbs bought in bulk via the Internet from herb suppliers. I do put organic and reliable sources above price. Sometimes the cheapest foods are not the best quality (or even may be unsafe).

My kids drink some organic milk from Costco, but not much.

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The Pantry


Our food pantry and spice shelves are fully stocked. We are ready at a moment's notice to turn frozen raw meat into something good. I can bake just about anything I want on a whim, with what is in my pantry.

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Cooking Technique

My husband loves to cook. He finds it fun and loves to cook on weekends. Thinking about trying a new recipe and shopping for a special ingredient is enjoyable for him. I do cook too. I love to bake. I have a sweet tooth so I enjoy making high quality baked goods from scratch.

Over the years we have learned a lot about general cooking techniques from shows on FoodTV and in cookbooks and from reading Cook's Illustrated. The more we learn and the more we experience high quality food the less we want to eat inferior tasting processed or prepared foods made by someone else (even at local restaurants and chain restaurants). We'd rather make it ourself, know what's in it, and have it our way (it's legal to make a medium-rare hamburger inside our home).

Perhaps more importantly, the more we learn about nutrition and wellness (staying healthy and trying to avoid disease) the more we want to avoid much of the bad stuff in prepared and processed foods. The more convenient a food is and the longer its shelf life the more likely it will contain something that someone should probably avoid or at least not eat on a regular basis let alone once or multiple times a day.

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In Conclusion






We find our method of keeping a large selection of items frozen or in the refrigerator works for us. By purchasing in bulk we can save money on the the base whole food ingredients. The foods we make by doing the prep work ourselves cost a fraction of what something like a pre-breaded prepared and frozen chicken cordon blue costs when purchased in small quantities at the grocery store. Foods cooked and baked at home from whole food ingredients are healthier for our bodies also.



The lure of the idea of cooking once-a-month and having ready to reheat meals in the freezer sounds tempting but it is too good to be true. The once a month or freezer cooking cookbooks I’ve seen are not in alignment with basic eating recommendations such as outlined in the Food Pyramid or other, more strict doctor-advised healthy eating diets (i.e. healthy heart eating). Once a month freezer cooking's general plans often lack the minimum recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake. They are often too heavy on white bread or white starches and some are too heavy on cheese intake too. I've given up on once-a-month cooking as advised in cookbooks.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Sons Decluttered Their Rooms

The other day, on the way home from church I told my sons that as soon as we got home I was going to set a timer for two hours. All four of us were going to clean the house. I said their task would start in their bedrooms.

My sons like to keep things on display on their shelves. There is a lot more on the shelves than I'd personally like to have and it's more than I want to dust off. I told them they were to start with their shelves.

To avoid problems due to miscommunication I spelled out what to do. "First, make your beds. Then take every item off the shelf and dust it off with a soft cloth, then put it on your bed. As you dust each thing off, decide if the thing is something you really want to have there or are you done with having that on display. When the shelf is empty use a cloth damp with water to dust it. Use a clean dry cloth to dry it, then return the things you want to the shelf."

I also asked them to consider what they are finished with on their bookcase shelves. I asked them to figure out if they really want those books and magazines any longer.


I left them alone to sort it out while my husband and I did work in other parts of the house. One of them turned some music on to help pass the time.

After that if there was more time left in the two hour period, I'd give them more work in the house to do. (They dragged that task out so there was no time left to do something else, does that surprise you?)

My thirteen year old decided the Star Wars book collection (DK books mostly) were out. All the manga was out. All the Yu-Gi-Oh! books and magazines are out. The Shonen Jump's stayed (they have some teen level manga in them). The Boy's Life magazines are out as are the LEGO magazine and various LEGO instruction manuals that were on his shelves and in a drawer.

My ten year old removed all the stuffed animals, every single one of them. His room is pretty sparse as recently I'd done decluttering in there removing all the picture books and outgrown games and puzzles from the closet's shelves.

My older son is a collector and feels sentimental towards material things that have a memory attached. My younger son could care less about material objects and tosses them quickly. This can be an issue such as when he gave his entire Yu-Gi-Oh! card collection to his brother but then didn't have a card deck to use to play against a visiting friend with.

