Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I've Been Learning About Wild Plants and Herbs

I have been teaching myself about the use of wild plants and trees and wild and cultivated herbs as ingredients in homemade personal care products (soap, lotion, etc.) as well as herbs for culinary and medicinal uses for about two years now.

An herb is basically any plant that is useful to humans in some way, therefore it may surprise you that common wild plants or even so called weeds you know are actually edible or useful in some other way. I had assumed the definition of an herb was something else which was more narrow in scope, but I was wrong. Thus, some weeds that Americans think are horrid to have in lawns or in garden beds (such as the dandelion) are actually nutrient dense foods and medicine when used in certain (easy to make at home) preparations.

I recall my husband being worried at my consumption of wild blackberries growing along the edges of our woods when he complained of the seemingly too expensive yet unripe and less flavorful cultivated blackberries sold at our local grocery store.

I remember my husband's fear of eating a hickory nut that I found laying on the lawn under the hickory tree, yet he had no qualms about eating the irradiated nuts from the grocery store.

Tender Dandelion greens 4/12/11 growing wild in my garden

 My husband complained that his mother bought two foot long tough dandelion greens from the health food store to make the family's traditional dandelion soup on Easter. I offered to go snip some tender young spring greens from our lawn and he recoiled in horror saying that if we took was what on our (organic) lawn we'd "not know what wild creature might have pooped on it". After I literally laughed out loud, I replied that on the dandelion farm we also don't know what wild thing might have pooped on it or what sprays and chemicals may have been put on it!

Wild Dandelion in bloom in my lawn 5/09/11

I was also going to make Dandelion Wine for the first time this year. That uses the blossoms not the leaves. However, I was very busy the week that I had hundreds at peak bloom in my yard and couldn't pull it off.

A problem with wildcrafting is sometimes the harvest window is incredibly short: peak can be one or two specific days. If you don't have time to harvest and prepare the it right then you can miss out on the harvest until the next year. Not all wild plants have a long growing season or when not at peak you cannot gather enough quantity to do what you intended to do such as the large quantity of dandelion blossoms you need to make a decent batch of dandelion wine. If you don't gather the hickory nuts within 48 hours of when they fell the squirrels may beat you to them.

The more I learn about the wild plants growing around my home the more horrifying the act of weeding or (gasp) spraying them with chemicals seems. The idea of pristine monoculture lawns or golf courses which requires poison to create is perhaps even more artificial or creepy than asphault-covered cities.

Although modern America is mostly now a go to work and get paid money, then go to the store to exchange the money for food made in some unknown place culture, it still seems stupid to me to let good wild food growing right in our yards and woods rot away uneaten. If I'm growing mint in my garden "for decoration" is it not silly to take our hard earned money to buy dried mint from the store to make tea from? If I have maple trees right on my property why must I pay $135 a gallon at the grocery store for prepared pure maple syrup?

Once you begin to grasp how practical it is to eat wild foods growing right under our noses on our own property you start to open your mind to the plant's other uses. Did you know a simple homemade tincture of oregano (made with an easy recipe of vodka and fresh leaves) can help cure viral or bacterial head colds and upper respiratory infections? Wouldn't you like to treat the source of the problem rather than just taking over the counter symptom relievers like a decongestant? According to Richo Cech in Making Plant Medicine on page 193, oregano is an "antioxidant, antiseptic, preservative, anthelmintic and antifungal". Who knew? And to think I thought oregano was just a flavorful addition for marinara sauce and on pizza!

Before I end the post I'll throw in one tidbit I learned. Wild plants that survive adverse conditions and grow against all odds are found to be higher in nutrition and other components compared to cultivated varieties. It makes sense if you think about it. Plants grown at a farm en masse in soils which may or may not be nurient rich soil, which may or may not have been picked at their peak, which might also not have been grown organically, can be inferior to strong plants that grew themselves in the wild free of human intervention and free of chemicals or fertilizers. Also, hardy plants that make it through a dry summer may be of stronger stock than some coddled farm grown product that is boosted up to grow with fertilizer.

So, that St. John's Wort growing wild along the edge of your lawn which you pick at its peak that you can make into a homemade tincture may be better for you than buying a St. John's Wort capsule product in the drug store. Ponder that! Consider the benefits of learing about the wild plants and how you can use them. I'm really enjoying the autodidact process and maybe you will too.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Thought on Older Kids Reading and on Letting Go of Stuff

I really enjoyed the stage of parenting and homeschooling when I read picture books aloud to my kids and we talked and laughed and learned from them.

I was a bit in mourning for the passing of that stage when both of my sons were tween-aged and reading chapter books. I often did not share a passion for reading the same kinds of books they liked. What I'd hoped they'd read they did not always want to read. Books that my older son loved my younger son refused to try to read. I wasn't always able to share in the story with them.

I always thought I'd continue with reading aloud but the fact is I rarely do it. My voice gives out after about forty-five minutes, and it has just not worked out. I am still an advocate for it, so I encourage others to do it. If it works for your family then I am glad and perhaps I am even a bit envious.

Something has shifted here with my older son's reading habits. (This developed over this year that he's thirteen years old.) He's sentimental so he does continue to read new installments of series books as they are published even though their target market audience is a younger age than my son now is (i.e. The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan). But for the most part the readings he is choosing are now young adult or even adult books. The fact that he has even attempted to read books published for an adult market is thrilling to me; even though sometimes he chooses not to finish them (The DaVinci Code and a military thriller that my husband had just read were two he abandoned.)

I just introduced my son to short stories. He started with The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. He likes how in a short number of pages you get sucked into the story enough to feel immersed in it, and then it is over. He likes how easy it is to consume an entire story. He no longer needs to invest ten or more hours just to hear a story. Instead of turning to watch a movie for a story in under two hours he can open a short story and read a powerful story in less than half an hour. He loves the short story collection of dystopian literature: Brave New Worlds.

Like me, my son often has four, five or six books going at once, a mix of nonfiction and fiction. I do that with nonfiction books but I prefer my fiction to be just one story that I focus on and finish before moving on (I use the same method with my knitting). While I don't share his reading style with fiction I am happy that he's got so many books in progress.

What I'm enjoying that I didn't really think about was how my son and I can read the same short story or book and then we enjoy talking about it. I honestly had not thought about that. After a few years of having independent readers who read stuff that I didn't care to read myself, I missed that. Maybe that's why I really missed reading aloud those picture books?

In any event I got myself a bit worried about homeschooling literature high school level courses. I am over that worry. I am going to re-learn or learn some things about it in order to teach it and to be able to discuss the bones of literary analysis. I am going to read the same books my sons read in order to discuss it with them. I hope I can enjoy some if not all of the readings I choose to do. I don't think I'll be able to keep up by reading every single book my son reads but that's okay, I think.

If it gets really difficult to teach the literature I will find an outside source such as a homeschool co-op course or an online class.

I am also still designing the dystopian literature course an am enjoying that research process and the building of a book reading list. The other day my son snagged Fahrenheit 451 when UPS delivered it from Amazon. At this rate, I don't know if anything will be left to read when I try to start the course in September! As far as homeschooling problems go that's a pretty high class problem to have, isn't it? I'm thrilled to have that kind of problem!

