Friday, September 30, 2011

The Need for a Break (Every Day)

I really pushed myself physically during the move prep. It was an emotional time full of strees. Thus body and mind were overloaded. Then there was the move and then the unpacking followed immediately by sports team start-up and Boy Scout joining and homeschooling academics beginning.

There was so much to do that there was no shutting off. I was not allowing myself much of a break from anything. Peeks at Facebook and Twitter done in between homeschool lessons are not the same as shutting off. I was barely watching TV so there was no escape from that. My book reading increased mainly because now I had no TV in the master bedoom so would unwind and escape into fiction stories.

I can be an intense person. To be intense all day, every day, without a real break does bad things to me. My attitude gets bad. I can be miserable to be around. I start to resent things and my anger builds, then needs an outlet. I seldom snap but God help you if you are the one to push my buttons at the wrong moment.

It is not a crime to want a diversion like time to knit, or read something that does not upset or drain a person (as the news does to me or as some nonfiction books do). It is not bad to indulge in some silly TV instead of using every viewing minute to catch up with the news or to learn factual educational or enlightening information.

Not only did I need to start having some more fun and doing some things to get my brain to slow down and to unwind I needed parameters and limits around my day. I can't be "on duty" watching over homeschool lessons from before breakfast to dinner time then juggle night appointments for the kids then cram laundry or house cleaning in right up to and past a reasonable bedtime.

If feeling stress is bad for an adult, it must be bad for kids too. Running kids ragged pushing them all day with nonstop classes and other appointments is not good, it doesn't create a healthy mind. This makes good common sense but so many parents (me included sometimes) put this aside in order to strive and push academics on our kids, or to push other "good pursuits".

I am shortening our homeschool day so we all can know that there is an end in sight and that we will have a mental break at X time of the day. 

As of this week I am increasing my fluff TV viewing time. I am going to continue reading fiction for pleasure instead of mostly reading nonfiction to learn from. I am going to pick a knitting project and start in on it (it has been way too long since I've last knitted). I also am going to keep teaching myself to cook new Vietnamese dishes.

I am not going to apologize for pursuing these activities or diversions as some may call them. If you want to look down upon me for watching Millionaire Matchmaker or one of the Real Housewives series then go right ahead because I'm doing what I want to do and am not looking for anyone's approval. I'm not committing a crime, I'm just watching some reality TV for goodness sake. Give me a break.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Latest Autodidact Project: Vietnamese Cooking

Upon arriving in Texas a few months before the kids and I did, my husband discovered Vietnamese food. We have very few Vietnamese restaurants in Connecticut but there are a large number of restaurants in Houston. There is a huge Vietnamese population here. My husband had pho (noodle soup) for the first time and quickly became obsessed. He introduced me to pho when I visited him in June to pick a rental property to live in.

(Pho is a large bowl of soup, in America it is served as a main entree. The larger bowls can be 40 ounces! It has broth, onions, and usually meat(s). You add bean sprouts, fresh herbs: cilantro, culantro, and thai basil as well as fresh lime wedges and hot green peppers. It has thin rice noodles in it.The soup is complex and fragrant thanks to all the fresh aromatic herbs.)

When the kids and I arrived, and when my husband moved out of where he was and moved up to where we are now, we started trying out Vietnamese restaurants in this area. They vary highly in quality. There are a number of so-called fusion restaurants which in reality means they serve Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese from the same kitchen but none of it is any good. We now avoid any place called "fusion" like the plague. We have not found great pho near our home.

Thus, my husband suggested we start to cook our own pho. Hey, why not we cook many other things from scratch! Due to the large Vietnamese population here, there are markets to get all the specialty foods. About a half hour drive way is a giant market that sells things I never knew existed! If I can cook American soup and Italian soup why couldn't I cook Vietnamese soup?

I went to and started surfing for cookbooks. I found one that had great customer reviews and based solely on those I ordered the book. Just the beef pho recipe has been worth the price of the book.

So, my first project since arriving in Texas to do something interesting and fun and personally enriching for myself, has been to read about Vietnamese cooking and to teach myself the recipes in this book and to explore the Vietnamese market. I was so exhaused from intenese unpacking and home organization plus trying to meet people in the homeschool network plus planning the homeschool year out and then starting in on teaching. I needed something creative to do just for myself. I needed something new to stretch my brain and my senses.

After that first trip to the market and teaching myself to cook the complicated beef pho recipe, and tasting how delicious it was, I was rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to tackle the regular stresses and pressures associated with homeschooling, parenting, and settling down in a new state.

Perhaps I can blog details of this Vietnamese cooking journey in other blog posts soon.

The book I really am enjoying is called Into the Vietnamese Kitchen Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen. After I try a few more recipes I may write a review on the book.

(Due to move related challenges I cannot download photos from my camera, so I apologize. I'd wanted to share photos of my beef pho, but I can't just yet.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Twist on Flashcards

People learn differently.

Thanks to technology we can easily create flashcards in different ways. I was thinking about the SAT vocabulary review flash cards I saw for sale at a big box bookstore that are all done up in the form of software ready to be installed on an iPhone or iTouch then viewed when a person has time to kill. It is neat and tidy and portable and accessible. However, one way I learn is by writing things out by hand. The act of the handwriting helps form it in my brain. If I don't take notes or write it out, I won't learn it as easily using just the read to review flashcard method of studying.

My son the older on who is a strong visual-spatial learner does not learn by writing things out. In fact the act of copying over is challenging and causes problems as sometimes mistakes are made when transposing. He has symptoms of dysgraphia but I have never had him tested.

Last week I had an idea and had him begin. He is using Microsoft Power Point to create visually colorful flash cards with biology terms I want him to memorize as part of his biology class and to help prepare for the SAT II test he'll take in the spring. He could jazz them up with images if that was necessary but so far these are terms that do not conjure up visual images.

I don't yet know if this is effective or not but we're giving it a try. I'd never heard of anyone doing that before, this just came to me out of the blue.

Sometimes in the course of working with information during a project, the way we have to manipulate the information around gels it in our mind. Maybe in the creation of the visually stimulating Power Point presentation the words will gel rather than sticking due to the review of it.

This is just one of the non old-fashioned study skills methods we are using.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tiger Swallowtail on Climbing Hydrangea

Tiger Swallowtail on Climbing Hydrangea blossom in peak bloom at my Connecticut home on June 4, 2011. The fragrance of the flower is heady and strong for a few days during peak bloom time. On humid days the fragrance fills the air and hangs in it.

 Vine at the base of my White Oak tree. These climb high into the tree and filled the view from the master bedroom. I loved how looking out my second story bedroom window revealed lots of blossoms, not your typical scene!