I think it's a good idea to have my kids involved in decluttering their lives. I want them to start early with taking responsiblity for their living space and their possessions. I am still battling packrat tendencies after having been raised by two packrats and with grandparent packrats, all who encouraged me to save everything and to never get rid of anything that might potentially be used again. I still trying to break myself of those habits that are ingrained into me.

Each day my son's rooms morph more and more to be the rooms of a teenager and a tween-ager. Gone are the signs that the bedrooms belong to "little boys".

Monday, January 24, 2011

Autodidact Moment: What's That Bird?

After the snowstorm that dumped two feet of snow on us, my husband was helping the plow guy get his truck unstuck from our driveway. A bird flew to a small crab apple tree that self-sowed in my foundation garden from a nearby ornamental variety of crab apple about twenty feet away. It was eating withered fruit that was still on the branch.

The plow guy (who is also a farmer and outdoors a lot) said he'd never seen that bird, never in his life, and asked if my husband knew what it was. (Forgive me while I snicker as my husband cares nothing for the wild birds, often doesn't even see the ones right in front of us, and probably can only identify three varieties: cardinal (if red), chickadee and the pigeon.) My husband came to get me ("Hurry, hurry!"). I ran, (in my robe, having just gotten out of the shower) and I peeked out the front door and said I didn't know what it was, but ran back inside to grab my camera.

I noted the yellow, almost green belly as making it look different than most woodpeckers I've seen, but it looked like a woodpecker to me. The zoom lens wasn't on the camera so I got as close as I could from inside the house and I shot only these two images through the window before it was gone. (Double click on the image to enlarge. Apologies for the fogginess, it was shot through two layers of glass windows while sun streamed in.)







I intended to research the bird using Google (because it's so fast and easy compared to using a book), after I got dressed. However a minute later my son called up that he thought he figured it out. He'd taken the bird Audubon bird field guide off the shelf and said he thought it was the yellow-bellied sapsucker.

To confirm I read a couple of websites about that species, most helpful was this one. I note that typically the yellow belly is facing a tree trunk and hard to captue in a photo. By zooming in on my photo I could clearly see the red barring above and below the eye, indicating this was a male.  Our small sapling allowed a better view of the belly and my photo of the bird flying away gives another, rare view of the bird.

I then left a voice mail for the farmer to let him know the species (as he'd asked us to do).

It was a fun, unplanned thing in our day; something small that brought joy to my morning.


I was thrilled to see that my son knew where the field guides were kept in our family library and that he could actually use one to correctly identify a bird.

I was happy to know that he, who doesn't honestly care too much for birdwatching, was curious enough to know, to go look for the answer, all on his own.

Little moments like that confirm that yes, our kids really are learning and more importantly, they already they have started "learning how to learn".


Homeschooling works!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers Fashion Don't

I snapped this photo of  Pittsburgh Steelers fan at Universal Studios Orlando in December 2010. The shoes are the tipping point. I'm sorry but this is too much.

This is the first time I've taken a photo of a "fashion don't" of a stranger seen in a public place. I just couldn't resist...


Coming From Different Places

I had more communications with a person about an issue. This was an irritating topic to the point that I was close to severing ties to that business.

I realized after a while of feeling that I was not getting through to them, and seeing their responses that were almost in another language, that we were coming from two different places. Although we were speaking using the same terms and lingo, our messages were not being received correctly. What we each were 'hearing' was incorrect based on our different perspectives and approaches to this topic. Once I realized that some of my annoyance dissipated.

There's a big difference when someone is ignorant and not 'hearing' what is being said as they are clueless than when they are being oppositional intentionally.

I started to compose an email to reveal this insight and to share the information to enlighten them and to clear up where I was coming from to defend myself, then decided it was not worth my time and effort as it would probably fall on deaf ears.

Furthermore their ignorance was due to them being a part of the mainstream. They don't know about this subculture I live in, the homeschooling world. They are so clueless about it that they were misunderstanding the core topics that I blog about as being something other than they are. It is not realistic for me to expect that 98% of the country who doesn't homeschool will know or understand things about homeschooling and homeschooling blogs like mine.

