Saturday, December 31, 2011

Courage and Homeschooling

Years ago I read in Home Education Magazine, a request to think about what it takes to homeschool and what makes homeschooling parents different from other parents to allow them to take the plunge and do such an alternative thing.

I think it takes real courage to homeschool. Courage is the thing that is most necessary.

It takes even more courage to pull a child out of school if the situation is non-emergent. There may not be enough pressure to fix the situation to push a person over the tipping point from "think we really should do this" or "homeschooling could be better" to "we're going to start homeschooling now".

The parents facing some crisis have it easier as they are reacting to a bad situation and no matter how alternative or strange homeschooling may be if it rescues the child then they do it. The urgency to fix the issue overrides the weirdness or scariness of the concept of homeschooling. They can also tell themselves that it is just temporary and they can always go back to school again later so they don't feel they have made a long-term committment, so jumping in is easier.

Those who entered homeschooling in their children's early years won't need as much courage to begin as they will need to continue, especially through the upper middle school and high school years. The higher the stakes get, the harder it is to stay on track. As children grow from happy little kids who like to play for hours every day start to change into independent young adults life gets more complicated. It can be draining and stressful to parent a teenager and to handle that and the administration of their home education can get to be too much for some mothers to handle.

I've been worrying about homeschooling my older son lately, mostly worried that our best efforts won't be good enough to prepare him for what he wants to do with his life. I've been asking myself, "Who do you think you are to think you know enough about high school academics to plan a course of study let alone to teach or facilitate most of it?"Some days I tell myself, "You are winging this too much."

A mother of always-schooled kids has been talking to me about the desire to start homeschooling, it's something she's thought about for a long time but she is not quite ready to jump in. The fact that there is no ideal perfect thing established to move right into that would be a guarantee of a successful outcome is too scary to her, so I believe that they will not wind up homeschooling. Despite dissatisfaction with the school's curriculum and the lack of academic rigor, the devil she knows is better to tolerate than the devil she doesn't know. While speaking to her I realized yet again that courage is vital and that stepping off into unknown territory is what we are doing. We have to be able to handle facing that fear and to keep moving forward, to keep pushing through the fear, in order to continue.

My self-doubt has largely been fueled by the long distance move and losing all my contacts, my support network and losing the old good learning opportunities, as well as my kid's negative emotions regarding not being able to see their old friends on a frequent basis. (Keeping touch on Facebook and xBoxLive is just not the same thing as face to face experiences.)

If I try a little harder I think I can find some local resources to hire to help us. I think I'm going to look for a math tutor so my older son can have a live person to ask questions of face to face, and to check his progress on a regular basis such as weekly. Perhaps I could hire a science tutor to run biology labs with my son. Now that he has started doing the robotics team he will make more local friends from the area also.

Regarding boosting myself up to keep going with homeschooling, all I need is a small bit of encouragement to stay the course, which is not hard to muster up.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Awesome Junk

Photo taken by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram, in The Heights, Houston, Texas at some crazy metal scrap junk shop -- I loved the place!

Having that "Throw Them in School" Phase Again

I knew this would be a rough year due to the long distance move and this being a kind of in-between year (since we are not settled into a new permanent home here yet).  We don't know when the next part of our lives will happen: selling the old house and house shopping here and then moving again, so I don't feel like we're "done" with this life change yet. Despite my realization back when this started that I'd have to brace myself for experiencing what I figured would be a far less than ideal and imperfect year, it's still hard to deal with moments of self-doubt when they confront me.

I'm at a place where what I'm struggling with is a result of me having a good sense of reality, seeing clearly my limitations as homeschool parent-teacher and feeling constrained in this new place (not having yet figured out the local opportunties). Before me I have a clear picture of the parts of our homeschool that are not working fantastically this year and I see my kid's weaknesses (and my own). I ask myself if I can live with the worst parts of it. Is dealing with the mediocre or sub-par parts a good idea? Are my kids getting enough of the best stuff to balance out the things that aren't going so well?

I also tend to not think much about our successes or what we're doing well, my mind just focuses on what needs fixing or what is failing. I know some would tell me that's unhealthy do to that, but it is just how my mind works. It is not something I choose to do, it's just how I think. I have to constantly fight against myself to get myself to try to not think that way (it has been a lifelong battle that I have not yet won).

When I think of using school I need to be careful that I am also not just seeing the best things that school can offer. When pitting the worst things about our homeschool against the best things in school it seems obvious that I should just throw my kids into school and leave homeschooling behind. Yet, that is not really looking at the situation objectively.

If we quit homeschooling we will leave behind many very good things and the best parts of school also come with negative things. Some of the bad things we could never know until we experience them firsthand.

A friend is telling me to give school a try and if it doesn't work out to just pull the kids out again, that it's not that risky to put them in. I am not sure about that, because if I wanted to pull them out to homeschool again, I'd need my kid's buy-in with the process. It seems easier for me to give up on homeschooling and say "I'm putting you in school, period." than it seems possible to pull them out of school against their will and try to get them to cooperate with homeschooling with me as their teacher.

One of my concerns especially for my younger son is that he will love the fun social parts of school so much that he'd be willing to endure other things.  I worry about lower academic standards, boring schoolwork that results in shallow learning and such. If he likes the ease of school (as surely he will find it very easy as he's that type that just can "do school" so easily) and if he likes the rewards of school (easily getting high grades and then loving the stamp of approval he gets on the papers, tests, and report cards) then he will be happy to remain in school even if it's not the type of learning I'd prefer him to experience.

This is my fourth day in the house alone, the kids are at sleepover Boy Scout camp. It's not the same here without them, I miss them. I've had time to relax this week and do some things just for me for fun. I have also had time to think about our family life and our situation with homeschooling and to think of a mid-year evaluation of sorts.

I really am happy with how this homeschool year has gone so far, the kids have done four and a half months of serious studies, except for some fears about the adequacy of my older son's high school year. To be fair, his abilities to study and get work done have been hindered due to his medical condition and the two or three half days a week he has to go for treatment challenge us for time, and the therapy tires his brain, literally, on those days so it's hard to get much learning done. I am confident we have our priorities in line with getting his medical treatment as top priority. He wants to keep homeschooling but he is also disappointed he is not doing a full courseload this year, but he's doing all he can given his temporary neurological limitations. Whether we keep homeschooling or start to use school, we may keep him back a grade in order to make up for time lost.