Fast moving butterfly, with flapping wings, a challenge to catch with the camera.

This butterfly challenged me. I chased it all over the patch trying to capture its image before it finally escaped me by flying forty feet to the other vine which has climbed up over forty feet into a tall white oak tree. It kept going higher and higher to escape me, which it finally did.

Butterfly flew higher than me!

Looking up into the White Oak. Sunlight filters through leaves and blossoms.

When we met the former homeowners they told us about the climbing hydrangea, how they'd purchased it and babied it for years until it finally took hold and took off. They said they had high hopes for it but it is so hard to get started once transplanted. I was reading about the vine in June and it said that it spends a few years doing only underground growth, then a few years doing slow vine growth then it takes off. "It sleeps, it creeps, then it leaps." I wish they could see how the plants they purchased did finally take off.

I already miss these lovely ornamental plants which live on our property in Connecticut. They put on quite a show!

I also found out that pruned branches' bark can be used to make paper and that parts of the plant are edible. (If you are interested in that please research it on your own, as those details I am not including in this blog post.)

Harvested blossoms

Blossoms infusing in olive oil (for 48 hours).

With the finished infused olive oil I made a skin creme with no extra added scent. The natural scent of the blossoms had infused into the oil. This fragrance was strong enough to clearly detect it while using the creme. When I use the creme while in Texas it brings back memories of June in Connecticut.

I miss Connecticut and our life there. I hope that soon I will come to know the plants and this place we are living in now, and that we make a good life here, so I can learn to appreciate the places and people of Texas too.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not a Gap and My Limitation with Homeschooling

I was worried because I'd thought my older son lacked some basic knowledge about literary analysis. Come to find out, when I tried to teach him, he already knew it. He was annoyed with me for trying to re-teach what he'd already learned last year at a homeschool co-op and he informed me so.

One pitfall of outside classes and homeschool co-ops SOMETIMES is the parent who ultimately is in control of the overall scope and sequence or whatever you want to call their entire education, sometimes is not told every single thing that actually was taught in the class we picked out and paid for. Homeschool moms who volunteer their time are busy enough doing the planning and teaching and don't always share everything with the parent. I get it. Then again, we are trying to mesh what is taught at home with what is learned elsewhere so a good sense of the content is not asking much, it seems.

I have been looking into options for co-ops or paid outside classes in our new location. Since there are a lot more homeschoolers here you'd think these opportunities would abound. I have so far figured out that there seems to be more availablity of individual classes hired out for a fee. This only makes sense since the demand for services has created a market. Where the market is too small for such things to exist, they do not exist.

What I have found, for example is, from 1pm to 2pm on Wednesdays a student may learn Chinese, but that's it, rather than being at a building for a whole day doing six or seven classes and having classes for multiple age ranges and also two or more selections per hour so that a student could choose from among a list. It is a pain in the neck to stop studies at home to run over there for one hour while the other kid wastes time then run back home to try to do more studies. The bad thing about the hired out classes taught by non-parent-teachers here, someone whispered to me, is that about half the time they quit part-way through the class if they get a better job doing something else or they quit for some other unshared reason. Even when the organizer of the class is a great person, she can't control the actions of outsourced teachers. When they just don't show up, the class hangs in the lurch. So I'm a bit hesitant now...

Well back to the short discussion I had with my son, for once it was nice to realize that my son knew what I'd wanted him to know and that my fretting over this "gap" was a non-issue! Now we can get on to more meatier topics for the class.

I am such a perfectionist and do worry sometimes that I'll not do a good-enough job with my kids. However there are good moments and real life examples of how my kids really are turning out not just alright but reall well and that is enough to keep me on the homeschooling path (for now at least).

I did come to the conclusion the other day that for reasons having to do entirely with me, I would prefer not to teach every single academic subject to my kids and don't think I can do a high quality job with it for this entire school year. If we can get through this schedule until the next round of outside classes starts (I assume that is in January) it may be a miracle. On some days the stress of the move combined with the stress of homeschooling has me teetering right on the edge...

It is good to know one's limitations. The limitations of the homeschool parent are not always about not knowing enough about the academic content, sometimes the limitations have to do with personality, group dynamics, and relationships. I have always said that it is my opinion that a parent's first responsibility is to be a good parent and secondarily to be a good homeschool teacher (if one has chosen that path). If it gets to a point where the homeschooling is ruining the family relations (or the mother's health and wellness) then the homeschooling has to end. If quitting homeschooling is what it takes to have a healthy and happy family relationship then so be it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Climbing on a Sculpture

Flashback to 2005 when my sons were aged 5 and 8 and went climbing on a sculpture on the lawn of the Westport Public Library in Connecticut. (Climbing it is not prohibited or I'd never have let them.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Example of Teen Defiance Impeding Learning

Here is a negative story, one that some homeschoolers would never share as it shows imperfection of one's homeschool.

I gave my fourteen year old son an assignment to read six pages that discuss literary analysis. We were to discuss the topic and then to discuss Paul Revere's Ride regarding setting. My son has to wear reading glasses or he gets "tapped out" neurologically and gets "brain fatigue" if he doesn't use them, thanks to his visual processing disorder. However lately he rarely wears them and I have to remind him.

I asked him to put his glasses on. He pointed to the coffee table that I'd tidied up yesterday which was nearly empty and said they were missing because I did something with them. I explained when I moved the laptops off the table and put them away there were no glasses there. I'd never touched them. I asked him to go check his bedroom for them (where he does before bed reading).

I left him to read. He was sitting on the couch (where he reads often and indeed he had something in his hand he was reading that I thought was the book I handed him), and I got busy on my computer reading emails.

After the allotted time, I then asked to sit down with him and do the discussion. He tells me he never read it which is my fault as I lost his eyeglasses. He tried to start an argument with me about how I lost the glasses. I stopped that in its tracks and asked if he checked his bedroom as I had asked him to do? He said no and then started back talking and raised his voice and was about to go off on a rant. I stopped him and said to come with me to his room and we'd find them as I bet they were there.

The eyeglasses were right on the nightstand next to the book he is reading. He laughed and turned away and left his room.

I told him that it was not funny, that it was disrespectful, the whole thing was disrespectful and hurtful, for me to be blamed for doing something I never did and that his defiance was a time-waster and now we were behind on the lesson.

Now nearly an hour of peak learning time has gone out the window. Soon I need to leave for an appointment which was hard to get, it's just a hair cut for me but it's been over eight weeks since my last cut and I look ragged and a mess.