See some people want to keep holding on to the world as they see it through their unique eyes and don't want to open their minds to the bigger picture. They want to stay in the cave.

I can't change the world, so whoever wants to stay in their cave can stay in their cave. Maybe someday they'll emerge on their own. I just didn't have the fight in me today. It gets exhausting to always have to explain basic things or to try to educate people about a lifestyle they are not living. So I didn't bother.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Family Conversation About Spelling

My husband came downstairs to get himself lunch which interrupted our homeschool lessons. My older son, a visual-spatial learner, had just finished his spelling pre-test for the spelling curriculum we use, Spelling Power. I am thrilled to see something has clicked and he is flying through spelling now. I praised him for his perfect scores. That prompted my husband to make a comment about how he hated spelling.

Lots of people acknowledge that people seem to either be natural spellers or struggling spellers. I asked my husband which he was. He said he hated spelling in school and was always a struggling speller. Something must have clicked for him as he is a good speller as an adult.

He asked which I was and I said I was a natural speller. My older son (the visual-spatial learner) has a photographic memory and he knows that term. That son asked if I had a photographic memory and is that why I can spell easily?

Before I could answer my husband asked what kind of a speller our younger son was and I said he is a natural speller. I explained that even when he makes a (rare) spelling error all I do is show him the right spelling and usually he makes the correction in his mind and he's done.

I then said that our younger son is like me in that we see the word spelled the right way then we 'make a picture of it' in our minds. My older son was intrigued by this and said, "You mean you can see the word spelled out?"

I responded, "Yes. I see the letters spelled out floating in the air. I can bring up this "picture" whenever I want."

He, the visual-spatial learner was miffed. I asked, "You have a photographic memory but you don't do that?"

He responded, "No. My photographic memory is for images and objects, not words. I don't see the words, even if I try."

My younger son, the very left-brained learner commented that he also sees the word written out in letters and that he can recall this 'image' in order to remember how to spell a word.

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I have shared in the past how we tried a right-brained (visual spatial) spelling learning technique in which we imposed an image of a thing right on top of the spelled out word, and also putting the error part of the word in colored letters with the mastered part of the word in black. That worked but it is labor intenstive for me, taking up to 30 minutes a day, every day, of my time to dream up those images and create the large (8.5" x 11") flashcard.

At present we continue to use a method taught to me by my son's behavioral optometrist in which we toss a Koosh ball back and forth. We spell the word going forward, then backward, then forward. If an error is made by either of us we must start back at the start of that cycle.

There seems to be something about a visual-spatial learner looking at the word as an image which can be recalled back in order to spell it backwards. It is said that visual-spatial learners find it easy to spell words backwards while left brainers hate this and struggle (and I know I do).

Once they master spelling it backwards it somehow cements in their mind.

Lastly the throwing thing, I was told, fires off a certain area of the brain in charge of catching, at the same time as another part of the brain is firing off to recall the spelling of the word. Something happens with the firing off of the neurons and the mind using two parts of the brain at once to help the learner move the information from working memory to longer term memory rather than have it delete out of their working memory never to be retained.

If you think this is sounds like a bunch of hooey, if you have a visual spatial learner who struggles to spell just give these techniques a try and see what happens. If it works, the reasoning behind really doesn't matter, if your goal is to help your child learn and master content.

Do what works. Period.

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Also of importance for kids with learning disabilities or those who have limited stamina for school work is to choose teaching methods and curriculums that are efficient and not time-wasting or filled with stupid busywork.

To that end we continue to all love Spelling Power which has a pre-test. The student is tested on words sight unseen. Only the words they do NOT know are studied. Thus study time is not devoted to studying words already known.



We use the bare bones Spelling Power program and don't bother with the extra learning activities (fluff) that are in their 'activity task cards box' (sold separately).

(What you choose to use is your perogative. This is what works for us so I'm sharing that. Some people I know like the AVCO Sequential Spelling system which was created for dyslexic people, who happen to have a high incidence of the visual spatial learning style by the way. We found the Spelling Power worked so we never tried Sequential Spelling by AVCO.)