As for my younger son I am thrilled with his academic progress this year but he is lonely socially. He has friends through Boy Scouting that he sees once a week at meeting and who he camps with about once a month but so far time with those friends has not spilled over into seeing them on other weekends or to be together in after school hours on weekdays. I know he would thrive in school socially as he's the type who just likes to be around other kids all the time and prefers being in groups to being by himself. If he had it his way he'd never be alone, he's that type that wants a buddy with him all the time.

When I think of what the best of school has to offer for my younger son, I think he'd like to be around kids all day. On the flip side if the kids are not good kids, if they are a negative influence or if they teach him that learning is stupid and that school sucks then that's not a good thing for my son to learn from peers. I want my son to have a positive outlook about education going into college so he can be on good footing so he can have the career of his choice, one that is challenging to him and something he wants to do (rather than be forced to do some second best option with his secondary education due to slacking off in high school like I did once school burnout set in for me).

I'm so confused! I'm taking things one day at a time but that is not really a good idea when sometimes planning ahead is required. For admissions to private school or magnet schools, the testing and application process starts twelve months ahead of time. If I'm going to wing it about deciding to put my kids into school it would have to be public school. I don't know enough about the public schools in our new town to know if they are something we should feel more convicted to avoid, or if they are just fine places that I shouldn't feel worried about enrolling my kids into.

Update: I phoned a local homeschool mom to ask her for a pep talk and advice. She was a teacher in a local public school here. She boiled it down to this: I can't put my older son in school now as his treatments conflict with regular school attendance anyway. Since my younger son is doing well academically now why make a change, especially in the middle of juggling the running around with my older son. Trying to adjust to new school attendance and help the other son get medical treatment could be too stressful for the family. So, we are going to get our sons together and see if they click and may become friends. Coincidentially, her son was also at the same Boy Scout camp as my sons so that's how we had time to have a phone chat. Well it looks like I'm making one real friend in the homeschool community here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Autumn Arrived on December 13 in Houston Texas

December 13, 2011 was the first day of real colored foliage in the Houston Texas area.

It arrived almost two months later than this Connecticut Yankee is used to.

Thoughts on Our Personal Limits

The new year is approaching. This is the time when some Americans make New Year's Resolutions. In this time the self-help gurus and the overly optimistic tell us all to not set limits and to feel free to accomplish things unhindered by limits or boundaries.

That is dangerous thinking. If you believe it, you are setting yourself up for failure.

I am all for people pushing themselves out of their comfort zones in order to break past the plateau and surge forward to reach a goal. I understand the need to sometimes push through our fear in order to finally do something we think we've wanted to do for a long time but were scared to try. I wish all people would try new things and not be afraid to learn or do something new.

The problem with that line of thinking is seldom is moderation discussed. The truth is we only have some much time in a day to do things and those of us with high ambitions and many ideas will never get to try everything let alone dedicate ourselves to something enough to become skillful or master it. Those of us who are curious want to do so many things! There will never be enough time or money to do it all! Thus people who think that way (like me) go through life thinking we're failing and that we are "not good enough".

The reality is that to do a thing well takes a certain amount of practice and learning. Once you thing you are starting to understand something, you learn more and it is more complicated. In order to do well, you have to keep trying and keep practicing. Then skills are learned and you get better and better.

Learning is hard. Mistakes happen. It is frustrating to learn something new. Even if you think a thing will be fun the truth is, it is hard work to learn it at first. Only when new skills become honed does it get easier. Once the hard part of mastering the techniques that take practice become more automatic can the mind be more free to create and experiment and then it feels more like play and a stress relieving activity than a stress-inducing endeavor.

Things that are experiences are limited by money and time. For example, if you love to travel the world, you will be limited by the money you have available for trips, and your time will be limited based on your personal committments such as your job or being busy due to raising your kids or other obligations.

Americans and women do have lots of freedom compared to some other people living in other countries. Many of us have enough funds to dabble in a hobby or two, and to do a bit of traveling. There are always ways to do things on a very tight budget, if a person is willing to work to figure out how and if they are willing to accept the limitations. For example, traveling by car instead of flying, staying in a less fancy hotel, teaching oneself to paint instead of taking lessons, and shopping for used items (i.e. yarn to knit with, craft supplies) instead of paying full price at a local small store.

If you believe too much that you can do it all and do it all well, and that you have no limits, you are setting yourself up for stress and a feeling of failure about your own abilities which will lead to poor self-esteem. Instead of feeling happy at what you've accomplished about teaching yourself about watching wild birds and identifying them by sight and sound and using your DSLR camera you may feel badly that you don't have time to teach yourself to bake bread from scratch or to crochet.

I think the key to happiness is to realize we have few boundaries as to what we may choose to do with our time but to realize also that time is finite. Choose carefully what you want to do with your time and money. You may think you want to do a zillion things but if you keep thinking and never plan you risk doing none of them.
Make a decision about what you want to do, keep a small list of one or two new things you want to try. Make a real plan as to how you can achieve it and find the time to do it. Start off slowly. Maybe you only have one or two hours this week to do the new thing. Buy only what you need for that one thing and then commit to doint it. Borrow things if possible, or use free resources, until you see if you like doing it. If you find it's not worth your time, give yourself permission to quit, then get rid of all the stuff you own that you won't be using, and scratch that thing off your list as not being worth your time and energy. Then move on to the next thing.

It is not easy finding balance in life, especially if you are married and have children to raise. Yet, other people with other situations are also busy: teens are busy with school studies, college student's are busy learning, fathers are busy working and trying to see their kids while they're awake, so forth and so on.

Life is a juggling act. You deserve some time to do things that enrich your life and express your creativity or give you some kind of enjoyment. Yet you need time also to eat well, sleep, exercise, spend time with your spouse and kids, and do the many other things that we are required to do to live our daily lives, like doing the laundry and keeping the house clean.

Try to carve some time to do the things you want and then accept that amount of time as sufficient and be happy when you get to do the thing you enjoy. Don't just focus on thinking you never have enough time to do everything you want or you will ruin the good that comes from the activity.

If it doesn't come to you automatically, force yourself to think thoughts of gratitude for the good things you have and the fun things you have chosen to do with your time instead of thinking negative thoughts.  Before you say "I don't have as much time as I want to do this thing", I suggest that you don't think about quantity, think about quality.

Stop the negative thoughts if they intrude into your mind. Happy thoughts put you in a better state of mind for doing the fun things, so that's another reason to keep your thoughts positive!

Life is too short to have our heads filled with negative thinking and self-doubt. Decide what you want to do, make a real plan, set do-able goals for doing the activity each week, then do it. Do things that are worth the time, energy and expense and let go of the rest. Give yourself time to get good at doing something and let yourself enjoy doing it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Inspiration for Painting Watercolor

I have wanted to paint in watercolor for years but was afraid to try.