I can't tell you how much fun this new stage is: the stage of being able to read more adult themes in books and the developmental stage having been reached in my son to be interested and able to understand more complex and more mature themes. So far this is so fantastic I think I'm starting to lose my over-blown attachment and the excess sentimentality I had for my children's early childhood years and for picture books.

I will always have a love of children's picture books with their compact and effective writing combined with the added pleasure from the illustrations, don't get me wrong. But now I'm thinking of ways I can put my passion for them to some other good use. I'm considering teaching some homeschool co-op classes with them for one thing.

My longer term ideas are that someday if I return to paid employment I hope to become a children's librarian and maybe some of what I have learned in these years will be put to use. I just heard of someone having a master's degree in children's literature and thought to myself that getting a degree in something you really really love seems too good to be true so maybe I should get that degree! I also am still thinking of ideas to write my own children's picture book (I have a couple of good ideas swirling around in my head). I am always mulling over different art techniques that I've learned that may be good for illustration should I take on that challenge as well.

As I write this I am in the middle of going through all of our family's books and donating or giving away ones I don't feel we have the space to keep now that we're moving to a place with less storage room. It's not as hard to do now as when I'd tried to let go of them in the past because my perspective has shifted. I'm in a happy mindset about reading and homeschooling. I think it's easier to let go when one is feeling positive and with a feeling of being surrounded by abundance than when feeling sad or melancholy. It's hard for me to let go of material possessions when you think you're living in lack and that you are presently in a state of feeling deprived. I get this feeling also from feeling that something has been prematurely taken away from me or when the last stage was great and the current situation is worse or not as enjoyable or not as exciting (or something else less optimal).

It feels like I'm putting some of those good memories to bed and that I'm resizing them to put them into proper perspective. That period of mothering and homeschooling was just one stage of my life and of my children's lives. It was great while it lasted! Kids do grow up and change, that's a fact. I am happy that I'm still enjoying being with my kids (we have our trying moments and some typical teen angst believe me). I'm grateful that I get to be home with my kids to raise them and also that I am still homeschooling them as it means we're together more and we know each other better. The closeness we have makes all of our interactions better. There's a flow in our family, we have a pretty good dynamic going here. You can't ask for any more than that.

I've got just four years left until my older son leaves for college, and seven more years with my younger son. The time does fly by so quickly. I'm trying to slow down time but it's not working (nor has it ever worked for any human!) so instead I'm trying to focus on feeling gratitude for the good things I have in my life. I'm trying to make sure I feel all the happy feelings and that I appreciate what I've got when I have it. When doing that even an ordinary life feels like a great one.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Laying Eggs

I witnessed something incredible, I saw a Black Swallowtail lay eggs in my garden!

I had decided to weed my vegetable and herb garden yesterday. As I approached the garden, I saw a Black Swallowtail trying to get into the garden but it was trapped behind the deer netting that I use for fence material. I lowered the fencing and it flew in and went right to the fennel. It was flittering around the fennel in an odd way, getting very close then darting back. I have never seen a butterfly act that way. I stood and watched it.

Suddenly it landed on the fennel and then its body curled inward then a half second later it flitted away. I saw it do it again then I realized it must be laying an egg. I looked at the spot where it was and saw one tiny yellow egg, the size of a period at the end of a sentence perhaps, perfectly round and it looked to be barely touching the delicate fennel frond.

I ran for the camera. The butterfly had gone, but shortly after it came back and I struggled to get a photo of it laying an egg. I saw it alight again and then found the egg. It left the garden again.

So, I saw it lay a total of three eggs, and I located all three.

Last year I had the pleasure of watching Black Swallowtail caterpillars in various stages eat the fennel at the peak of summer. I am thrilled to have watched this egg laying process. Here are the photos. I wish I put my finger in the photo as a reference for size. The egg is perhaps 1 mm in diameter.

(double click to enlarge)

Photos copyright ChristineMM, taken in Fairfield County, Connecticut on 5/27/11.

Egg 1

Egg 2

Laying Egg 3

Egg 3

The gorgeous fennel! I purchased this as a nursery seedling three years ago and it has overwintered each year. In its second year it stood eight feet tall. It's already almost three feet high!

Friday, May 27, 2011

One Hard Thing About Homeschooling

With homeschooling and in our family's general life experiences we have sought quality experiences. That quest sometimes takes us outside our default circles and makes us strangers among others; we're the outsiders, at least at first. I consider our homeschool community our main community but it does not provide all we need such as sports or Scouts.

We chose a Boy Scout Troop one town over as we felt it was a better fit for what we felt was a good Scout program, but that means that my kids are the only kids from our town in that Troop so we have no default clique. Shall I rephrase it to say that my kids don't have a default social network established due to some other circumstance, chiefly, the school the other kids attend?

The hardest part is not that initial hurdle it is later when we are established and even if we are accepted by the group we have it a bit harder still such as not having a quick drive to the meetings and not having carpool opportunities. I can't do a quick drop off; I wind up having to hang around at the meeting (or sitting in the car in the parking lot). I have experienced this with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little League for both sons and lacrosse with my younger son.

Last year when my husband was working 16 hours a day it was stressful as I felt I was kind of like a single parent. When my husband was available to help out due to unemployment it felt like a dream; to have him available at 5pm for driving kids around was fantastic. My husband also pitched in and planned, prepared and cleaned up dinner. That was great as after working with the kids all day homeschooling and with having prepared and cleaned up the day's two earlier meals and snacks, I had enough and was just tired out.

Now that my husband is living across the country working at his new job, while we prepare to sell the house and move to join him I am really, really feeling the stress of being a temporary single parent. I just simply cannot be in two places at one time.

Although the lacrosse coach encouraged carpooling the fact is that I don't know the mothers in my town whose kids play on the team. It's clique-y. I could say more but I will leave it at that.

When seeking out better than average opportunities for our kids there are pros and cons.

One benefit is our children see that they have many options. They know they can try new things and explore. If something isn't working, they can change to try that activity somewhere else. This is not what I'm finding in multiple other kids we know, who feel locked into their group. Some quit due to hating the group yet pining for the actual activity.

I recall one boy who really missed Boy Scouts but was just too scared to try another Troop but whose main issues with the Troop in this town was a mismatch socially with the kids he's been going to public school with all his life. I'm thinking also of those elementary grade students who feel they need to stick with the same old thing they know instead of trying a new sport to see if they like it better. They are just scared to death to even try a sport they are not already acquainted with, even though skills clinics and team practice would teach them what they need to know.

I know two boys who seem concerned that their parents will not be happy with making a change in their lives; they feel that their parents have invested in an activity and that their parents would be disappointed if they made a switch. I'm not talking about quitting a sport to be a couch potato, I'm talking about changing from one sport to another to give it a try.

Another benefit to stepping outside the default group is that our kids have learned to socialize well. They can go into a group of strangers and be nice to other kids and figure out how to fit in. They make friends and put themselves out there, being a bit assertive and outgoing in their interactions. They are not afraid or scared to go into a group of stranger kids and teens, they just plunge in. Our kids see my husband and I doing this also in the groups we interact with (i.e. I talk with the parents of the Boy Scouts, I volunteer with the Boy Scout Troop). By modeling good social skills, parents can help kids learn socialization skills as well.

I once told a parent about how it's harder to be a stranger in a group and to try to find where they fit in and the father responded that maybe actually it's better. He told me that sometimes being around the same kids all of one's life kind of locks them in. They see the same kids at school and at band and at Scouts. They have known each other so long that they have not only developed one or maybe two good friendships that last over the years, but actually they are impartial to most of the others, and what's worse they may have kids they dislike or hate that they are forced to be around yet again.