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If this post was of use to you click on the label below this post for visual spatial learners or the label for teaching spelling to see what else I have blogged on this topic.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Homeschool Conference Giveaway at My Three Boybarians

Darcey of My Three Boybarians is giving away a family pass to a homeschool conference. Full details about the prize and how to enter are in this blog post at My Three Boybarians.

I've wanted to go to this huge homeschool conference in Ohio for a few years, since hearing about it. I couldn't attend in 2010 due to a conflict in our schedule. I'd love to go in 2011.

I've entered the giveaway. Will you?

Blueberry Muffins From Scratch

Earlier this year, after having picked blueberries at a local farm I decided to make my first batch of homemade blueberry muffins from scratch. After some taste testing of different recipes, I found my favorite in a cookbook called Maine's Jubilee Cookbook. Here is the recipe as adapted by me, which was orignally submitted by Mrs. Amy Russell of Fort Fairfield, Maine.




Blueberry Muffins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease muffin pan or line pan with muffin papers or use aluminum and paper disposable muffin cups.

2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (drained if in juice)
extra flour for blueberries (see below)

In an electric mixer cream butter and sugar (3-4 minutes).

Turn mixer to low and add eggs. Add dry ingredients and milk. Mix until thoroughly blended.

In a small bowl place some flour. Dump blueberries in the flour and toss gently between the hands to coat them. Toss letting the extra flour fall down into the bowl and place blueberries in the batter. Gently stir the batter by hand to incorporate the blueberries.

(The flour on the berries helps suspend them in the muffin, otherwise they can sink to the bottom.)

Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Love the Math Explanations

Perhaps the reason that so many love the free math lessons at KhanAcademy.org is the way everything is explained. First the way things are said addresses people who think in different ways; this appeals to those not 'getting' the flat 'directions to do an operation' way of learning. These explain the 'why' behind the operation. Secondly, these lessons don't always assume prior math mastery and simple parts of the concepts are also explained. Those who find those bits boring and repetitive will have to just bear with those parts.

Watch this lesson from the beginning of algebra to see what I mean.

Perhaps also parents working with their kids on math homework or on homeschool lessons can learn something about how to explain math by listening to these examples. Consider this a mini teacher workshop on speaking math language. Watch a few of these, or however many you need in order to learn how math can be explained using different terms.

I have a feeling that a reason that math seems to be a struggle for parents to talk to their kids about is the parent is only speaking in ways that make sense to their own mind and they are not aware of the way their child's mind thinks enough to tune into it and change the communication style.

Actually that applies to many things in the parent-child dynamic ranging from simple power struggles to major issues. Tune in parents, then adjust what you to. Try to speak the language they understand.

Don't make a power struggle over trying to force your child to hear what you are saying in your language. If they just don't get it, they don't get it. Repeating things the same way over and over probably won't work. You are the adult, so choose be more flexible. Find where your words are not getting through, (which is a miscommunication on your part really, if anyone's looking for blame for the kid not getting it), then change what YOU say in order to get through to them so you know you are being heard.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Doing This

Whenever my blog has content unrelated to homeschooling know this. We are doing BIC.

I bet if I blogged daily about the nitty gritty of our homeschool lives, the ordinary lessons, I'd bore you to death and you'd not return.

I am content knowing that each day as we do BIC progress is made forward. Just because my blog has a book review, a recipe or a product review on it doesn't mean homeschooling is not happening. Formal lessons are going on. Informal learning happens 24/7, 365 days a year.

We're plugging away here...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One Won Over

I was thrilled to hear from a mother I know that I scored one for the homeschool team. That mother of schooled kids, a stereotypical soccer mom who is actively parenting her kids held the belief that homeschoolers were freaks. Until she got to know me and my kids.

Over the last three years we've intersected through our sons who are in the same Boy Scout Troop. Over time I have never preached or brought up the topic of homeschooling in any conversation. When she'd ask questions I'd calmly, patiently, and briefly answer them. I was my normal self which is not arrogant in attitude, not elitist or snobbish.

I had told her she was free to ask me anything. Sometimes she'd fire off question after question after question going on for up to a half hour.

I also never once condemned the schools.