Here are examples of scenes I saw and photographed that made me yearn to paint.

This week while my kids are away at Boy Scout camp, I am teaching myself to paint in watercolor using books and YouTube videos. It's time to stop dreaming and give it a try once and for all. Over the years I have slowly purchased watercolor painting supplies and they sat untouched. Many of my art and craft supplies were given away before we moved but the watercolors came with me to the little rental house. I vowed to myself to do this thing before we moved again. It's one of the few hobby things I am committing to doing while in this transition year.

Photos taken by ChristineMM 8/30/09 in Cape Cod.

P.S. I miss Cape Cod. We weren't able to travel there in 2011 and now I'm 2000 miles away so it's no longer a quick trip to go...mabye in 2012?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Odd Parking Lot Litter

Adding this to the list of things I never saw in Connecticut that exist in Texas.

Photo by ChristineMM 12/26/11 with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Thoughts on Documentary Pink Saris

I recently watched the documentary Pink Saris (on HBO On Demand through my cable company).

Just the other day I was reading an art magazine in which an amateur artist remarked that she enjoys making art with influences from India becuase "she loves everything about India". I would question that amateur artist's statement. How much does she know about India, the poverty, the caste system and the lives of women?

This is a terribly depressing movie about the realities happening today in India. If you know something of a woman's life in India, but it seems too remote or faceless, I urge you to watch this movie to get a sense for the real people and what life is like living with the thousands of year's old traditions which include marrying very early not for love but by arrangement, the caste system, being verbally and physically abused by both of one's in-laws and sometimes being pursued sexually or raped by one's father-in-law, as well as being abandoned by one's husband and left alone with the abusive in-laws.

One of the most moving parts of the movie is right near the end where Sampat Pal says, "A girl's life a cruel, a woman's life is cruel."

This movie is about a woman, Sampat Pal who has been an activist for 20 years for women's rights. To this American woman what she is saying seems not extreme, it's like the women's liberation movement albeit being just her as leader and a "gang" of followers who show their alliance to the cause by wearing solid bright pink colored saris all day, every day, to show the world what they stand for.

Pal wants girls to be able to marry for love and to marry up into higher castes. She wants an end to abuse of the girls and women. She is very "in your face" with her attitude which is not appreciated by the men who she yells at and demands that they change the way they live. They don't want to hear it, of course.

What was so depressing is seeing the terrible living conditions and the abuse of girls and women and realizing that truly not much is being done about it. This is complicated. I'm an outsider looking at how India is, what their culture says is normal and fine. I'm horrified. It's depressing also because this American woman is helpless to affect change, and because I worry that the work of Sampat Pal will not amount to change on a grand (enough) scale.

The movie uses subtitles to translate to English. The photography is stunning and whether it's the dirty city or the wide landscape of the country, we get a real sense of place by watching this film.

I didn't have my sons watch this with me but I should have.


Postscript: I was also reminded when I watched this that life as I know it in America is not how the rest of the world lives.

I don't know exactly why but upon graduating from public school I didn't have a true sense for the cultural differences between countries. I somehow thought that "all the bad stuff" was all in the past and that everyone everywhere had become enlightened and were living in better conditions, all as part of progress. For example, I knew of the genocide of the Jews by Hitler but thought no genocide went on after World War II ended, which is incorrect. I also was never told who else Hitler killed (the handicapped, the deaf, the homosexuals).

In school, I learned nothing about India. I also never learned anything about China or other Asian cultures and learning nothing about the Middle East. As a senior in high school I got to choose between a half year of Russia or China and I chose Russia. It was the only time in all those years that I learned anything about that country. Given that we are a more global world today it seems ridiculous that kids aren't learning more about other countries in the world and current events and things like cultural differences that show how others view the world and how it compares to the United State's views (i.e. women's rights, murder is illegal, physical abuse is illegal, the age of consent for sex, marriage of minors is illegal, so forth and so on).

External Links About This Film

Women Make Movies Pink Saris

The Guardian article

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wild Bird Feather Collection

Found while on nature walks over the years.

Photo by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram.

I Love the Spirit of Little Boys

After having been around girls lately I was reminded again of how boys are so much simpler and easy to parent and deal with.

Boys lay it all out, they are who they are. When they are little they are full of energy. Some adults may feel worn out by the energy but if you just let them get it out (with some rules about not damaging property in the process) they will calm down when they get tired. Let them be who they are and let them run and be silly. Some say that parenting little boys is exhausting and little girls seem easy until the teen years, then the girls get hard and the boys suddenly seem easier to deal with.

Most boys don't put on false faces, they reveal their hearts on their sleeves and let it all hang out. Boys don't usually play mind manipulation games and their interactions are not about social exclusion nastiness. They are nto players of whispering in front of others or secret keepers nor do they make clubs and play "who's in and who's out" games.

Boys play at what they want and if you want to join them, you may, no matter your age or gender; if they choose to not play the other kid's game it's not anything personal, it's just that they don't want to do that thing.

In watching little kids play for years I've noticed this pattern over and over. It is the girls who leave the boys when they reject the boy games and go off together to make a new game. The boys keep up playing at what they want, even sometimes if the group winds up tapering down to two or three players, and if the thing can be done alone, they may choose to continue when by themselves if everyone leaves them.

The girls go off away from the co-ed group with other girls and talk. It's not uncommon to see boys doing active play, running games, tag, or make believe games such as light saber fights, long after the girls have abandoned such things and prefer to just sit and chat. The boys are not asked to come sit and gab. Yet the boys will accept any girl who wants to come and play the game that's in process. So long as she wants to do what they are doing, she can join in. They make no judgements about the girl who acts like a "Tomboy", she's accepted.

Boys always seem to have a bit more daring energy and they boldly do what they want without worry of judgement. They don't think about things like what someone will think about them or how they look, they just do what feels right or what seems right.

Of course, life experiences change the natural course of things. A child's experience with their parents, such as the mothers who seem to be more comfortable raising a daughter and just don't feel the same about raising a boy, can change a boy's behavior, expecting what some would say is more feminine behavior, training the "boy" out of them. Experiences in school or other places with peer dominance may make some boys more inhibited and curbed.

When I saw this boy on a lighthouse tour doing his own thing and enjoying every minute I was seeing little boy energy on full display. I loved seeing it!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ornaments on the 2011 Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas Eve Day!