Crap like that is so draining to me, especially when there are multiple episodes of such a thing each day from each of my two kids. It is hard to stay on track with momentum when kids are not doing their work as assigned and instead pretend to do it while doing something else altogether.

A certain level of trust needs to exist between the homeschool mother and her kids. We had this trust in the past. The only thing that seems to be eroding it lately is the change with puberty and this teenage behavior. Lucky for me my eleven year old is not in the same phase yet but he sometimes creates problems (like right now he is sitting within viewing distance about fifteen feet away but I think he is sneaking at the laptop playing a computer game so long as he can hear me typing he knows he is safe to sneak). I think I need to change his seat so I can view his screen just beyond my own screen. (Okay I just made that change this should be interesting.) I can't stand over my kids all day long!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bedtime Story, 2003

Parents: time flies. Raising little ones takes a lot of energy. Active parenting is exhausting, I know. It is worth it though. Take the time to enjoy it, no matter how hard it seems when you are in the moment.

Here is a photo of me and my sons in early 2003, I am reading them a story in the evening. My boys were two and five at the time and you can see their eyes are getting drowsy. I do not know why they are not yet in their PJs, that's odd. But the next photos taken that evening show them in their PJs jumping on my husband and laughing hysterically! Now that is something to see!

(I can't believe I'm putting a photo of me in my nightgown on the Internet. Whatever. It's not obscene.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dragon Boat Races in Two Days

A local community event here in The Woodlands, Texas is the annual Dragon Boat Races. Our family will attend and cheer on my older son who is rowing on a team. It should be a hoot.

Wonderstruck Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Wonderstruck

Author: Brian Selznick

Genre: Children’s Book ages 9 and up

Publication: Scholastic, September 2011

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

Summary Statement:  Selznick’s Unique Storytelling Delivery Combining Illustration with Text is Fantastic!

Within a couple of hours after its delivery (as soon as I was able) I dove into Wonderstruck and couldn’t stop until I finished it. I loved Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret which combined visual storytelling with hand drawn illustration with text to deliver an action packed suspenseful story, and I was happy that he created a second very similar book with Wonderstruck.

Wonderstruck uses a twist on the storytelling method of illustration combination with text. Instead of using those two methods to tell one story, as with Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck has two stories running through it, one told all in text set in 1977 and the other told all in illustration in 1927. The two plot lines converge and meld at the climax, when all our questions are resolved.

The book also deals with Deaf culture, something that is not a common theme in books for children aged 9-12. I think even young readers will feel empathy and gain insight as to what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world.

The publisher states this book is for ages nine and up. I think that the story is a bit more mature, being a coming of age tale, it is about a twelve year old boy on a journey to find some answers that will help him feel more whole, which is usually target marketed to readers aged 12 and up (young adult genre).  I am not sure that nine year old kids will relate to the inner journey aspect of the tale, it may be more emotionally deep than they can relate to or want to relate to. However the idea of being a runaway living in a New York City museum and the solving-a-mystery format may be enough excitement to hook the younger kids in.

The parent in me feels torn though, about the issue of how that child was conceived and the choice his mother made, and why she made it. Those are big topics that do not usually occur in books for that age range, they are more like the “problem novel” topics for ages 12 and up. I suspect the decision to target the market to ages 9 and up probably was a marketing decision made by the publisher in order to increase sales…

I loved the tale and appreciated and enjoyed the illustrations. I can only hope that Selznick continues to use this storytelling method he invented. Bravo, Brian Selznick!

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It!

If you view the publicity trailer featuring Brian Selznick’s interview you will get a sense for the illustrations in the book as well as insight into why he wanted to write this story. (My attempt to embed the video is not working.)


Read my gushing book review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret from November 2008 here.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from Amazon Vine. However I also purchased a copy of this book. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Funny Son

A logic workbook page completed by my then ten year old son in fifth grade. The kid's a funny one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kids Into Khan Academy This Week

My fourteen year old was rusty on a concept he needed to know for his Art of Problem Solving math class. I told him to go watch the Khan Academy video. Despite my recommendations to use the site before he barely has used it.

My older son found the video helpful. He noticed the login and how it can track the progress if you do problems online (like the Alcumus part of the AoPS class and also like Aleks math). He asked if he could try it and I said yes, if he opens a gmail account. So he did. He spent about two hours doing math problems. Their frequent awarding of badges and achievements is something that he really likes ("just like xBox360 game achievements").

Last night he started telling his younger brother about it and then older brother showed younger brother how it works. They also noticed you can login with your Facebook account. Then I was asked if they could set up an account for my younger son. They got sucked in and I had to boot them off the computer at nearly 10 p.m. since my younger son loved it so much.

Today my younger son asked if he could begin doing math with Khan Academy instead of Teaching Textbooks 7 which has too much frustrating review. Perhaps one of their favorite things about it compared to other programs is you don't feel penalized for life with a bad grade if you make a data entry error with your answer. Khan Academy just gives you more problems to solve and when you have solved a certain number, a streak of 10 or 20 (up to 100) then the labeling system they use on you looks like a success rather than a permanent low number grade due to a past error.

In fact if the goal is to learn, and the student does learn, then they should get a passing grade rather than being graded on every single problem they do for practice (not just being graded on tests or quizzes). The downside of Teaching Textbooks is there is a low number of problems in each lesson and even a slip of the finger on the keyboard scars you for the entire school year with a lower grade. Yes, you get two times to enter the response but for whatever reason my kids have the right answers on paper but screw up on data entry more times than any person would think a person could.

Khan Academy uses video clips that show the math problem being worked with teacher explanation with audio sound to teach a short lesson. If you login you can do problems and record answers. A map shows your progress. The system also figures out what topics you may bypass due to showing mastery of concepts.

Khan Academy is free of charge.

Khan Academy also has high school and college level economics, finance and science topics.

Writing a Literary Analysis Formula

Here is a formula for writing a literary analysis essay paper.

If one must boil things down to a certain confining stucture, there it is.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Misguided in Countless Ways" US News & World Report College Rankings

Article: Misguided in Countless Ways

by: Dodge Johnson

"Last week, U.S. News and World Report released its annual rankings of American colleges and universities, which are always an occasion for manufactured anticipation and hoopla. I confess that I wish the rankings would go away - not that this is about to happen anytime soon."


"Second, aside from the "reputational survey" - in which college presidents and important others are invited to rank large numbers of colleges (though how would they know?) - the rankings are based on empirical data. And the data that count most are largely related to admissions rather than to the experiences of students after they arrive."

Please read the rest if college issues are of interest to you, it is quite eye-opening.