Then she told me a story about how she grilled another homeschool mom last year and it didn't go well at all. She said there was eye-rolling after questions about if homeschoolers had to take the same standardized tests that the school kids do. There were sighs. Things were said that gave the impression that the homeschool family was learning elitist topics while the schooled kids are getting pablum.

I also don't condemn parents who choose school. I never portray it is something right for every family. This mom said that it would never work for her. She feels the dynamic between her kids and she would not work doing teaching. One child has received significant services through the schools and she feels that has had a good outcome.

Well it is good to know that in going about our regular business we are representing the homeschool community well. I can't control what impressions others give. I can only focus on my family being sincere and honest about our lives.

If you homeschool how do you think you are received?

How well are you 'representing' the community?

Please consider that whether you want to or not, you ARE representing us. I ask that you behave and play nice. Please?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bodum Chambord French Press Coffeemaker Product Review by ChristineMM

Product: Bodum Chambord French Press Coffeemaker

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

Summary Statement: High Quality Model; Makes 32 ounces of the Best Tasting Coffee Homemade Coffee! Wish I Switched to a Coffee Press Earlier!







I'd heard that a french press makes the best tasting coffee but put off buying one for years. To be honest if I had some peer pressure to influence me I'd probably not have resisted for so long. I only know one person who uses a coffee press and swears by it.

The reason I finally bought this was that my last two drip coffeemakers broke in month thirteen, right after the warranty ended. Small plastic parts broke and I took the plunge to try this french press which is mostly glass and metal, figuring the simpler construction might ensure it would last longer (and it's less expensive too).

One thing I like about the Chambord is the glass beaker is a separate piece. This is unlike Bodum's Brazil model which has the plastic fused onto the glass. I know replacement glass pieces are sold separately in case mine breaks.

I liked the look of the Chambord which is sleek and has a shiny silver metal and black plastic for the holder and cap. I looked at the Bodum Chambord side by side with other coffee presses (like the Bodum Brazil)  in a store and could see that this one looks more sophisticated and classy.

I also like the 32 ounce capacity of the Chambord.

Easy to Use

The coffee press is so easy to use. I boil the water then wait two minutes, as the manufacturer says not to use boiling water. I put the coffee grounds in it then fill it with 32 ounces of water. I stir it with a wooden chopstick then place the lid on and wait four minutes. Then it is pressed very gently and slowly. The coffee is ready to serve.

My one complaint about the glass container is there are no marked lines for various measurements. If you want to make coffee in a certain number of ounces, such as to make an 8 ounce cup, you will have to heat the water and measure it in a heat-safe measuring cup then pour it in.

I note the manufacturer has legal warnings in two languages which fill over two inches of space on it so it is clear that Bodum wasn't leaving markings off to have a clean design look.

Since this uses no electricity and is small I am taking it with me when camping. I am thrilled to be able to have great tasting coffee while camping or staying in cabins without electricity but with access to open fire or portable camping stoves which can be used to boil the water.

Best Tasting Coffee

I have two favorite coffees which I've been drinking for over two years using a drip coffeemaker. I was shocked at the superior aste of the coffee made with the same pre-ground beans from this coffee press. There was no bitterness! I'd thought the bitterness was supposed to be there and had accepted it. (This idea is now funny to me. I also note when reading reviews of my former coffeemaker - made by Mr. Coffee - some customers said it produced a bitter brew. I now know that to be true. )

I have never tasted home-brewed coffee that tasted this good.

32 Ounces

Bodum says this makes 8 cups of coffee. In America 6 ounces is the standard so that's a bit confusing to this American coffee drinker. However many people now drink 8, 12, 16 or more ounces in one "cup" of coffee. What you need to know is the Bodum Chambord makes 32 ounces of coffee.

Cleaning

I find this easy to clean and have no complaints. With anything you use there is usualy some cleaning, even a drip coffeemaker has parts to clean.

Making Coffee in Volume

My Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker took nearly 15 minutes to make a 12 cup pot so I have no complaints on the time it takes to make coffee in a coffee press. To me flavor is more important anyway; I'd rather have a coffeemaker for daily use that produces superior coffee every day and have a bit of inconvenience when company is here. If I have to, when company is visiting, I will use an insulated coffee pot if I need more than 32 ounces of one kind of coffee. It will actually work out fine as some of my family usually wants decaf while others want caffinated coffee, so I've always had to brew two pots and use an insulated carafe when I brewed with a drip coffeemaker anyway.