Here are some Christmas ornaments on our tree. A tradition I started was to buy one ornament relating to my children's interests each year. I couldn't always find one, but most years I did. Sometimes it was related to something special that we went as a family.

I also have old ornaments handed down to me used on trees of the past, from my paternal great grandmother, paternal grandmother, and my parents, as well as some from my husband's maternal grandmother and from his parents.

1970s bird from my parents. Just realized the poor thing's beak is missing!

Gingerbread man, special to me, the baker, and all the times I've made gingerbread creations with my sons.

Electric guitar for younger son's hobby. Boy Scout insigna for both kids. New England snow scene handmade in Maine purchased in Freeport while I was dating my husband.

Husband's Alma Mater.

 Space Shuttle for my space nut older son, bought when he was maybe four years old.

Train museum in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, we stopped on the way home from visiting my grandmother one time when my kids were about age 5 and 2.


This is our first Christmas in Texas, our first Christmas away from our families. Coming from families with strong holiday traditions, and with everyone living so close to one another, this is a big change for us.

We chose not to fly back East for the holiday due to a tight budget and an uncertain future, since our Connecticut home is still up for sale, and we're paying for two households.

Photos by ChristineMM with iPhone4 & Instagram filters.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Most Everything We Do Really Isn't Optional

Here is a reply to a blog post by Jenn Casey in which she presents that homework in the homeschool co-op class is optional if her daughter (age 6.5) has deemed the homework assignment stupid. Here most of what I say is addressing what other blog post commenters did not say.

Rational Jenn blog post: Homeschooling and Perfectionism published 12/19/11

I look at this differently than you approached it. To me this is about making informed choices and accepting responsibility (yes even for a 6.5 year old).

I would have said to my child, "If you sign up for this co-op class there is homework this is like this (describe it) and you must do it as it is part of your responsibility as a student and the teacher feels it helps form your experience in the class in some way. Whether you like the homework or not, I don't know but, it's a part of the class that you will have to do."

In my favorite co-op the homework estimate was put in the course description so there was no surprise. Some kids chose to not take a class as they liked the topic enough to go sit in the class but didn't want to do homework as they had homeschool lessons assigned by mom to do on non-co-op days or they liked the idea of the class but didn't want to do more work. And they didn't want surprises after enrolling in the class and starting to attend.

(Although in your daughter's case she was doing most of the homework, the reading.)

If you found out about the homework after attending then again present it as an option to do the homework and stay in class or drop the class.

I think the assignment was easy and very do-able for a 6.5 year old especially if you helped by typing out what she dictated to summarize the book. She also could have kept the books read log in Excel in an easy list format, or Word if she wanted to avoid trying to make perfect looking handwriting by hand.

It may seem small to you but if you present everything as optional and open for their rejection, even to young kids, they grow up with an attitude that their opinion or whim or desire comes first and foremost ahead of things like obligation and responsibility to an outside party (i.e. teacher, authority figure, boss, police, friend,or spouse and anyone).

People who abide by the law, who are good employees, who are good neighbors, good friends, good spouses, and good parents often have to jump through some hoops or be bored or do things we may not think is what we want in order to just live through daily life in a civilized manner.

"I really don't want to clean this barf that my child just did on the rug but for the family's health it must be done."

"I don't feel like stopping for this red light but I need to so the other cars can go."

"This meeting at work is really boring how can the boss think this is worth my time, I feel like walking out, but I can't."

"I did want to finish watching this YouTube music video but my brother needs the computer to do his math work so I'll get off it now instead of in five minutes."


I am a perfectionist too, and I understand that whole part of the discussion, and others have already said good things about it so I am not addressing that much. I think you are handling that part well.

I will add:

Perfectionists need direct instruction in time management so they do not continue to push off a task. There is a fear underneath (they may not realize) that they won't do a good enough job so they put it off. Then that gives them stress, facing that deadline and not having it done. Often they don't do as well on school assignments as they run out of time.

(There is actually brain science behind this, the brain which is anxious has different brain wave activity that impedes things like congnitive thinking ability, memory recall and other thinking tasks that would make it harder to perform well to write a paper, summarize one's thoughts in writing, or take a test.)

If you can directly teach your DD this and get her to face that fear and push through and get to the other side, and use planning and time management early, she may bypass years of repeated action and failure before she discovers that fact herself.

It seems to me you want your kids to figure out a lot on their own and arrive at their own conclusions. Sometimes a little nudge by Mom can really help kids rather than letting them flounder for perhaps years. You have wisdom and I feel that parent's role is to impart their wisdom to their kids.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hard to Get a Good Photo of My Sons Lately

Younger son, age eleven, is again at the stage where he makes faces every time I try to snap a photo. Here I am bothering him while he is playing a role playing game on the Internet.

Older son has not been cooperating either, asking if something I photo will be blogged or wind up on Facebook "where your friends always comment saying I'm handsome and I hate that". Here he is trying to grab the camera out of my hand as I'm shooting.

Well, that's life with boys. You can't always get good candid photos of them, no matter how hard you try.

Starbucks Natural Fusions Cinnamon Flavored Coffee Product Review

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

Summary Statement: Rank and Bitter

Why I thought I’d enjoy this coffee:

1. My daily coffee is Starbucks French Roast (extra bold), which some call bitter but which I don't find bitter.

2. I love cinnamon.

3. I loved the Starbucks Natural Fusions Vanilla Flavored Coffee.

4. It’s winter and it seemed like it would be a good time to try something different.

I don’t like this coffee and give it 4 stars.


1. It is “rank”, a term my grandmother used to describe “too much” cinnamon (or “too much” molasses). Rank is the perfect word for this.

2. It is bitter and to be palatable I had to double my normal amount of sugar.

Yes, I did play around with the amount of grounds to use to make the coffee (in my French press). As I used less coffee grounds it just went watery and did not turn into “not bitter” and “a non-overpowering cinnamon bad taste”.

I also tried this iced which actually was a bit more palatable and interesting.

I’m disappointed in this cinnamon flavor, to say the least and am going back to Starbucks French Roast.

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

Atlantic Odyssey Luggage 21 Inch Spinner Product Review

In the last year, three of of our carry-on pieces bit the dust. One was ripped to shreds, another one's zipper broke and the third's handle broke off (plastic broke apart).

We purchased this piece of luggage and loved it so much we bought a second one (see note below on the model name).

This is 21 inches but oddly has more room inside than a different 22 inch piece we own. This expands with zippers.