Hat Tip: hs2coll Yahoo Group

Homeschoolers: I recommend the "hs2coll" and "homeschool2college" Yahoo Groups for information about homeschooling high school and about college admissions for homeschoolers.

DIY U Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: DIY U

Author: Anna Kamenetz

Publication: Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2010

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

Summary Statement: Author's Ideals Clash with American Society’s Real Life Expectations in this Snarky Attitude Book

I have procrastinated about writing this review for too long. I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews hence my avoidance of writing this. This review was at risk of being thousands of words long as I sought to justify my opinions with quotes from the book. I have decided to put aside my rambling writing ways and just get down to brass tacks.

My first issue with Kamenetz’s book is she has an idea of what she’s like to see happen (increased use of community college and online schools) but the real world is not in alignment with her. Thus if a student follows this advice they may get the shaft when they try to seek employment as they will not have done what mainstream America feels is right or best. 

Ask me how I know this: I am a non-traditional college graduate and faced challenges in my career despite a strong track record with my job experience (proven with stellar performance evaluations and recommendations by managers) but I didn’t have a degree from the “right places” and was told so to my face.  Instead, they hired inexperienced workers from outside who had the degree from the “right places”, and other times, promoted up existing employees with the right degrees. They may say that X kind of degree is a job prerequisite but what it will never say in writing is that not all college degrees are equal.

My second major issue with the book is the author’s snarky attitude which I feel was more in alignment with a young person’s personal blog posts rather than being the more professional type writing I am accustomed to reading in nonfiction trade paperback books. Kamenetz was outright rude and insulting sometimes, the accusation that Republican politicians are racist I found to be outrageous (due to the way some voted on a budgetary item). Her personal bias is apparent; she is not a neutral journalist at all! Later she slams Democrats, so at least the book was not completely skewed toward the left. Her style reads as the mud-slinging type to me which I find a turn off.

There are tons of references to statistics so we can see the author is not making this stuff up off the top of her head but she has a definite opinion she is trying to talk the reader into converting over to. The margins of my book are filled with notes and I wonder about the omissions. If she says that opinion about that statistic why is she not asking that question also, and so forth.

My biggest issue with the book is that I felt the author was trying to simplify something that is actually very complex. There is no easy solution to the problems outlined in the book.  I honestly would like to see what she has to say about trying to reform the public education system in this country. There is another complex problem that has failed numerous reform efforts.

For the record I embrace alternative education as I am most concerned with actual learning not just seeking ranks or degrees as end goals. Proof of this is I’m in the minority in America, I homeschool my kids. Depending on the statistic, my kids are either 1-3% of the children in the USA (and there are 75.6 million kids per the website, so we’re really, really in the minority). Despite living in towns with supposedly “great” public school systems and also being able to (most years) afford a private school tuition I rejected both options to homeschool my kids so they get what I think is a quality education. With that said there comes a point where my kid’s alternative education stops and doing what mainstream America embraces is necessary, so my kids will hopefully attend a decent four year university as a traditional college student when their homeschool high school is finished. The cost of being alternative with one’s college education is too risky. It didn’t pay off for me with my alternative college education so I worry about doing the same with my kids, just so my husband and I and our kids can save some tuition costs.

I ordered this book thinking it would be right in alignment with my alternative education views but I didn’t like the book at all.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

The Bird Photography Field Guide Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Bird Photography Field Guide
Author: David Tipling
Publication: Focal Press, March 2011

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

Summary Statement: Tiny Sized Book (4.5 x 6 inches) with Tiny Font Unreadable –Major Focus on Digital Editing with Computers

I'll divide my comments into sections, one for the book's content and the other on the book's size.


I was disappointed to learn in the introduction that the credit for taking great bird photography is thanks to digital photography and its ease of digital editing on the computer (Photoshopping). The impression is given that, to put it bluntly and in my own words, you are screwed if you expect to get excellent photos without editing. The editing is not just about cropping but involves what is actually major editing. Using the techniques in the book a mediocre photo can be transformed into something that never really looked so good even in real life. What a great photo! It never could look that way in reality! Something bothers me about the idea of being glad for "making a photograph" that could never exist in real life (kind of strange like photographers who like to change people's eye color in portraits).

Another issue is that it seems that advice is more general and would apply to any type of photo that a person was editing digitally, in other words, if you get to know your digital photo editing software well you probably won’t need the advice in this book as it would be too general and not with key information necessary to use your software.

The content in the book can be divided into three categories.

One section is about special equipment to use in the field for bird photography. Here is where you also learn you will need to spend thousands of dollars (maybe on just one long zoom lens) to get a mediocre photo that still needs digital editing.

The next section is about field techniques which mostly is about different types of birds and their characteristics that you should know if you are trying to stalk them and not scare them off.

The last and most important section is how to digitally alter the photos, yet this is perhaps too general and not specific enough to the software you own or plan to buy.

I am interested in becoming a better field photographer with about a thousand dollars already invested in my DSLR camera. I am not a professional photographer and didn’t want to spend nearly another thousand or even more just to get more lenses (sometimes one lens is over a thousand dollars). I personally do not want to spend hours doing Photoshopping of my images, so I felt let down by the book.

Book Size:

Shame on me I didn’t realize that when Focal Press has “field guide” in the title that is a red flag to go look at the product description’s size of the book in inches to realize it is tiny before placing the order. This is the second Focal Press Field Guide I own, so I’m kicking myself for forgetting this about Focal Press.

The book is 4.5 x 6 inches and the font is teeny-tiny. It must be smaller than size 6 font. I am in my 40s and not yet wearing reading glasses but this book made me want to run out to the eye doctor ASAP. The small size stinks not just for people like me who may struggle to see it: having tiny bird photos examples and illustrations was just not as inspiring or helpful as a normal sized book. The worst are the illustrations on how to digitally alter the photos, the images are just too small to be helpful. Even more challenging to read was the white text on black background which is not the majority of the text, thank goodness.

Perhaps the biggest reason to dislike the tiny size of this “field guide” is that the info in it is mostly not stuff you would reference while in the field. One does not need the 2/3 of the book that discusses which equipment to buy and how to digitally alter the photo, when they are in the field – so why would the publisher feel that anyone would carry this book with them into the field and thus require a small and lightweight book? Even the other section with tips on how to shoot birds of certain types is not the kind of information that I’d be reading about while perched in the bush – one would have read those sections ahead of time and would probably be on a targeted trip i.e. shore birds or urban environment.

I rate this book 2 stars = I don’t like it. If I really wanted to be harsh I’d have given it a 1 star = I hate it rating.