The closest thing my kids have had to that locked in feeling of having to be around certain kids time and time again are the homeschooled kids we've known since my oldest was in Kindergarten or First Grade. However due to the very independent lives that homeschoolers lead in my area of Connecticut we actually wish we saw certain people more than we are able to. We are all so busy we can not only easily avoid seeing certain people but we miss out on seeing more of the ones we want to be around more often. The new homeschool co-ops that we have become involved with in the last 18 months have made things more close knit and with the wonderful benefits there has also been some strain and stress between the kids and sometimes between the parents.

I seem to be constantly seeking balance and looking for a harmonious schedule that is just stimulating and enriching enough yet is not so nutty that we are stressed out and made to feel insane. That's a challenge for me. Whatever we choose to do can sometimes be felt by the kids, ranging from feeling bored or feeling too harried.

The part of homeschooling that involves running around to appointments and having more of a challenge getting here and there due to lack of easy carpools is one hard thing about homeschooling. It's a pain in the neck but for all the great benefits of homeschooling and the benefits of also choosing quality extra-curricular activities outweigh the nuisance. When we can't handle it and there is too much of not being able to be in two places at one time it's an indication to cut back on what we do participate in for that season or that year. In the big picture of things, it's manageable.

Carnival of Homeschooling Published

If you are interested in homeschooling check out these recent Carnival of Homeschooling issues.

Week 278 at Corn and Oil

Week 279 at Homeschool Dad

Week 280 at Dewey's Treehouse

Week 281 at The Homespun Life

Week 282 at Sprittibee

The Carnival of Homeschooling 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.


Technorati Tags: Carnival of Homeschooling, homeschooling, homeschooling information, blog carnival, homeschooling support.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Lyme Disease Study

One thing I was grateful to hear which was revelaed in this article was the outcome of the legal action taken with Dr. Jones.

This article mentions the beginning of the 2010 season as being dry and not bad for ticks. Well, 2011 has been a very wet spring and perfect weather for ticks, unfortunately.

Article: Danbury Leading Lyme Disease Study
Date: 5/23/11

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Transition Time Has Begun

Four days ago my husband moved out in order to start his new job half way across the country. When I use that phrase with my friends they tell me it "sounds bad". The fact is, it's true: he did move out. No, our marriage is not breaking up and no, we're not going to permanently live separately but who knows when we'll all be living together again. I doubt it will be before Labor Day and we'd be lucky (in this down with its slow real estate market) if that happens before New Year's Day.

It was strange looking over to his bathroom sink and seeing all of my husband's shaving stuff gone. All that was left was a couple of toiletries that apparently he doesn't need after all. I put it all away, thinking how the real estate agent will tell me to make all of our horizontal surfaces clear. All his stuff out on the counter did always bug me, but now when I look at that area it looks empty and artificial and wrong.

Even though compared to my friends and neighbors my kids do less scheduled outside activities there are still conflicts, mainly between sports and Boy Scouts (for one son). The fact that we do Boy Scouts in another town and that the lacrosse team is a travel team complicates matters for getting my kids to and from where they need to be. The fact that we are not in the public school system and we don't have many friends from that school to do carpools with makes it harder on me. I can only be in one place at one time. Therefore sometimes lacrosse is skipped so both can go to Boy Scouts. I can't do it all and neither can my kids.

I am meeting with our real estate agent this week so she can look the house over and so we can agree on a selling price. There is even more competition as a few days ago my neighbor two doors down to the south put their house on the market. Another house a couple of doors down to the east put their house on the market. It has been interesting trying to compare and contrast the three properties.

I wonder what the sellers will think about our home and also how they will compare it to the other homes in this neighborhood. I think ours is better for a few big reasons but ours has it's downsides: wall to wall carpet on the second floor and formica counters in the bathrooms. Ours will be better for the best reason of all: I want to move this fast so plan to list it at a lower price than the other two. I have no time for dragging out the sale with a two year listing and doing a half doze price reductions. The last time I sold our house it took only six days due to careful consideration of a realistic price.

Regarding the kids everyone tells me to have them help with the work of decluttering and packing. I tried that yesterday afternoon and it was a big failure. What I wanted to throw out they begged to keep. When I asked them to put a bag in the trash bin in the garage, I later found it in the middle of the kitchen floor. When I handed them a box to put in the pile to donate to the charity thrift shop they groaned and complained of its weight.

I am trying to do too much by keeping up with all the regular living we do in addition to trying to prepare to move and to sell this house. I thought about stopping homeschool lessons for the academic year now. I just can't see a way for me to dole out lessons and give math help and writing composition tutoring in the middle of me sorting through crap we own and packing up what we've decided to keep. I have already lightened up their load by more than half, but just as predicted, they are intellectually bored and are bickering. They are out of sorts due to my husband's absence and this doesn't help their state of mind either.

There are six more weeks left in our regular schedule of sports and Boy Scouts. I don't plan on having the kids quit either thing but finding the time to pack is hard in between everything else. Let's not forget I'm now doing the shopping errands by myself and cooking all the meals and cleaning up the meals then doing the regular house cleaning. So I'm actually doing more things with my time than before.

That's what's going on around here, a lot of transitioning. Everything is still uncertain, when the kids and I will move out, and where in Houston we'll live. When we can go depends on how fast this house sells.

I hate the feeling of so many things in my life being up in the air all at once. This can't be compared to juggling balls, this is more like the game of 52 Card Pickup with the cards temporarily suspended in mid-air.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Red Dogs and Pink Skies Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Red Dogs and Pink Skies: Paul Gauguin on Painting and Music (book and audio CD)
Authors: Bruce Adolphe and Evan Polenghi
Featuring Music by: Bruce Aldolphe
Publication: Pollyrhythm Productions, 2002
ISBN: 0970124910

My Star Rating: 5 Stars Out of 5 = I Love It Unique Children's Book That Explains Gauguin's Painting Style to Music Composition

Summary Statement:

This oversized children's picture book is alive with color and is lavishly illustrated. Although intended for children the text is written for a mature audience or for children very interested and knowledgable about music and/or art. I read this book aloud to my children aged 10 and 13 and not only did they learn things, I did too.

Discussed in the book is how music is composed to convey emotion and a reaction in the listener and in this book Gauguin's paintings are compared to a musical composition. The use of color and the bold use of non-realistic colors are intended to produce emotion and color harmony NOT being painted with realism. The book walks the reader through the use of color, texture, rhythm, and harmony as used by Gauguin and compared to how musicians use the same components to evoke mood in a listener.

The book includes photographs of Gauguin as well as full color reproductions of his paintings. A timeline of Gauguin's life runs along the bottom of the pages. The reader is taught how to really look at each work of art. I found it useful and interesting when some of Gauguin's paintings were altered with different colors or shown in black and white to demonstrate how very important the use of color is. Discussed throughout is what Gauguin was trying to convey and how his critics didn't understand his ideas. The authors clearly want young readers to "get it" and to view Gauguin's art from Gauguin's perspective.

The book comes with a music audio CD of pieces by Bruce Adolphe. We are asked to listen and to pick out the mood, rhythm and such from the music just as we can pick them out in a painting. The pieces are inspired by Gauguin and in the Notes to the CD section the reader is given background information and is asked to ponder questions while listening to the music.