The fabric is durable and thick which is important so it doesn't rip. Sometimes the airplane runs out of room and they made us gate check the carry on piece and it has been ripped by airline staff. Other times we choose to check the luggage and it has gotten ripped in processing by machinery. We did own a hard case piece once and decided it is too inflexible. You can really cram stuff into durable fabric luggage, press on it to compact it before zipping --- you can't do that with the hard case luggage that seems to be getting more popular now, so we really wanted fabric. We compared this fabric to other brand's offerings in a store and it was obvious that this one is thicker and more durable.

This has a suit rack inside should you wish to use it.

This easily fits in the overhead compartment which is important. Some other brands have wheels that stick out and they are too big for the overhead compartment by about an inch! Those bags have to be turned sideways instead of going in the long way.

The wheels turn 360 degrees for effortless wheeling in any direction.

We feel this is higher quality than some of the luggage we presently own.

We own the charcoal gray which is a nice color that will not show dirt as easily as some other colors. This line does not come in black.

Atlantic is a line owned by TravelPro, which is a maker of high quality luggage.

We are very happy with the two pieces of this luggage that we own. One that we own is Odyssey and the other is Odyssey 2. We can't tell the difference, they seem identical to us in side by side comparison, the only thing we can see that is different is the name on the label.

Disclosure: I bought these items for our personal use. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Delicious Chocolate Mousse Recipe

Today I tested this recipe as I may make it for dessert for Christmas Day. I made mousse only one other time and ruined it.

I am pleased to say the mousse came out perfect. The key is that the eggs must be hot and the chocolate must be about the same hot temperature when they are combined. If one is colder than the other you risk either having little pieces of cooked egg or grains of chocolate suspended through the mousse. I am a slow microwave chocolate melter. I have ruined chocolate by burning it over a double boiler in the past.

I used this recipe from FoodTV.

Notes: I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate as I think it always tastes better and richer than semisweet chocolate. I used the instant espresso but that meant the coffee hater in the family disliked it. I loved it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Some Free Open Courseware from Top American Colleges

I found this easy to use listing of free open courseware today (dated 2007). If the links are dead at least you know what the college is, google it and I'm sure you will find the new, current URL.

Top 10 Universities With Free Courses Online by Jimmy Ruska

Any person of any age can use these. Homeschoolers in high school may find them useful.

I have been using some source material from some of these courses to guide me to good books to use when developing custom courses for my ninth grader. I am still working to develop a thorough "History of Comic Books and the Graphic Novel Storytelling Format" which relies not on teacher lectures delivered by me but uses either books as teachers, online text articles written by subject matter experts, or video lectures. I am also trying to determine reasonable assignments to go along with the course so it is not just a read and learn course.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Conversation with a Teen About High School Here

I had an interesting conversation with a seventeen year old high school junior. He is American born but has also lived overseas and attended school with kids from all different countries. He has lived in more than one place in America. Presently he lives in the same Texas suburb as I do. He also has been homeschooled, in earlier grades. He was mature and happy to talk to me, and he was friendly. He was not the stereotypical teen who will not look an adult in the eye or have a conversation.

I asked how he felt the overseas experience was, as a teen, since my husband had interviewed for a job in Dubai. He said it was one of the best experiences because it was transient, there was not a firm pecking order or cliques since kids moved in and out. He explained that he felt that he was judged truly based on who he was as a person not based on some other characteristic, and he liked that.

Our town has two high schools. Each has 8000 students with a graduating class of 2000. Yes, I said each, it was not a typo. In this town that just ticked past 100K inhabitants we have 16K who are in grades 9-12 in public school, and even more teens attend private schools or are homeschooled. (I wonder how many minor aged children are here all total?) This is a family place as you can see.

I asked him what it was like in the high school here. I said I asked as I wondered how my kids may fare in the school here, should they ever wind up there. He said the school here was a not a place that he was enjoying. He said it was a socially brutal place with a ton of cliques.

At that point his mother walked up and we started talking. She agreed that the social climate was nasty. She said something interesting, after asking who my son was, and I pointed him out, and she looked at him, she said he would probably do just fine in school since he is a handsome kid. I got the sense that life is much harder if you are homely. They both also said something to imply that the wealthiest kids in town were at the top of the pecking order and that anyone below them were looked down upon.

I graduated from public school in a class of 250. I cannot imagine what a school that has 2000 in each class would be like. How are the kids not lost in a sea of bodies? How can students ever get repeat classes with their old friends? How can kids cultivate friendships that are based on shared experiences if they probably don't get to see each other in multiple classes and year after year? How do the kids not feel lost and unattached?

If my kids wind up in school I wish it could be a smaller school!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A List of Parenting Priorities

Sometimes parenting (and in my case homeschooling) can get overwhelming. I need to review the priorities every once in a while to reset the framework and to shift my perspective.

It is hard to put these in order, so within each grouping, what matters is the groupings. I see it this way:

Top Priorities:

children are kept safe from harm, parents prevent others from harming them if possible and keep them from harming themselves

children have basic shelter, food, clothing

children have parental love

children receive appropriate medical attention if needed

Next down on the list:

parents see that the child is receiving a basic education

parents help the child become independent and self-sufficient members of society by age 18

parents take action to maintain health and wellness (a separate issue from the above listed medical attention)

parents teach a child about being a good citizen, about the country and state laws so they can be law-abiding citizens

Lower still:

parents take action to provide children to be exposed to people, places, things, and actitivies that enrich them above and beyond what their basic education consists of

parents help a child make friendships and have positive relationships with peers (such as seeing that they join a certain activity to be around kids of similar interests), especially important if school or the neighborhood kids are not providing friends

children are given material possessions for entertainment and fun play

children are exposed to cultural things such as The Arts for viewing and enjoyment and personal enrichment

children may receive extra training in The Arts for personal enjoyment and enrichment (i.e. music lessons, acting in a play)

children's education changes from something basic and rudimentary to something deemed "better" by the parent (i.e. parents provide for a private school education and opt out of the default free public school or they homeschool the children themselves)

parents help identify struggles in learning that impede a child's ease of seeking educational excellence and provide resources for treatment of the conditions (versus in past generations things which would now be labeled as learning disabilities that need treatment were left untended and the child was left to fend for themselves, kids were sometimes just deemed "not bright" or "not good at schoolwork")


Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough or that I'm not a "good enough" parent. I need to remind myself of the basics sometimes, and then I feel like my kids are what some would label "over-indulged" and "priviledged".

I also need to remind myself to not over-focus on the non-important and optional things while neglecting the "big rocks".