I received a review copy of this book from Amazon's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on I was not paid to write the review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Monday, September 19, 2011


(double click to enlarge)

Photo by ChristineMM on 9/02/10 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

(We have not been able to visit Cape Cod yet in the calendar year 2011 and I am missing the Cape!)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mockingjay Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Mockingjay (Book 3 in The Hunger Games trilogy)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Dystopian Literature

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: More Serious and Political Than the First Two Books - Wraps Up Nicely - Some May Not Love It

Mockingjay is the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. I loved the first two books and while I love the third book it has a different feel and pace than its predecessors. The story needs to wrap up and we need more backstory and information so this probably can't be helped.

Mockingjay is more serious and more political in that we learn more about the Capitol and how horrid they are, even toward the citizens of the Capitol (not just toward the districts)! We see more destruction and cruelty toward everyone. While the former books had death and murder this book is even worse with war zone injury and suffering and prisoner torture, so it is darker and even more gory than the other two books. The central action in this book is that the districts are in a revolution against the Capitol: who will win this war and what does the future hold? What will become of Katniss? If she survives this revolutionary war, and if Peeta and Gale do, who will she wind up with?

There are also new characters in the group heading the rebellion that introduces a whole bunch of people who seek power and control. At some points in the story, even I, an adult, got a little confused about who was who, who was deceiving others, who was to be trusted and who the real enemy was. That level of interpersonal politics gave the book a different feel. Rather than the book having just a focus on action and adventure there was a higher level of analysis that the reader must process in order to "get" the story. This might turn off some readers, bore them, or cause them to feel this is their least favorite of the three books. (My fourteen year old son complained that the book got boring and he put it down for a couple of months then picked it up again and wound up getting sucked into it.)

The ending happened so fast and I am still torn about if that ending is what I'd wanted for Katniss...

I am a fan of The Hunger Games trilogy and thoroughly enjoyed reading all the books which I found to be great escape read page-turner books.

It seems there are more and more dystopian young adult books being published but they all have a higher bar to live up to thanks to Suzanne Collins who has created a true hero in her characer, Katniss Everdeen, a strong female character who readers can't help but root for. Kudos to Collins for doing a great job combining excellent character development, believable characters and situations with action that keeps readers engaged and on the edge of their seats.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Uglies Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Dystopian Literature (Book One in a series)

My Star Rating: 4 stars out of 4 = I Liked It

Summary Statement:
An Action Packed Dystopian Literature Thriller - Would It Be Great for Everyone to Be Pretty and Equal?

I am a homeschooling mother teaching a dystopian literature class to my grade 9 son and this is one of the young adult selections we are both reading. We both enjoy reading dystopian stories.

I liked UGLIES for its fast action and how it serves as a great "escape read" that pulls you in and carries you away. It is an easy fast read. You feel like you are in the action. The action dominates the story rather than character development though, which is a disappointment for me.

I liked the book, I didn't love it, thus I give it 4 stars. The problem with the book in my opinion is that Westerfeld jumped too fast into the action without having done that magic thing that some writers can do where they inform us about who the character is, who they are as a person, while also making us really care about them.

Tally, the main character is turning 16 but we don't know a lot about her, what we know is she is a superficial non-thinking person who has been brainwashed. She doesn't question the status quo and is a blind follower. When the book starts off she is an unquestioning drone, happy to finally have approached the day when she will turn from an "uglie" to a "pretty" with cosmetic surgery, which is what the government does to everyone when they turn 16.

This is a hero's journey tale so I was disappointed that when Tally was forced with a moral dilemma to turn in a former friend in order to gain access to the surgery to become a "pretty" she quickly agrees (thus making me not like her so much). Furthermore, Tally's lack of common sense and her inability to always think logically to piece together what is really going on shows she is not as bright as I like hero book characters to be. Although her character evolves as the story goes on, and she eventually starts doing more of the right and best thing and to grow into being a non-conformist and a rebel, I would have liked Tally better if she showed those traits from page one. Her stupidity gets people hurt or killed, which was a turn-off. I kept wishing that Tally would just stop and think and put the pieces together but she often did not.

What I liked about the book's story is the issue of a society who has decided that its number one priority is external appearance and has gone to extremes to perform many cosmetic surgeries in people over the course of their lifetimes to keep them looking pretty and good looking and thin and perpetually young. I couldn't help but think about how we are partially there already in America and how even in the USA people are starting to look at the fake created body parts and thinking those are the normal way to look then feeling self-disgust at their natural and normal bodies, and the same for changes in appearance due to natural aging. Thus this book brings up important topics to think about and to hopefully discuss.

Of secondary importance is the issue of eternal partying and pleasure at being drunk for fun which seems to provide total personal fulfillment to the new pretties. Again this is good food for thought for teens.

I enjoyed the aspect of some rebels having left "civilization" in order to live the old-fashioned way and to live off the land. I liked that the others who are called "Smokies" have leared the value of hard work and have developed a strong work ethic.

The book is full of action which is the type that puts it into my category of "this will make a great movie". That also makes it good for reluctant readers or those who desire that their reading be fast paced action stories. However, due to lacking a deeper character development it made me put it in the category of "this may make a better movie than the book is".

My last issue with the book is that I felt that Uglies didn't truly wrap up as a "full book" by the end because I suspect the author's plan from the beginning was to make this a series. At the time I am writing this review, there are five books in the series.

I rate this book 4 stars = I Like It.

Disclosure: I purchased this book for our family's use. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Catching Fire Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Catching Fire (book 2 in The Hunger Games trilogy)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

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

Summary Statement: Second Book in the Trilogy - An Engaging Exciting Page Turner - Loved It

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, a dystopian fiction young adult book which has crossed over to be enjoyed by adults, and a movie based on The Hunger Games is to be released in 2012.

My review will not contain spoilers so it will be shorter than I would typically write. At the end of The Hunger Games we are left knowing the Capitol hates Katniss Everdeen and we wonder if they may seek revenge or how the rest of her life may turn out. What happens, the way the Capitol seeks to get revenge on Katniss is horrifying and was surprising to me, so I'll not spoil it for you either. Catching Fire takes place the year after Katniss participated in The Hunger Games, and the 75th Hunger Games are to be held that upcoming year.

Catching Fire is just as exciting and action filled as The Hunger Games. It is a fast read, engaging and a real page turner. As the book goes on we see a darker side of the Capitol and we see revolution spreading among the districts.

The book has a great ending and it left me wondering what was in store for the third and last book in the trilogy. I was so happy with the first two books I could not wait to get my hands on the third book, titled Mockingjay.