This is a unique book and audio CD product that compliments or could be the central book used to teach children about the art of Paul Gauguin. Due to the big ideas and the not very simplified nature of the text, I feel the book will only hold the attention span of precocious children with parents who also care about these topics. It would also be best for children who are very interested in art history or who know and understand these ideas about music. Kids disinterested in art and music may feel the text talks over their heads or goes deeper than they want to delve into it. With that said a parent or school teacher can use the book and can tweak the use of it by breaking it up into multiple readings rather than a straight read-through in order to fully use the text with the kids.

I commend what the authors have done with this book and audio CD and highly recommend it to families and school teachers. This book is best for reading aloud and discussion not just putting it into the hands of kids and having them read it independently.

Note: You can listen to Bruce Adolphe's free streaming MP3 music here.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the author for the purpose of writing a review. I was not paid to write this nor was I under obligation to give it a favorable review. (A friend met the author while sitting next to him on a train and after she read the book, she asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing this book.) For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Taking the Iowa Standardized Test

This week my sons are taking the Iowa standardized test with a group of homeschool kids. I could have gotten the test myself and administered it at home (since I have a college degree I quality as being a proctor per their rules) but I decided to have them do it with a group and get that group testing experience. This is the first time they've taken official standardized tests.

The only test prep we did was part of a workbook for test prep just to get them used to the format and filling in bubbles and the idea of picking "the best answer" not "the first correct one on the list". I used books from Barnes & Noble not the official Iowa test prep info. I didn't even look at the official list of content areas until the night before.

A lot is going on here so it is far from the ideal time to take a test that's important in nature. Therefore I have downgraded how much I care about the results. Just 48 hours prior to the test my husband left to move out of state for his new job. We will join him when this house sells. So not only are my kids out of sorts due to my husband leaving just two days ago, but they are both excited at the idea of moving yet sad to leave their friends and fellow homeschool students and our neighbors and their established activities: Boy Scouts and the lacrosse team.

The kids both said the test was a joke and it was simple. My only hope is that they score well in relation to their perception. All I could think of was that John Stossel piece on 20/20 called "Stupid in America" where American students had a very high self-esteem and a high perception of their academic ability when in reality their academic performance stunk and they were a lot dumber than they realized. I don't want my kids to be like them!

You can watch "Stupid in America" below (or search it on YouTube if the video is no longer available when you read this).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Home-schooling All the Way Through High School Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Home-schooling All the Way Through High School
Author: Renee Mason
Publication: Tyndale, 1999

My Star Rating: 2 Star Rating = It's Okay

Summary Statement: Christian Memoir -- Too Short -- Too Scattered -- Not About Homeschooling High School

This is perhaps the most sentimental and soft homeschooling memoir I've ever read. If ever a book was written with the viewpoint of looking at life through rose colored glasses this is it.

As stated on the back cover this genre is "Christian Life". "My intent in writing this book is to acknowledge God and share how he has lef this family in our homeschool." (pg 107) sums this up accurately.

The book includes written excerpts from the children ranging from a fourth grader to a college student which makes the reading more interesting and adds validity to the author's portrayal of their family's life.

I was in error and somehow had the idea by the title that this was about homschooling high school. Actually some people have told me to read this and it would help with homeschooling high school so perhaps I should blame other readers not the author's choice for a title. It about the general decision to homeschool and it is actually about homeschooling with joy through all the ages and grades. It does have a "they do turn out alright and fantastic in the end" message, so maybe that's why people recommend this for homeschoolers who worry they cannot homeschool high school. This is not a book about just how to homeschool the high school years: know that.

The chapter "Into High School and Letting Go" starts off with a discussion of a faith based program for father and daughter whereby the teenaged girl vows chastity until marriage. The chapter goes on to discuss dating only with an eye toward marriage (courtship) and about sexual purity in the teen years. It then jumps to stating they study for years to prep for the GED as a high school academic plan.  The oldest, a girl, graduated homeschool high school at age 16, didn't bother to take the SAT and began community college for an Associates then went on to a Christian college for a bachelor's degree. I had hoped the high school homeschool discussion would be more than one chapter and I was let down by the seemingly low academic goals set for that oldest child.

At 129 pages the book is short. I prefer memoirs that are written after more than just the oldest child has grown up (or in the case of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother I'd rather have seen the book published after both have finished college). This author has eight children and perhaps waiting a few years until more than one have finished homeschooling would have added more substance to the book and would have shown more proof that her methods and goals worked well.

I also felt the layout of this book's topics was a bit scattered as it went all over the place which I found off-putting. The stories meander here and there and I just lacked patience for reading that type of writing when I sat down and read the book last night. This is a fast easy read.

The book was published in 1999 and the options for homeschool methods have changed over the years and the college admissions process has gotten more competitive. The standardized testing requirements have gotten more strict and in my area testing is required for community college admissions too. More testing and other new kinds of testing are mandated now that prevent homeschoolers with a goal toward college admissions from having such a relaxed homeschool experience in the high school years  as this book portrays (in the 1990s). The homeschoolers who are doing high school at home in 2011 with an eye toward college need more practical advice on academics early on or their kids will be locked out of pursuing all the options.

This is a loving story of a very close family living the homeschool lifstyle and to me that is the best part of this memoir. The family is Christian and the book is very religious, so whether that appeals to you or does not is something you should know and consider while book shopping. If you are Christian and are looking for general affirmation that following the plan God has for you which includes homeschooling then you will probably appreciate this book.

My rating of 2 stars is based on the multiple reasons given in this review and has nothing to do with the religous nature of the book, just to be clear. I find the religious viewpoint to be either a plus or minus only in the mind of each reader based on what they personally prefer and want.

Disclosure: I bought this book. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Culling Homeschool Books and Blogging Book Reviews

I've started the process of letting go of books about how to homeschool. As I look them over I'm refreshing my memory of having read them and am writing book reviews. The first was published yesterday.

These books were all purchased by me. I started reading about homeschooling when my firstborn was just a baby. Back then the primary way to get information was from books. The second best was to subscribe to magazines such as Growing Without Schooling (unschooling) and Home Education Magazine (secular). There were a number of Christian magazines available also (Practical Homeschooling was one).

Now there is a ton of free homeschooling information on the Internet. There are many Yahoo Groups and blogs. Homeschool curriculum providers have chat boards. The only problem with these is it takes more work to wade through posts to find your answer and sometimes the information is inaccurate or vague. There are also unprofessional or rude posts that you have to suffer through. At least with books the information has been fact checked and edited by a professional editor. You also may struggle to find the answer to your question on the Internet. Sometimes you can purchase a book knowing it will address a certain topic so it saves time to read the book compared to Internet surfing.

I find books, (not always self-published books) to be more professional in tone than the Internet. I hesitate to trust an information source on an Internet board whose reply regarding how to teach children is full of very basic English grammar errors and advice on teaching writing from someone who can barely spell. But that's just me.

Anyhow, I need to lighten my book load before we move half way across the country, so I must cull.

I can't believe that my oldest is now entering homeschool high school. The truth is, I don't need much of this information anymore. My kids have already outgrown the ages and stages that some of these books cover.