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Some Advice I Received About Homeschooling and School

I met someone the other day who asked about our move to Texas. In a very short summary I explained the sudden move, the packing, the renting of a temporary house, the ice dam claim on our house, me dealing with house renovations and the insurance claim, more work to make the house nicer for potential buyers, the house not selling right away as was thought (based on what the real estate agent said), our poor air conditioning and heating system in this rental house and that we are homeschooling all the while.

I was asked how I did not get sick or go crazy. I said I didn't know but I felt that I could use a vacation.

I was told, "You should take a pill".

(For the record, I have not taken any pills to help me through this. I've also not self-medicated with alcohol or food treats.)

I was told "just throw your kids in school so you can relax".

I have considered schooling options based on ease for me. I am not sure that I'd completely relax if my kids were in school. Yes, I'd have less responsibility but I'd have other things to deal with which would be stressful.

My kid's education is not "all about me" or my ease. I'm just trying to do what is right and best for my kids. I have said it before and I'll say it again. If school ever seems better than what is happening in our homeschool we will use it.

My Interests

I just updated my Amazon customer reviewer profile.

It is interesting to boil one's life and one's interests down to a few words.

Here's my current info:

Practices: autodidactism, attachment parenting, gentle discipline, homeschooling, teaching, education, writing, blogging, book reviewing, Boy Scouting and volunteer work.

Enjoys doing: slow food, cooking, baking, gardening, herbs, soapmaking. natural food, organic gardening, alternative medicine, exercise, wellness, photography, knitting, felting, and art viewing.

Curious about: Autism, Asperger's, learning disabilities, learning and the brain, education pedagogy, education reform and American culture.

Former passions: natural childbirth, breastfeeding, La Leche League, collage, artist trading cards, rubber stamping, art journaling, and mixed media art.

Former career: medical assistant and collections manager for primary care doctor's office, HMO, corporate training, technical writing and quality assurance.

Formal education: public school and BA Corporate Management.

Lived in Connecticut until 2011, moved to Houston Texas. "You go where the jobs are."

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Should Have Attended

Perhaps my error will be something you can learn from.

Having just moved long distance and being really busy with unpacking and settling in I passed up an opportunity to go to a local seminar about how to homeschool high school. Why did I pass it up?

Besides the obvious fact that I was stressed out and very busy unpacking, there were other reasons I avoided it. I had attended a very helpful semniar in June of this year about rigorous high school homeschool plans. I also have some books here to help me. I felt I knew the basics.

All of them required a fee. We're on a tight budget. I don't want to pay to hear information that may not be useful. I was not able to find enough information on the presenters to figure out if we were on the same page or not.

I was afraid of going to something that may not be what I want, like the session I heard last year where the mother giving advice on how to homeschool high school who only has daughters told us her main goal for her girls is to raise them to follow Christ and to be good help-mates to their husbands. I have sons who I want to educate with a college prep program, partly so they can get the education required to be able to work and to be good providers for their future families.

I was afraid if I heard more info I may reach the point of feeling overwhelmed as I was already on the brink of that from both homeschooling and the move and all the changes in our family.

Today it hit me that I really should have gone because (still as of now) I have not made decent contacts locally in the homeschool network about homeschooling high school. I have had a hard time finding out about local resources for options.

I also just realized that the use of community college in the high school years is a bit different than the simple thing told to me by three other people. That showed me that I need to check and double check what people tell me. I was also just told by a mom whose son goes to the public high school that homeschoolers can join the school's robotics team. Who knew?

What I need is to know our options, locally. If I have to attend local "how to homeschool high school" events (even when I think I know the basics) just to find that information, then I'll attend. I'm still busy even though we are all unpacked, but I'll have to make the time. What I can do is if I hear other information that does not apply to my kids and does not align with our family's goals then I will just "take what works and leave the rest behind".

All along I've said that homeschoolers can benefit from getting connected locally. I thought I was doing enough to get connected but it's not enough, so I'll have to do more.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shutting Out the Noise: Going No Mail

The time has come. I just went to "no mail" on a bunch of internet discussion groups. I joined them over a year ago in order to learn more about homeschooling high school.

I have reached the brink and am trying to save myself from going insane. By listening to what is said I have now seen the crazy go round and round and I'm getting off the crazy train.

I have seen advice given that was portrayed as being the ultimate and final word then I see evidence that those who did the opposite achieved success not failure as predicted.

I am reading advice from parents about college admissions that directly conflicts with what I have just heard college admissions counselors say. Why should I listen to voices who are flat out wrong?

I have seen example after example of people worrying about fulfilling a college admissions requirement, then applying without that thing then their kid gets in anyway.

Then there is the other nonsense such as the bashing of other people and rude things being said that in my opinion break the rules of netiquette but no one does anything about it.

I've had enough.

I went "web only" on the groups and am just going to focus on living our lives and doing what I think sounds reasonable for homeschool high school. I'll use the college admissions own websites for advice.

I can't let myself be influenced by those who are scared and fretting. I shouldn't take advice from people whose other advice is just not accurate.

I need to save my sanity. So, I am shutting out the noise and going no mail.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thoughts on the Book "How to Be a High School Superstar" by Cal Newport

Viewing the book from the perspective of a homeschooling mother who was seduced into homeschooling by the appeal of the unschooling method I say this:

What the book "How to Be a High School Superstar" by Cal Newport does is presents a formula for (schooled) teens that Newport feels may help them gain entry into elite colleges. He take success stories of (schooled) teens who did something unusual, a project or a typically more adult task and shows how that helped them gain entry into elite or respected colleges.

In order to do those projects, the (schooled) students lightened up their traditionally heavy academic load. And the (schooled) students then (surprisingly to some) gained entry to elite colleges while their AP class heavy, sleep deprived and stressed out schooled peers did not.

What I want to say is that maybe what Newport doesn't know is that the schooled teens he picked out who did something alternative, are so similar to the stories of some unschooled and homeschooled students. As I read Newport's book I kept thinking, "This is not too different from stories I've heard John Taylor Gatto tell about his students in the 1980s" and "Gatto inspired homeschoolers to step outside the box and to do similar things and they did it and those who sought to also gained admissions to top colleges". Also, stories such as these have been discussed by John Holt and written about in the pages of Growing Without Schooling and Home Education Magazine.

Meanwhile with the inpsiration of Holt and Gatto, I have crafted my kid's preschool, elementary and middle school years to be something alternative and interesting, good and enriching yet not copying at all the way that school kids learn.