Although the main character of the book is female that does not prevent male teenaged readers from enjoying this series. (My thirteen year old son loves the trilogy.) This is not a girlie book. This book is excellent for reluctant readers and any reader who likes exciting, fast paced reads. This series continues to be an excellent hero's journey tale. I am so happy that Catching Fire lived up to The Hunger Games.

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grade 9 Dystopian Literature Homeschool Course I Designed

Here is the nearly final draft of the dystopian literature course that I custom designed for my son's grade 9 literature class.

Of the 15 required reading novels, he has already finished reading seven and two books are in progress now. He has already read six short stories and I will add more from the short story collection book that we are using. I will create the film section in the near future, it will include watching film adaptations of some of the books, after the book has already been read.

As a jumping off point to create this class, I compared  college course syllabi. The course syllabi that I found online for dystopian lit are level 300 English courses. I may add more books to the required reading list as the year progresses. Some of the common college dystopian lit class readings I believe are mature content more suitable to readers older than 14 so I have not just copied a syllabus from a college course for college juniors. Since my son's class is a grade 9 course it includes some young adult genre fiction which is understandably absent from college course reading selections.

The reason that I am teaching my son a dystopian literature class is to ease him into reading for literary analysis (something he is not happy about having to do) using a genre he enjoys reading. Courses that he does in subsequent high school years will include more traditional high school reading selections.

Dystopian Literature List
created by ChristineMM

Grade 9 English Course

Required reading:

Novels (15)

Anderson, M.T. Feed (2002)
Bradbury, Ray Farenheit 451 (1953)
Clayton, Emma The Roar (2009)
Collins, Suzanne The Hunger Games (2008)
Collins, Suzanne Catching Fire (2009)
Collins, Suzanne Mockingjay (2010)
Dashner, James The Maze Runner (2009)
Dashner, James The Scorch Trials (2010)
Dashner, James The Death Cure (2011)
Golding, William Lord of the Flies (1954)
Huxley, Aldous Brave New World (1932)
Orwell, George 1984 (1949)
Orwell, George Animal Farm (1945)
Westerfield, Scott Uglies (2005)
Zamyatin, Yevgeny and Randall, Natasha, We (1921)

More novels TBD

Short stories

A selection from
Adams, John Joseph (editor) Brave New Worlds (2010)

Buckell, Tobias, Resistance
Doctorow, Cory The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away
Gilbow, S.L., Red Card
Gaiman, Neil and Talbot, Bryan, From Homogenous to Honey
Jackson, Shirley The Lottery
Tolbert, Jeremiah, Arties Aren’t Stupid



Update: I carried this course over into grade 10 and more college prep level novels were added as was a lot of movies. I should update this list sometime. For now I wanted to share that the course was more fleshed out later.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Roar from's Vine program. All others I purchased for our family's use, or read public library copies.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Fail: Attempt #1 Grade 9 Fall Schedule for My Son

Fall 2011 is comprised of home studies plus one online math class which has lots of homework (15-20 hours a week). I created a schedule for my son as he has started to drift and space out and the time goes by without him doing more than two or maybe three subjects in an entire day. The challenge is compounded by the desire (?need) to sleep 12 hours a day yet the resistance to go to bed before 11pm.

He is going to have to get up earlier in order to get the work in. This is the schedule for this week which does not allow for the additional hour per day of physical exercise outdoors that the coach asks they they do, and it doesn't allow for the extra hour or more that he needs for math. There is not time for foreign language or art, and there is no free time save for after dinner with an hour of TV and then before bed reading for fun. There is also no time here for chores. Also, the two plus hours he likes to spend on the throne every day interferes with free time or more studying.

Working around my son's sleep schedule primarily, here is what is left. This is not good enough to get all the high school level work done. Thus, this schedule is a fail. I have consulted with my husband and we had a family meeting about this then later, my son started a fight about the topic (ending at midnight), so this is not yet resolved.

I am sharing this struggle and this failed draft so that other homeschoolers can see what this family is going through and how things change when high school begins. We started our homeschool journey as unschoolers who were very relaxed. This son has struggled with learning disabilities which changed the course of our homeschool. Now his studies are dictated by HIS DESIRE to seek a career in engineering. Between the increased rigor of academic studies necessary for my son to do what HE WANTS with his life and the clash of teenage developmental stages and hormone surges, parenting and homeschooling change and get harder. Maybe this post will help some reader as if this is going on in their home they at least will know they are not alone.


9:00-10:45 Mom wakes him up, which is resisted. Eat, shower, get dressed, use toilet & dawdle around procrastinating. Mom attempts to speed things up which seems like nagging.

10:45-11:45 Biology

11:45-11:55 Break, snack

11:55-12:55 Math homework for online class

12:55-1:25 Lunch while checking Facebook

1:25-2:25 English composition, grammar, spelling, literature analysis, reading the literature required, poetry (not enough time allotted for all that work)

2:25-3:25 History, snack

3:25-3:35 Break, snack (he is hungry all the time)

3:45-4:00 Penmanship cursive (attempting to fix extremely unreadable penmanship)

4:00-4:20 Touch typing course (CD-ROM)

4:20-4:30 Change for rowing practice, grab snack on the run, or eat early dinner, fill water bottle

4:30 Leave for rowing practice

7:30 Get home from rowing, grab snack, shower, Facebook

8:00 Eat dinner (or a second dinner)

8:30-9:30 Watch a TV show as a family

9:30 Get ready for bed, read in bed, listen to music on MP3 player

10:30 Mom pushes to go to sleep, he says he is not tired and resists, what time he actually goes to sleep varies, could go to one in the morning

Friday is the same except omit rowing and insert online math class for 90 minutes.

One weeknight add a 90 minute Boy Scout meeting after rowing.

One weekend a month will have a Boy Scout campout. There will be two away regattas which will require being gone all weekend with the family staying at a hotel with the rowing team. Doing academics on weekends at those times will be nearly impossible. He is also sure to come home physically and mentally exhausted.

This light academic schedule will not get all the work completed so "homework" will have to happen in the extra hours, or, he will have to start rising perhaps at 7 in the morning and being more quick about getting ready to get to work on academics.

This schedule doesn't even include art or foreign language or other extra-curricular classes which he must take.

Once you see this schedule it is not hard to see why I am not pushing him to start doing homeschool co-op's or outside classes. Any outside stuff would take away from home study time for the basics and so far I have not found outside classes that act as true replacements for these home study topics.

We are trying a new schedule which includes setting an alarm clock to get up earlier and studying more topics in the daytime, then being so tired that bedtime will happen earlier. I will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tough to Find Books for This Tween Boy

I am having trouble finding good book reads for my younger son who is now 11 years old. He has no diagnosed reading disabilities and no signs of any problems either. This son of mine taught himself to read befor he was four, and I put the finishing touches at age four (after he begged) by teaching him the hard phonics like 'ght' and such.