Over time the method I use to homeschool my kids has changed but one thing remains constant: I am still customizing their education to meet their unique needs. To that end I have left behind some homeschool methods that we have tried.

I'll also try to review some of my favorite homeschool books that are keepers. I hope the information I share is of use to some of my blog readers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Things We Wish We’d Known Book Review by ChristineMM

Title:  Things We Wish We'd Known: A Guide to Abundant-Life Homeschooling

Edited by: Bill & Diana Waring

Publication: Emerald Books, 1999

ISBN: 1 883002 42 7

Note: I wrote this book review in 2004.

This is an essay collection by 50 different experienced Christian homeschoolers. They share their mistakes and how they fixed them. The goal is to help homeschoolers not repeat the mistakes the writers made.

It is not mentioned on the front or back cover of the book but this is written from a Christian perspective and is a religious book. If you are looking for secular materials you should know this. If you want Christian based homeschool help, you will be happy to know this is not secular.

Many of the homeschooling parents wrote that they started homeschooling with a rigid format of “school at home”. Some parents even required the Pledge of Allegiance, had school style desks and took attendance. These parents learned over time that learning can be fun (which was a revelation to them). Many ditched the rigid schedule for a looser or very loose learning environment. Some people seem to remain shocked that learning can be fun and are trying hard to get that point across to the reader. If you are already in that groove you will not learn much by reading this book.

I found many of the essays to be repetitive, with the same issues and the same resolutions. Some of the contributors are popular names in the Christian homeschooling world, curriculum writers and magazine columnists for example.

This book is geared toward the mother who is burning out and is using a highly structured form of homeschooling. If you want a book that is Christian in nature and seeks to give permission that a more relaxed form of learning is effective then this book is for you. If you are not burning out and if you like your structured way of homeschooling then you probably won’t like this book, and you probably don’t need it either.

Note: This book was published in 1999, before blogs existed and before the boom of information that free homeschooling websites and homeschool blogs was at our fingertips. This was published back when we were forced to purchase books in order to get our hands on the homeschooling information we needed. Since this was published some new names in the Christian homeschool world have gained popularity and they are not included in this book.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

High School Literature Course I'm Creating

Right now, for my rising high school freshman, I am designing a literature course.

As a starting point I used detailed high school syllabuses which can be found on the Internet. Even my own town's high school publishes a lengthy syllabus online. I have been comparing different local school's courses and each seems to center around three works of literature: Romeo and Juliet, The Illiad and then a third book which seems to be either To Kill a Mockingbird or The Good Earth. The only thing that is confusing is the schools list extra books as optional but doesn't exactly say how many of those are read and how. I am wondering if those are the books that are assigned for summer reading.

I saw an interesting note on the AP English courses offered locally, that the schools require ALL the readings be done over the summer before the course starts. I was a bit surprised about that and bet it is because the students and their families may complain that the reading load is too hard to balance with their other coursework as well as extra-curriculars. However, to read all those books in about 10 weeks in the summer seems nuts to me, but who am I to judge?

In any event, my son protested when he heard he'd have to read some literature that he doesn't know anything about. (This opposition to things when he doesn't even really have a reason to oppose them is something I've been dealing with for years. It helps the situation if my son feels he has some say-so in the content and when I'm offering some flexibility rather than doling out a canned course. That's one reason we've always avoided a 'school in the box' homeschool curriculum. Due to the highly customizable education that homeschooling CAN provide I see no reason to resort to cramming or force feeding him the standard fare. I try to take advantage of our freedom by actually exercising that freedom.)

I was telling a homeschool mom friend how my son wants to keep on reading fiction and literature in the style he currently likes which has been dystopian literature. She suggested I develop a dystopian literature course.

I began researching the idea on the Internet and see this is offered as a 300 level college course at different colleges. I have been reading through them and have decided that my son will study dystopian literature as a freshman. By looking over the various reading lists I am seeing similarities. I have already begun compiling a reading list and have made a couple of purchases.

When the books arrived from Amazon my son attacked them. He doesn't want to wait for the fall to begin. He is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in full text graphic novel format and he likes the short story collection of dystopian literature Brave New Worlds edited Ursula LeGuin.

It takes more work to custom design a course but if the homeschooled student who was resistant to learning is suddenly more interested and even enthusiastic and happy, is it not worth the extra time and energy on my part?

I have also begun reading some of these stories and am looking forward to teaching myself about this topic in order to teach and learn alongside my son.

Just today my son asked if he can read Farenheit 451 as a friend of his was talking about what a good book it was. That was on the booklist I have made but I'd not yet told my son so. I'm happy he suggested reading it first!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Juvenile Great Horned Owl

I got a surprise at about 3:40 this morning (May 18) when a strange loud screech was heard not far from my open bedroom window in the woods. My husband was awake and heard it and we were both surprised. I've never heard anything like it before.

I sat by the window and listened. It was clearly coming from a tree, up off the ground. It would make the sound then it would be quiet for about twenty seconds then it would repeat. The sound stayed eminating from the same place. It went on for about five minutes then it did it a few more times then it was quiet.

I researched online a bit. I know we have Great Horned Owls in these woods and found the call is from a juvenile Great Horned Owl.

I read a bit online and saw that the baby owl hatches in March and by about six weeks of age they are able to hunt on their own. At some point usually in May the parents will stop bringing them food. So, while the parents are out hunting and feeding themselves the owlet is hungry and does a 'begging call', trying to get food brought to them. Some are resistant to stop being fed in the nest and so squalk and beg to no avail, until they decide to go out and get their own food!

I found this interesting short podcast Earbirding, about birds that features the calls. This edition is about the Great Horned Owl and has recordings of what I heard.

I will have my iPhone handy tonight in case it happens again, I'll quickly shoot some video to capture the sound.

I wish my kids could have heard it but they were in a deep sleep.

Here is a great webpage with many photos of owlets and their mother nesting. In this photo journal the mother first leaves the nest on May 19.

Note: This was heard at my home in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Houston Here We Come

I'll cut right to the chase.

We are thrilled! My husband has been offered a job in Texas and we are moving!

The worry about an uncertain future is over and our sights are set on closing one chapter of our life, and moving on to the next.

I'll continue to be a mother-at-home and the kids will continue to be homeschooled. Connecticut is a great state to homeschool in but Texas is even better. It's easier to homeschool there than here, with zero ambiguity in the homeschool law and they have no wishy-washy "suggested procedure" in a "guideline" attached to a law like Connecticut does. Additionally, Texas has a large number of homeschoolers. I am happy to go to a place where homeschooling is more commonplace and where it is more socially acceptable.

It's not an immediate shift in lifestyle though. My husband is moving there now by himself and I and the kids are staying behind in order to prepare the house to sell (including overseeing some painting and work on the house) and to pack up. I have a lot of work to do, starting with decluttering as we will most likely purchase a smaller home with next to no storage.

I have a lot of work to do now and I'm already busy doing it. I plan to try to keep blogging but if it gets spotty I hope you will understand.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Financial Decision Made Six Months Ago

My husband and I had just finished the last of the prep work on Christmas Eve, putting the stockings and presents out for the kids, and we'd just gone to bed when my husband chose to share a decision with me. He felt if he didn't have a job in this area paying a certain amount necessary to continue funding this lifestyle, that by February first, we'd put the house on the market in order to downsize. We wanted to get out from under our mortgage debt and also to save money in property taxes, which have gone up 60% in the last ten years; the taxes have risen in a higher proportion than our income and faster and higher than the cost of living index.