And I sit here, a homeschooling mother of a 9th and 6th grader feeling pressured to change what we do in order to make my kids look acceptable to college admission's officers by making them look like schooled kids. Some colleges have doubled down the requirements for admissions for homeschoolers, wanting even more than they require of schooled kids. If we jump through those hoops we have not time for "the good stuff" or "the alternative stuff". With the nose in the boring textbook and memorizing vocabulary words there is no time left to watch an interesting documentary or to go to the Holocaust Museum, let alone time to build a robot one designs oneself.

So it was a surreal feeling to read Newport's revelations about how to get school kids into college by doing stuff JUST LIKE RADICAL UNSCHOOLED KIDS DO. Especially shocking was seeing that the teens were doing "adult things" in their teen years JUST LIKE THE RADICAL UNSCHOOLED KIDS DO.

I was thinking about the lectures and panel discussions that I've attended at homeschool conferences. The ones where a parent or young adult tells how they had an alternative education and did get into a great college and were able to study what they wanted. They say that eventually they did buckle down and do the regular college traditional work after years of not being forced to parrot facts and not using flashcards and not doing everything else the schooled kids have been pushed to do since elementary school. (The stuff that some homeschooling parents worry will kill the joy of learning and leads some kids to hate school and to hate learning when actually schooling and learning are two different things altogether.)

The message at the conferences has been "be brave" and "follow your heart" and "maybe they never wrote an essay until age 16 but they did X, Y, and Z great cool things that they learned stuff from" and "it seemed they played too much with LEGOs and video games but they turned out smart and wonderful".

Well, when I finished "How to Be a High School Superstar" I was completely confused and my head was spinning. I actually started feeling that way half-way through the book and put it down for a couple of months while I thought about all of it, then I returned to the book to finish it up.

One thing I should mention is my opinion was, although it was not directly stated by Newport, was this:

It seemed to me that the kids who slowed down their academic classes in order to make time for a project and to keep their sanity and to get enough sleep had already had a solid foundation in The Three R's and already had solid study skills and a general competency to do "school learning" with success. Thus when they pulled back on doing high level academic courses and did other great stuff with their time which developed them into someone who their typically schooled peers could never be as they were never allowed to spend their time doing things like networking with adults in the business field or putting time to writing their own software or writing a book.

So, the take-away for me, a homeschool mom, was that if there are any gaps in skills when homeschool high school starts, skills that will be needed for one's future plans (which may include college) then it would not be alright to slack back and not address those in order to undertake some big project. My opinion is that any gaps in skills that are present should be dealt with as those skills will be needed in the future. I refer to writing composition, math and other things such that are necessary for taking the SAT and filling out one's own college application.

I also feel that the core subjects should be studied that are required for college admissions and so that whatever is on the transcript is not a fraudulent made up bunch of lies. If college is not in your child's goals then do whatever you want (to keep within your state's law) and revel in your freedom of choice!

I would like to see that a homeschooled student knows who they are and what their passion is and that they take the time to do interesting and enriching things they want to do in order to fulfill their curiosity and act as a true autodidact in their field of interest. I say field of interest because there is just not enough time in the day to study every single subject deeply and let's be honest, we all have different interests and there are some things we not just dislike but loathe. Not everything can or should be studied a mile deep before age 18. Must I mention the obvious fact that learning should be a lifelong pursuit and that even with learning something new every day of one's life you will never learn everything? There is just so much that can be studied and learned!

For me, Newport's book brought me back on track thinking that our family's original home education vision was good and right. I was not crazy to do something so out of the box. I had been led to believe that high school was time to abandon all that in order to do some kind of school at home to satisfy college admission's officers desires for my kids to look like the cookie cutters (that they say they don't want but really they set it up that they have to be). The two things were extreme and at polar opposites.

At this moment in time I have arrived at a more middle of the road position. I am back to supporting alternative projects even if they take a lot of time. We are addressing skills gaps. I am going to begin working with my ninth grader teaching different study skills and finding which he feels works most efficiently for him, using the book Study Smarter, Not Harder. And a broad typical curriculum is being studied that checks off the base requirements while also allowing for some customized learning in non-traditional ways (such as his fine art class in the history of comic books, comic art, and graphic novel storytelling and his literature class focusing on dystopian literature).

I'm back to feeling confident again. It is hard to do an alternative thing, it's risky and sometimes it is scary. On different days I feel different things: confident, worried, fearful, happy, brave, or uncertain. While the good feeling is with me I'm happy to embrace it.

P.S. My opinion is that the teens in the Newport book who did those projects which were borne from within themselves, did them because they had an internal drive, and they were improved by their actions by learning new things and becoming diffrent people in the process.

I do not have as much confidence in the teens who take that path as part of following the formula that Newport has laid out after they read his book. Anyone seeking to get admission to an elite college by taking on a project just because someone said doing that worked for other people, I think, is taking a big risk.

The projects that the others worked on were labors of love that their hearts, souls and minds were in alignment to do. Anyone going through the motions just because someone says it may be an easy ticket to get into a top tier college is, well, a faker. Such projects could wind up being transcript padders which would then undermine everyone else who really is doing different and productive things out of a true desire to do them.

Thus, college admissions officers will have to find more ways to figure out whether the applicants are authentic kids or posers. That's their job. I think the interview process is important and I wish all colleges did interviewing at some level of the application process because I think it's easier to sniff out the fakers in a face to face discussion than trying to determine it by reading lists and scores and essays on paper.

Since I feel I'm raising my kids to be authentic people I am telling myself that at college admissions time, their true nature will shine through on their transcript, in their essays, and in their interviews.

I have already seen this to be true in my kid's interactions with adults in the community such as with sport coaches and Boy Scout leaders and with parents of kids they interact with. Anyone who knows my kids can see they are unique and genuine people who know things and can communicate well and who have good character traits and are more often than not well behaved people that others want to be around. (They are imperfect humans who also display typical human traits and make mistakes, trust me. I mention that in case you mistakenly think I think my kids are perfect angels: they are not. They are human just like you and me.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lifting Weights at the Gym (Haiku)

Doing lat pulldowns
Feels like 1986
Working hard, alone

Haiku by ChristineMM 12/12/11

Kaplan SAT Strategies, Practice, and Review 2011 Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Kaplan SAT Strategies, Practice, and Review 2011

Publication: Kaplan, 2010

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

Summary Statement: 700+ Pages for the Price of a Take-Out Pizza = Cheap and Provides a Lot of Practice!

The book explains what the SAT test is and all the directions so the student can be familiar with those and not hear them for the first time when the test is administered.

Just as with Kaplan’s PSAT book, the best things about the book, though, are the test strategies that Kaplan recommends which they spell out clearly and concisely and the practice tests which are a lot for a low cost.