He enjoyed realistic fiction the most, the juvenile fiction for ages 9-12 such as Andrew Clements.

He liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid and reads some manga but not a lot of the graphic novel format, as he doesn't find much that jives with his interests.

He loved Harry Potter (which he just finished this summer) but is not interested in other good fantasy genre juvenile fiction books such as the Septimus Heap series. He loved the Rick Riordan series that started with Lightning Thief but he is not as passionate about his Kane Chronicles series. He liked the mythology tie but isn't a mythology junkie.

He's heard Narnia on CD and read aloud and seen the couple of movies that are out so he refuses to read the rest.

He pushes away the classics and anything that looks "babyish". He is not interested in stories set long ago that seem too old-fashioned such as book about American kid's lives in the early half of 1900. He doesn't want to read medieval tales such as Robin Hood.

My husband likes fast paced military and spy thrillers and is a Jack Higgins fan. My son stumbled upon a military thriller for young adults co-authored by Higgins, First Strike, and he loved it. My husband just started reading it out of curiosity and said, "they wasted no time jumping right into the action".

This son of mine also is not interested in reading non-fiction, he's not one of those kids with passions about topics that will read anything and everything to learn more about it.

Although this son loves lacrosse he has no interest in reading sports themed fiction.

In addition I have a sibling conflict thing going on where my younger son doesn't want too much to do with anything his older brother likes, so he even resists reading fiction that he knows his brother read and loved.

He does love to read when he finds something of interest. He carries books around with him to read while waiting around for this or that appointment.

I don't want him to dissolve more into listening to MP3 player songs or playing handheld video games when the day comes that he owns his own mobile smart phone. I also don't want him to turn into a texting addict which I know he will, when the day arrives that he gets text messaging.

I am at a loss here. Do you have any book suggestions for my son? Thanks!

Some Books Mentioned in This Post

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Happiness is Never Grand"

"Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."

-Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, page 221

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Thus the ordinary is to be celebrated. Happiness and contentedness are fantastic to experience but sometimes are not as exciting to talk about or to write about, thus, I often am most quiet when I'm the most happy, and the loudest to complain and have sometimes been a loud (and possibly annoying) ranting writer. When I am quiet or seldom heard from and you wonder what I am doing, I am probably enjoying happiness.

When a passage in a book brings a tear to the eye, as the above did to me, you know it has been well worth your time to have read it.

I have been intimidated by classic works of literature, having learned in school that I was not worthy to be in certain classes where popular serious books were being read. How ridiculous I have been to have been -- scared to approach certain works due to school's impression upon me that I was too stupid to qualify to read them. I found reading Brave New World entertaining, thought provoking, and an easy read. Why did I avoid it all these years?

I can't wait for my fourteen year old to read Brave New World so we can discuss it together, there is so much to talk about! I wish every high school student would read this, maybe it would wake some up.

In a similar vein but much more watered down, yet with more adventure and action (to snag those teens who need that kind of fast paced rad) that also has a timely addressing of cosmetic surgery and partying is Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. If you can't get your teen to read Brave New World try Uglies first. Then try again to have them read Huxley, or read it aloud to them and discuss it.

Disclosure: See the link near the top of my blog's sidebar. I bought this book for our family's personal use.

Monday, September 12, 2011

School Homework Issues

This post was inspired by reading this blog post The Trouble with Homework at Mental Multivitamin blog. I wrote this before reading the 9/10/11 New York Times article which actually is promising as it discusses effective homework, which are all new ways to learn (innovation!).

I think it is hard to have a serious discussion about whether homework is effective or not if one does not look at what the homework actually is. In the same analysis one needs to ask the goal and aim of the homework. What is actually the goal in doing that work? The last question should be if the right place to do that work is home as homework or really does it belong in the classroom as direct teaching, read on for explanation.

Even my limited exposure to seeing the homework of friends and relatives has pointed these issues out to me.

1. Homework given as the first time the student ever did that work. Some parents report their schools (including rigorous secular private schools) are clear about sending elementary grade children home with new math concepts for the parent to teach. Then what is not understood after that first work at home is reviewed in class the next day. Is that really a good idea? Who is doing the teaching, mom and dad or the teacher?

Another example of this was a sixth grade art homework assignment in which a student was to research a part of art history never discussed in class and then to give a critique of the piece including submitting a five paragraph essay. The student could choose the assignment but it ranged from modern American art to ancient Chinese art (with strong historic meaning which had never been taught in social studies) to impressionism and more.

2. I recently saw a homework assignment whose goal was to help a student learn to do research. The 7th grade student was given shortcut work such as I never had when I was in school. The shortcuts were so confusing as the content was completely unfamiliar to the student.

When I was in school we had to research the topic by reading materials (i.e. World Book encyclopedia), assemble facts, narrow down the topics, arrange into our own words and write a paper on it, even something like a five paragraph paper.

This homework assignment which I was asked to help with, was on worksheets and it gave a list of facts about Mayan culture and said "suppose you researched the Mayans and you found these facts" then there was a list of some similar topics and some random stuff. It said something that meant to pick the common topics and mark them. As I looked at it, I saw there were three topics that had more than one fact and then there were a bunch of random one fact things. The girl and her mother were unable to figure out what the worksheet homework wanted her to do so I explained it. After we had the three groups of topics, which I believe were climate, architecture, and religion, she was to expand the few facts into a paragraph on each thing and then do an introduction and a conclusion.

My issue is that such a worksheet cannot replace real research. When reading to find facts the students learns. The process of reading and picking out important facts vs. filler is an important exercise. Giving a student jumbled facts when they know nothing of the topic is stupid and I don't think they learn much from that.

Actually her assignment was to do the first half. The next part wanted the writing. I offered to help her with that and she said "no that was not assigned yet". I said, "Well it probably will be tomorrow night so do you want to just bang it out now while I'm here to help you?" and the reply was no. Sigh.

3. Homework as review. I like the idea of homework as review for math concepts.

4. Homework as studying. With school systems of quizzing and testing I see nothing wrong with homework as a way to do whatever kind of studying must be done to get that content memorized.

5. Homework as a way to learn in order to have class discussion, such as reading at home then discussing in class (rather than giving class time to read silently which I recall being done when I was in school). This is the best use of homework time in my opinion.