I found having this discussion on Christmas Eve to be quite upsetting to say the least. I felt sick to my stomach then and it started a new stressful chapter in my life that I'll call "Feeling Unworthy".

It was a rough winter here weather-wise and we ended up not being able to put the house on the market on the original date we'd planned on. On that date the houses were still buried under a couple of feet of snow and had thick ice on the roof. That was not ideal real estate selling time to say the least.

I found it a hard adjustment to feel we would have to leave this home that I love so much. I knew I would miss this land, these woods and everything that I love about this place: the wild birds, the creatures, my garden, and the trees. In the time I've lived here I've taught myself more about nature and botany, whereas my former knowledge was about cultivated gardening. I was sad about leaving the sunsets and the quiet peace and the nice space that living on three acres allowed.

It was a crappy feeling to feel that we "had" to leave due to finances. It gives a sense of rejection to look around at the neighbors and feel "we're no longer worthy of being here but they are". To live here in this town comes with a financial cost, and if you can't afford it, you're out. Maybe this town is different because we're a small town and there really is not much diversity; it's not like other places where you can live in a town and there's a range of living options and a range of people living there that go from lower income brackets to wealthy levels. This is not just a "white bread" as in Wonder bread town, it's a fancy artisian bakery made bread type of town.

I was reminded of an article I used last semester in my current events homeschool co-op class that was about a study about the amount of money a family earns versus their happiness level. It was said that a person measures their state of affairs based against their own neighbors. If they were doing fine like the neighbors they felt happy, regardless of the actual income level earned. If they were doing better than their neighbor they felt great. If they felt they were doing worse than their neighbors they felt terrible even if their income was higher than someone living elsewhere who made less than they did.

The article seemed to want to peg a number onto a happiness level and they said that generally once a family is over $70K a year it goes with the neighbor comparison thing, that the actual income earned has no correlation with happiness. Those living with less than $70K felt more of a daily financial struggle that contributed to them feeling unhappy and worrying about more basic survival.

Thinking about us versus our neighbors, I didn't let myself get envious per se or angry with my neighbors, I didn't get into an "us vs. them" situation. You never really know what goes on behind your neighbor's doors. The truth is I know for a fact that some of my neighbors are not doing so well either, or may be even worse off than us. Two are in a terrible situation with their jobs, having been forced to take a pay cut while being made to work more hours. One family has been hours away from having a foreclosure house auction, not once but twice. One family has had mujust ltiple failed businesses. Some here are doing great or keeping at the status quo, and there are others I don't know anything about.

Rather than feeling jealous of others, I began to feel the allure of having zero debt. The idea was so enticing! I also started realizing how we do not utilize all this square footage so it's really not necessary to have a house this size. I now dream of the day we live in our own home mortgage-free, that's my new idea of bliss. I'm over the idea of having a house as a status symbol.

We thought if we could sell the house we would enjoy living debt-free. We'd rent a place, a small place. Perhaps we'd temporarily live with a relative (a scary thought for me as I suddenly realized how important independence is). My deceased grandmother's former four bedroom home was vacant, so that was a possibility also. My father offered to rent it to me (he's not the giving away for free type, even with his own children).

It was been hard though, thinking we would have to leave our home combined with not having a job and not knowing where we would wind up, or when. That's why I shifted my mindset to being open to moving anywhere in the country or even in the world in order to have steady income. I started to think that I'd rather move away to wherever a job is in order to have a weekly paycheck and be all together as a family than stay in this state without income.

At one point my husband was in the running for a job in Dubai! We seriously considered that as a real option due to necessity. After researching life in Dubai more I thought I really would prefer to remain in America to enjoy the freedoms I am accustomed to as an American woman. I was ready and willing to go to any state in the nation just to remain state-side.

I like to think of America as being a place where people are usually moving upward and onward. If you follow the rules of our society, if you are a good citizen, then good things will come to you. I thought that if you work hard at your job and do well at your job performance then the career should always be in a good place, either staying at a good spot, a nice plateau or even better, getting promoted and growing and evolving over time to better and better positions and earning more and more income.

The truth is that it doesn't always work out that way. You can do all the right things and good things don't always come to you. You can be qualified for a position and not get the job. You can work hard to perform and then hear that no one in the company is getting a raise that year. Governments can make policy changes that affect your career field and change the way business is done, for the worse for the workers.

Life is not always fair all the time, that's a fact, it's a sad fact, but it's a true fact nonetheless.

It's also a fact that sometimes life throws challenges at you and you just have to run with it. Sometimes old plans have to be changed to make way for newly revised plans.

I've been thinking about what really makes a person happy and what our family's priorities are. I feel our number one priority is to remain intact as a family and to be together. No matter what kind of place we live in (a small rented apartment, a small home, or whatever) we will be together and we'll make the best of it. This home we're in now may just wind up being the best house we'll ever have lived in, if that's the way it pans out, that is okay. What's more important is our family, that we are healthy and that we are together.

I also thought about our homeschool journey and wondered if it was coming to a close. I looked at what jobs were available for me and considered going back to work full time. The option for schooling then was just one thing: to use public school. Therefore where we wound up living would affect what school my kids enrolled into. I suddenly felt as if perhaps I'd taken my freedom to not work for granted and maybe had not made the best of my years homeschooling my kids. That shifted my perspective and I vowed to make more of each day that I had with my kids. With that in mind I changed our schedule to be home more doing 1:1 lessons with my kids and let go of doing some stressful activities.

In these last six months, I have been trying to keep my husband's spirits up so that he would be in a good frame of mind for the job search. I was trying to have my kids remain in a good stae of mind too, lest they not develop anxiety about finances or worry about a move to who knows where.

I've had a lot on my mind in the last six months. I didn't blog all of this stuff because I felt it was too personal to air. Today I choose to share it because I think that in general people in our society tend to hide certain feelings and ideas from others. People have no problem sharing the good things or bragging about something they just bought but they often won't share their worries or tell when they are having financial challenges, or tell about their choice to downscale their budget.

When I started feeling sorry for myself, I would remind myself of how good my life actually is when looked from the big picture perspective. I reminded myself the good husband and kids that I have. I know some people who are really struggling with bigger issues than just unemployment, a hopefully temporary state of affairs. Sadly, some people deal with more permanent problems such as a health crisis, a ruined marriage or death of a loved one.

I got through the tough days by telling myself perhaps good things would come tomorrow. Maybe a job would be landed and we'd look forward to a new life someplace else rather than just moving out of here while being jobless. When I had a bad day I looked forward to bedtime knowing I may wake up in a great mood after a deep night's sleep. That usually did happen, which I was grateful for.

A Bit Out of Order

A caution for my regular blog readers and personal friends: you may find my upcoming posts confusing, I apologize. I am getting ready to publish some posts that were written in the past but that I'd chosen not to publish back then. I hope this isn't too confusing.

I am busy on a project that will be revealed to everyone here soon, which some of you may already know about from in real life discussions or via other Internet communications. Until that revelation I hope my posts don't confuse you with back and forth in time references.