The Cost

This cost me less than half what a drip coffeemaker costs and much less than those one-cup coffee makers. I'm happy with the low cost. As I said earlier if the glass beaker breaks I can buy a replacement for a low price.

In Conclusion

This makes fantastic tasting coffee. It may be a different process than you have done before but it is easy. This is an inexpensive item with a simple process with little room for mechanical failure. Don’t hesitate like I did!

















Disclosure: I purchased this item for my own use. For my blog's full disclosure statement, see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Playing with Digital Art Program

My kids and I are having fun playing around learning to use Autodesk SketchBook Pro 2011. It uses the computer and mouse (no other special equipment) and the art tools range from things like paint, marker, pencil, and airbrush.

What amazes me is how my visual-spatial learner has an intuitive sense for using programs he knows nothing about; he's a real whiz at this already.












Disclosure: I received this product from Amazon Vine product review program. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 263 Published



The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 263 was published at Common Room on January 11, 2011.


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!

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Bodum Latte Milk Frother Product Review by ChristineMM

Product Name: Bodum Latte Battery Operated Milk Frother

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

Summary Statement: Does What It Claims To -- Also Great for High Protein Diet Drinks -- My Beaker is Plastic (Not Glass as Advertised),






General Info and for Milk Frothing for Latte Coffee Drinks:

I own an expensive espresso maker with a steam wand tool for frothing milk in a metal cup. I have never been able to get it right, it's a high temperature and I've burned myself in the process. It can make a mess when I slipped, and it takes too long (a few minutes of heating the water for steam then a few more minutes to make the foam). I gave up on the frothed milk component of espresso drinks. Until now.



The Bodum Latte Milk Frother is one of those gadgets that does the job perfectly well but has one limited task. Some people hate those kitchen gadgets that do just one thing. If you want one of these, you don't need me to preach whether it is worth buying or not. If you are reading this you probably already feel you could use one and want one.



What you need to know is this works great if you follow the directions. You must use 6 ounces of milk. If you don't want to be wasteful and won't use all the foam, if you don't like the waste, you may consider this a con. (The froth settles back into regular milk perhaps you could refrigerate the left over for reuse so long as it doesn't spoil in the meantime.) Also to follow the directions, the manufacturer says to use low fat or skim milk. (I imagine whipping a high fat milk or cream would be more like trying to make whipped cream which takes a different tool and different movement actions.) I used 1% milk and it worked correctly after about three minutes of blending by pushing a button on the top. (The little whipping tool is pretty cool it moves up and down in a specfic pattern as time goes on just like the movements the human baristas use to hand froth milk with a steam wand.)



It is completely enclosed so there is no mess, no spilling, and no splashing.



A con for me is the batteries. I'll use rechargeables as I try to limit my use of disposable batteries.



Something else to note is the product title states this has a glass beaker. The details in the product description as of today read "The large borosilicate glass beaker is heat resistant and can be used with hot or cold liquids." I note mine has a plastic cup.



This product comes in different colors, the one I have is red.



If you make espresso coffee drinks at home and want a simple and reliable way to make milk froth, and you don't mind spending money on a special gadget for the job I recommend this product.



For Use with High Protein Powdered Drinks for Dieting or Body Builder Weight Gaining:



I noticed the Amazon product page refers to this also as a "light blender". I decided to experiment with cold water and a powdered diet drink (high protein drink). Those drinks are hard to mix by hand with a spoon, the powder often clumps or sticks to spoon or to the sides and bottom of the glass. The package I used called for 6-8 ounces of water, I used 8. This brings the liquid above the black line level on the cup but that is okay because this drink does not froth and does not increase in volume (thus the liquid stays below the motor and does not break the unit). This gadget mixed the protein drink quickly (quicker than the milk frothing process) and got all the clumps out. The drink had a nice smooth consistency as a result.


Disclosure: I received this product from the Amazon.com Vine product review program. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review or to blog this. I was not paid to write this review.