6. Homework as a way to do projects that are too large to do at home are fine BUT homework should not be given for crazy big projects that students cannot do on their own. There are too many huge projects being done that require the mom and dad pitch in and teach the content and actually do shopping for materials then have to actually help assemble. To do those projects as parent-kid team with the parent doing most of the work then the schools claiming success at having produced students who do that type of work is a lie.

7. Homework as standardized test prep. In my Connecticut town a lot of time is spent preparing for the CMT standardized test. Most frequently this is done as homework. It is also done as class work. Whether that is a good use of kid's time is up for debate. It seems to me if they know the material and know enough about test taking practices they should not need a zillion practice pages of math, reading comprehension, and writing composition with the formula they use and want done to get the highest score on the test.

Changing the School Way?

The same old same old way of grading in school requires memorization and parroting back facts. If this is to continue as the norm then homework will always exist to force students to do work to prepare them to score well on those tests.

If a person is going to request less homework I would ask what kind of homework do they want less of? If testing is to be done then studying must occur which requires homework. Perhaps what they want is a different system of assessment than the old style tests. Maybe what the person really wants is some other kind of learning happening rather than having parroting back as the main goal. When is someone going to challenge the benefit of short term memorization followed by forgetting nearly everything that was learned?

One should also see what is going on in the classroom with that time. Is it really being used to teach or is the classroom a behavior management experiment with hardly any learning happening then the doling out of homework assignments which is where the teachers expect most of the learning to happen?

I don't have answers.

What I do know is I was bored to death in public school and learned to play the school game. I was a fast learner and did well in school until I burned out and gave up and then I was an underachiever getting lower scores than I was capable of. Why memorize those facts to get a high score only to start to forget them the next day? Why bother? I felt I had better things to do with my time outside of school, and that boring stupid school was already hogging up too much of my life. I gave up and just refused to do it, instead relying on what I knew without studying and getting mostly B's and a C here and there.

I have learned a lot more as an autodidact as an adult learner.

I want my kids to learn more and to not hate learning which is what some who learn to hate school start to do: confuse learning with schooling and then hate learning and stop learning as a rebellion to their hatred of school.

Thus, we homeschool.

While I would love to debate the issue of whether homework is effective or not, I have other things to do with my time, like educate my own kids. I find blogging fun but lately the increased demands of homeschooling a high school student combined with our recent long distance move have prevented me from spending time pondering and discussing like I used to. I'm trying to keep my priorities straight! I need to make sure I am spending time doing what I need to do such as focusing on homeschooling my kids. With that said I already spent more time on this blog post than intended so I'll just stop here!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Read It All (Teenagers!)

My 14 year old son is going through another one of those phases of extreme teenage behavior. You know what I am talking about, the slacking, the not hearing, the hearing then going to do something but not doing it then saying he forgot. Then there is the eating like a horse, and sleeping a ton. But worse, the doing of stupid things and being careless, which sometimes actually becomes dangerous or unsafe at times, like when he was racing on his bike doing 20 mph and then hit the busy traffic-filled intersection and used just the rear brake, pulled a 180 degree skid and slammed into a pole.

I thought we started off great with high school biology last week. I assigned my son to read chapter one. I read chapter one in my teacher's edition. I sat down to discuss it with him. There was something interesting ,a very short sidebar piece, so I asked him about it. He drew a complete blank and swore it wasn't in the book. I showed him the piece right in the sidebar.

That's when he revealed he doesn't read sidebars.

I told him when I said to read chapter 1 I meant the chapter. He tried telling me that the chapter meant the main text and that sidebar info, illustrations and charts are all optional.

When asked how he arrived at that notion he didn't know but that it was my fault as I never said to read everything, and that extra stuff is not "the chapter".

This teenage behavior thing continues to confound me, all of it. The rages of anger, the tiredness, the waking up still exhausted, but worse could either be the lack of logical thinking and the inability to see the logical train of thought or it would be the complete forgetting of things taught long ago (such as the fact that teeth are to be brushed in the morning and at night). I don't know what's worse, forgetting everything that was mastered long ago that took a long time to teach in the first place or the inability to reason when shown clear logical trains of thought. What's worse perhaps is being accused of having unreasonable expectations (like brushing the teeth is some outrageous and bizarre request) and being accused of making up new strange requirements that are crazy for any parent to expect of a teen.

Sigh....I hear I have two or three years of this nuttiness until the old person emerges. We're almost a full year into it so hopefully we are approaching the half-way mark. But just then my younger son will be entering this phase.

It is no wonder the gray hairs seem to be multiplying daily!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Bit of Home

The day the movers were ready to move the rest of our stuff into the storage unit I entered the facility. It is an indoors place with climate control. When the door opened a smell hit me, like a wall. It was a horrid chemical stink that instantly gave me a headache.

I made my way to our new storage unit, a big, tall unit that was completely empty. Right there in front of my unit was a big dead cockroach, the bad kind that you don't want in your house or in your stuff. One of the mover guys, the funny one, confirmed for me that is really what it was. It was the first time I'd ever seen an American Cockroach. Ugh. I suddenly got the willies thinking they may run in my boxes and get into my stuff. What if they laid eggs on my things then when we moved them into our house someday we'd get roaches? I literally got chills running up and down my spine.

The mover guy was nice and he consoled me by saying the storage facilities spray for roaches all the time. Well, that's what that smell was. They must have sprayed recently since the smell was so wicked.

It's four weeks later now and I had gathered up boxes of stuff that really don't fit in this small house. The kids and I hauled it to the storage unit and moved it in. This time the smell of that chemical was much less and I barely smelled it.

When we pushed up the overhead door, I walked into our second, smaller, barely filled unit and a scent hit me. What I was smelling was a combination of my favorite vanilla scented candles and some blueberry Yankee candles. It smelled delicious and instantly I felt transported back home. I closed my eyes and took in the scent and savored the moment.

The use of the storage unit will continue until our Connecticut home sells at which point we will seriously begin the hunt to purchase a home here in Texas. The new home will be larger than this place and all our stuff will fit into it, hopefully! I can't wait to have all my stuff in one place where it is actually being used. Having my things packed up and sitting out of sight and out of mind feels just wrong.

Well, we have what we need for daily living right here, mostly. I'm busying myself just living day to day and making do with the situation. I know this is temporary but don't know how long temporary is, so it's not like I can tell myself "just seven months to go". The sale of the Connecticut home has been a bit delayed and complicated by Hurricane Irene. A lot of people's homes were damaged and they are now battling insurance claims. Luckily my home was not damaged. But when potential buyers have their hands full with problems with their existing home they are not rushing to buy a new one.

What is most important is that our family is all together. Adjusting to our new home and discovering what life is like in Texas has been a trial, but it has also been an adventure!