Also due to the busy-ness I'm having with the giant project I will be doing less writing of posts on the same day they are published. I am going to try to blog when I have free time and will set them to auto-publish in the upcoming days. However, Blogger is having technical problems with that feature and some days instead of publishing at the set time, Blogger moves the post back into the draft folder, so the auto-publish fails, and I don't realize it until later.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tom Thumb Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature
Author: George Sullivan

Publication: Clarion Books, February 2011

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

Summary Statement: Engaging Biography That Handles a Sensitive Topic Well -- Great for a Read Aloud

Published for readers 10-14, this biography of Tom Thumb (born 1838) is engaging and enlightening. After drawing us in with information about who Tom Thumb was, the author quickly shifts gears to address what dwarfism is and about life in the mid-1800s and tells us what freak shows were, and shows us other examples of commonly seen “freaks”. After having told us enough to satisfy our first questions (since the idea of freak shows may surprise if not shock the kids of the 2010s), the book tells about the life of Charles Stratton, whose stage name was Tom Thumb.

The book also tells a fair amount about P.T. Barnum, the man who discovered four year old Stratton and offered him a job as a stage performer. Since Barnum and Stratton’s lives were so enmeshed, we also follow the rise and trials and tribulations of Barnum’s career. The book discusses Tom Thumb’s entire lifespan and wraps up by sharing what happened to his widow, Lavinia, after his passing. At the end it tells the evolution of entertainment field options for dwarfs at the time shortly after his passing, which included Lilliputia at Coney Island and new ventures into silent movie acting in Hollywood.

Three things make this book outstanding:

First, it is competently engaging and interesting throughout, a page turner and a book that you don’t want to put down as you are truly interested in what was going to happen next. It is paced well and has so many facts but the facts are given in an interesting way, we can’t help but learn about life in those times, the threat of fire, and other things. This biography is as engaging as a fun fiction read usually is. The book has obviously been well researched and there are references to the source material in the back of the book. It also contains historical photographs which help bring the words on the page to life.

Second, Sullivan (an author who has published over a hundred books but whose work I’d not ever read), does a fantastic job of handling the difficult topic of what would be labeled as exploitation of a dwarf. Just the mention of a freak show today is enough to raise the hackles of many Americans but the author is gentle and shows the happy life and positive outlook felt by Charles Stratton, how he was in control and took advantage of his physical condition to become a wealthy celebrity.

Third but not least important is the tone of the book is not patronizing. The author does not ‘talk down’ to his child readers.

The book is respectful and sensitive. It is clear that Charles Stratton was not a victim or abused or mistreated, he was in control and overall he enjoyed his life. Although late in his life he yearned for peaceful relaxation, when he chose to go back on the road (under his own management) to perform more it was because his wife wanted to, and it was a private matter he negotiated as married couples still do today. It seems that he performed longer than he’d wanted to in an act of self-sacrifice to satisfy her wishes so she could fulfill her entertainment career goals.

Who Should Read This Book?

The book is marketed for the 10-14 year old audience but I’m not quite sure why. The font is larger than is typical and it has more than usual white space on the page, two factors that make for easier reading by kids younger than 10 which is also ideal for readers with certain learning disabilities such as visual processing issues, eye tracking problems or even dyslexia. Other than mentioning the alcohol that is consumed (a true fact) and the general issue of people with various physical conditions that participated in freak shows and the issue of exploitation, I feel the content is fine for younger readers.

The sensitive issues in the book regarding humans in “freak shows” or people such as Barnum profiting from a person’s physical condition could be a platform for discussing that important topic with younger children. While some parents may worry that their sensitive child may not be able to handle such a sensitive topic I disagree; I feel that the book is so empathetic and the author handled a difficult topic so well that the book could be used as device to gently introduce these ideas to younger kids if the parent or teacher (who also read the book) discusses these things.

I do not recommend just shoving the book into a child’s hands and letting them read it independently as the book’s message would be more effective if the child could discuss the topics with an adult. Therefore I do recommend this book for younger readers. Advanced readers who love nonfiction reading, might be happy to have read this book, and even kids with good vocabularies as young as age 7 or 6.

It is perfect for a family read-aloud and discussing things along the way, or as a read-aloud in a classroom, with classroom discussion.

Not only is this obviously a good book about dwarfism it is a historical book that makes sense to read when studying this period in history as a good deal about daily life in the 1800s comes through.

I rate this biography nonfiction book 5 stars = I Love It.

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

Blogger Was Down

What a surprise to hear Blogger and Google on the news today discussing the site's shut down for, at that time, almost 24 hours. The site was read-only. This caused a delay in my publishing. Blogger's back up and I'm back!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Northern Flicker Seen

My thirteen year old son looked out the front window and exclaimed, "Mom! Come quick! Look at that bird!"

I ran to see then dashed to grab my camera and began shooting through the window's glass.

I decided to try to get a clearer shot and opened the front door which startled the bird. It flew to the oak tree. Using my 300 mm lens I shot this. It didn't like being out in the open so it stayed just a few seconds, I was only able to take this one photo.

I didn't know what type of bird this was and researched it on the Internet. This is the first time I've ever seen this bird and I've identified it as a Northern Flicker. When I heard the call on the Cornell website I was happy because I've been wondering what bird makes that sound for years. I hear the Norther Flickers often while in my yard.

As part of the homeschool lifestyle after I figured this out I shared the info with the son who was home at the time (including the sound recording). Later on I talked it over with my younger son who was there for the "in real life" viewing.

Photos taken by ChristineMM on 5/07/11 in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Monday, May 09, 2011

It's Lacrosse Season

My younger son is on the right.

One of the things keeping us busy is that it is lacrosse season again. My younger son is playing on a travel team for the second year.  Presently the team practices or plays games 3-5 times a week. This year it seems to me they are getting together less; perhaps the field closures due to all the rain we've had is the reason?

In preparation for this season my son did four different clinics spanning from September through March, practicing almost every week in that time. Since he didn't do any other sport in the fall or winter he had time to do the extra lacrosse clinics. He still has a lot to learn but so do all of these ten year olds. Even those who have good individual skills need to learn more about being a good team player and they need to improve their game play strategy.

My son is happy to be on the team and is looking forward to playing each year. The road has been bumpy with some minor bullying and taunting which has been stopped after I asked the head coach to address the situation. There are positive and negative influences from the other kids; I don't seek to shelter my son from the real world so I'm trying to teach him to deal with the nonsense and to face it and to cope with it, I don't want to just pull him off the team due to what I feel is just "typical behavior" of children (or boys). Some of my friends have suggested we quit and shelter our son from what they think is "imperfect behavior" but I don't think that's a good idea. Honestly I don't think there is any such thing as a perfectly behaving child, homeschooled or not, religious or not; parents who think their child is without a flaw of some kind are probably viewing their kids through jaded eyes.

My son's coach is already psyching these fifth graders up to compete on the public high school team, the idea being to learn good playing skills in these middle school years and be ready to compete seriously in grade nine.  My son loves the idea of playing on a high school team, so now he's asking to go to public high school in town so he can see his LAX buddies all day at school and then to keep playing with them in the high school years.

I am not even commenting on that request as honestly I don't know if we'll even be living in this town (or state) then. My husband and I feel that school is for learning and academic education and so I struggle with the idea of choosing to attend a school or public school just to access playing a team sport at that specific school. We feel if given the choice to homeschool or use school, or if we have an option of which school to use, we'd decide based on the quality of the academics as the top qualifier, not based on the sports they have available or who has a better team for a specific sport.

Juiceman Stick Blender Product Review by ChristineMM

Juiceman HBOOOO1S Stainless Steel Blender and Accessories

What drew me to try this hand blender was the high watt, 550 watts to be specific. Some stick blenders are weak and have little power. I was also interested in its metal construction which is a sign of high quality construction. It is NOT flimsy plastic.

I rate this product 5 stars = I Love It because it suits my purposes very well. I use a stick blender for blending soups and sauces to a puree. I often cook in bulk so put the blender inside the pot or large bowl. I would not use that small bowl as it doesn't serve my needs.

Besides multiple speeds of blending it has a power boost button.

This device also serves to whip things liquids such as turning cream into whipped cream. You need to use the cup that it comes with and the whisk attachment. I tried using the whisk in place of a hand whisk for blending milk, cocoa powder and corn starch in a bowl and that was a disaster. I made an error in judgement with that, not realizing the high power of the blender gives such a fast whisking speed that it really can only be used with the cup that is provided. I take responsibility for my mistake.

There is a bowl that comes with a food processing blade (one blade type is provided). This would allow anything to be pureed in the bowl, such as a sauce or soup. Also, raw vegetables or nuts could be put into the bowl and processed to chop or puree. I almost was going to say this could replace a typical food processor (I use a Cuisinart which is much more expensive than this device) however it really can't. A regular food processor is more versatile. This has no opening in the top to drizzle in liquid such as when I made homemade salad dressing or homemade skin lotion, both require combining liquids with oils by drizzling to make an emulsion. With this, you must put the food in the bowl then put the lid on then do the processing and that's it. It isn't meant to add in more ingredients as it is being blended. Also, there are other options that a typical food processor can do such as slice vegetables or fruits or other actions with different blades. This has one blade.

I still rate this 5 stars = I Love It as it is a high powered stick blender with sturdy metal construction for a low price compared to some other models currently available. I recommend that you keep an eye on both the price and the motor's power when shopping for a stick blender and also note if the construction is plastic or metal. Stick blenders can run the gamut, so be careful to find one that suits your needs and has a right price for you.

Disclosure: I received this product from the Amazon.com Vine program for the purpose of writing a review. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor was I under obligation to blog it. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the mothers in the world, I wish you a Happy Mother's Day!

Mothering is the hardest job I've ever done in my life. It has its rewards but often the hard work doesn't have immediate rewards so the going can get tough at times. It's a thankless job, one that I can only hope is appreciated by the father of your children; he is the one most likely to see the fruit of your efforts and hopefully he gives you credit where credit is due. I hope someday your children will appreciate all you have done for them too, although some don't have a real sense for parenting until they become parents themselves.

I hope you are enjoying the journey of motherhood!

Enjoy your day.

Altus Athletic Foam Roller Product Review by ChristineMM

Altus Athletic 36 inch foam roller

The first time I tried a foam roller, it was a different brand, one owned by my yoga instructor acquaintence. I loved how you can stretch your back muscles and how it seems to put the spine into alignment.

I was excited to test this Altus model for Amazon Vine. It is more squishy than the other one I tried. This is like one of those swimming pool noodle floating things but a bit more dense than the pool noodles. I didn't see a weight limit on the material that came with the foam roller. When my husband tried it, it bent inward and went out of shape, permanently. He is over 200 pounds. So there is one problem with it that knocked the rating down to 4 stars from 5. If this can't stand a certain weight on it, the product should be labeled as such.

The product information says "assembly required". Just to clarify, that's not accurate. It's a one piece thing.

Generally speaking about this latest exercise tool, I love it. It can be used to stretch the back and various muscles as well as used in Pilates workouts. I can do back stretches and massage type things that I have not been able to do without equipment. This is even better than the good things that can be done for the back with a balance ball.

There are plenty of free exercises shared on the Internet and even free videos to watch online if you are curious what this is actually used for or if you need ideas about other ways to try it.

I vote this brand's model at 4 stars = I Like It.

Disclosure: I received one of these from Amazon.com for the Vine program, to do a product review on it. I was not paid to write the review, I was not obligated to write a positive review and I was not forced to blog it. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

My Son's Perfectionist Statement

My ten year old son is a perfectionist. We have discussed perfectionism and its pitfalls. I am trying to get him to reform his ways. I know of the trials a perfectionist can have in life since I am one of them. I've been trying to reform myself for years.

Just now my son asked if being a perfectionist is a good or bad thing.

I didn't want to use the label of good or bad, so I replied that I think it is a hard thing to be, that living with that mindset is not easy.

He replied that he thinks that being a perfectionist is a waste of one's time. He then said that he imagines a perfectionist on his deathbed about to die who is only thinking, "Oh! This sheet is not perfectly lined up!"

Welcome to my world. I get these philosophical musings and random odd reflections all day long. Well at least it keeps me entertained.

(I do appreciate my time with my kids. If I were not an at home mom and homeschooling I'd miss out on such fun.)

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Readers Are Still Reading and the Thinkers Are Still Thinking

Below is the comment I left in response to Susan Wise Bauer's blog post Reflections of Education Disappearing Words Part One: The Bad News.

I don't believe the book is dying. Instead the always non-book readers are still not reading, instead they are content to hear the info watered down and second hand and they like to just trust that what they are told is accurate.

Also the non-curious continue to not seek deeper answers or more information as they don't care, they are not curious to understand more than the snippets they hear from the media or even from a relative or friend or what they see on a Facebook status post.

Meanwhile the book readers WILL and DO continue to read books. And the book buyers continue to buy books (some may be a digital reader version but the ink on paper bound book is not dead yet).

Those of us who like to communicate with others such as by talking to our friends about an idea or an issue we read about will continue to be met with resistance. We know what friends don't give a hoot and which will at least entertain us with a discussion (even though I'd like them to go read the book I'm telling them about they usually will not).

Those of us who like to talk or share and who like to connect with like minds are sometimes using our personal blogs or leaving blog comments elsewhere (on sites of like minded people usually) or they are doing Facebook status posts and links to articles or books that discuss the topic and they may be tweeting on Twitter about it or post emails to a YahooGroup. We who like to discuss and share what moves us are just now also using digital media to do so, where pre-computers we were forced to limit our dialogue to those in our family or our small circle of friends or co-workers. Or, having met resistance after having tried to talk with those we know IRL we just kept quiet and let the ideas swirl in our heads.

You said:
"Now we are facing a new great shift in media–from a print culture to a digital culture. This too will change us.

And that is a very, very, bad thing indeed, because it will make us a violent, distracted, ignorant people, easily manipulated, drowning in trivialities and susceptible to totalitarianism."
My response is I don't think much has changed except we may now all indulge ourselves in doing things like watching a video clip on YouTube of something someone told us the President said but we didn't believe could be true, or we may watch some silly amateur video clip on YouTube or we may laugh at silly websites such as those that impose improper grammar sentences onto photographs of cats or a site that shows crazy clothing worn by patrons of a certain store.

I don't think much has changed, sorry.

When we hear statistics of the number of adults who do not read books after high school graduation or the low numbers of adults who don't read nonfiction or anything more substantial than a pulp fiction beach read chick lit or spy novel, does this not show that we have always had non-book readers and that we still do have a number of book readers?

The readers are still reading. The thinkers are still thinking. But the ones who like to discuss have new digital roads to travel down, that's all.