Just knowing and using these strategies must put students at an advantage perhaps that is why students always improve their scores upon taking it more than once.

The book comes with a serial number which allows the book owner to gain access to the Kaplan website where they can take more sample tests online (free of charge) to help them determine a studying strategy. (There are sample tests in this 700+ page book also.)

An impression I got from being on Kaplan's shiny impressive website is that everyone would benefit from taking Kaplan’s classes for SAT prep. Perhaps some who are tempted by this cheap book then feel scared and pay a lot more for additional courses. Whether you choose that is up to you. I honestly feel that if a student really started preparing ahead of time, not doing last minute cramming, and if they really do all the practice tests and understand the SAT’s format, and if they had a decent education, they’ll do fine on the SAT.

As I said about the Kaplan PSAT book, for the price of a take-out pizza, you can buy this book and access the website and the book to do a lot to practice. At least the book is not being sold for a ridiculous high price. The book is valuable for the student because it guides the student to find their weak areas so they can independently study or to go on to form a small study group. A student can learn a lot using just this book. So how hard can a parent really be when rating a 700+ page book that is such a low cost which can help the student a lot *if they actually use the book and do study*? I can't be that hard on the book, therefore I'll rate this 4 stars = I Like It.

I recommend that you buy this book, use it fully and see what you get out of it. If you feel you are floundering studying alone or with a small study group that you created, and consider enrolling in classes such as Kaplan's, if you either are not disciplined enough to stick to a study schedule on your own or if money isn’t an issue and you can afford the for-fee Kaplan services.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from’s Vine program. I was not paid to write the review nor was I under obligation to write a favorable review. I was not paid or mandated to post this review on my blog. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thoughts on Micro Essays for College Applications

I had some thoughts after hearing about this. My impressions were before reading what others said later on in the article.

The new college admissions essay: short as a tweet

I bet this is a backlash against hearing too many essays that didn't reveal much about the candidate beyond showing they can write. Surely there are enough decent writers that they all start to look the same. Thus the colleges don't want to hear the "right response" they want to hear an "honest response".

I bet colleges get too many canned answers of stuff that the applicants think is what the colleges want to hear, and they are sick of it. If I were an admissions officer I'd reject anyone who gave robotic canned answers.

I bet applicants are following expert's advice about what to write and how, and that it's been happening for more years than the colleges can stand. They probably are just dying to hear more about who the student really is as a real person and they hope the essay can help put a more human face to it than the other parts of the application do (the numbers and lists).

I know some applicants are using ghost writers they hire. Some have the gall to call themselves college admissions coaches when in fact they are just essay ghost writers. I bet colleges are onto this scam. Now that more people are aware of such a paid service and so many can afford it, they're using those services, and the colleges must hate that. It's kind of like scamming the admissions office. Is there anyone who likes knowing the wool is being pulled over their eyes?

By asking quirky questions of the applicants, they are able to see if the person is unique or boring, and if they are a creative thinker.

By limiting the number of words in the response to a low number they force the applicant to use creative thinking and to use brevity. It is not easy to get the most content out of a short word count.

Lastly, I think it saves time on processing the college applications! I heard that some colleges are not even spending five minutes reading an application!

What do you think?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Estes Viper Toy Review by ChristineMM

Price: $45 MSRP

To review this product I enlisted the help of my sons aged 11 and 14 who have experience playing with various (under $50) flying toys.

The first recommendation I have is to not fly this over a hard surface (i.e. asphalt or concrete) as the first few runs (when we had not figured out the controls yet) resulted in dive-bombs nose-first into the ground. Even hitting a mown grass field the Styrofoam plane began getting beat up after the first crash. The construction of this toy is just like some of the Air Hog brand helicopters that we’ve owned.

This plane comes with two extra propellers which I advise you bring with you because we lost one of our propellers after the fifth crash. They are black and hard to find when on the ground after they fall off mid-flight or after the crash. Note: if you crash it, look at it immediately and check for the propeller. Don’t walk away and realize later that it’s gone as finding it among the grass blades will be impossible. (Maybe they should have made them a neon color to help us?)

My main complaint is the price. I estimate $20 to be a more reasonable price than MSRP $45.

The Styrofoam construction which is typical of other brand toys on the market at present presents a problem when sometimes during a crash they break, so I worry about how long this will last. You cannot fly it without the propellers. I believe you may buy extra ones from the manufacturer.

The item was packed well within the Estes box with Styrofoam so it was not damaged in shipping. Mine came with a set of instructions but to get a feel for how to fly it correctly you just have to use trial and error and play with it.

My sons loved this. After family discussion we rate it using Amazon’s rating system of 4 Stars = We Like It, taking 1 star off for lack of durability and the high cost.

Disclosure: I received this product from’s Vine program. I was not paid to write the review nor was I under obligation to write a favorable review. I was not paid or mandated to post this review on my blog. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mother and Son Portrait

Photo taken 12/05/11 by ChristineMM using iPhone and Instagram.

Word Hero Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever

Author: Jay Heinricks

Publication: Three Rivers Press, October 2011

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

Summary Statement: Breaks Down Elements of Witty Writing & Teaches You How to Write Like That

I found this book interesting and engaging and anything but boring. Heinricks teaches techniques of witty writing which can be used in writing or blogging or in speech writing or as tidbits to add into any type of public speaking you may do. Also anyone who just likes to insert wit into conversations may enjoy this also.

The lead-up to each element is engaging, always witty (of course) and fast-paced. Giving examples from history, current events and even quotes from the current popular TV show, Glee, we read many examples of the type of witty writing that is being discussed in that section. Then the reader is given writing exercises to practice in order for us to flex their own writing muscles.

There really is no way to improve one’s writing without writing, so I appreciated that the author not only teaches us this type of writing by providing us with text to read, but he also directs us with writing exercises to do on our own. I feel that by just reading this book a reader would not transform into suddenly being witty: you really have to do the work and practice.

Although I’m a clear writer and can write both technical process and persuasive writing, I definitely am not a witty writer. Witty thinking does not come naturally to me. My mind doesn’t think like that so I appreciated wit being broken down and dissected by Heinricks. I kept thinking, “Oh! I see how they did that! I can do that if I just tried!”

I appreciate that so much information is packed into this one inexpensive book. If anyone were to do all this writing it would probably equal a full college course’s worth of writing.

Anyone who thinks writing and the writing process is boring should give this type of writing a try. Actually everyone’s writing may be improved by working through this book. I recommend this book for interested writers aged 12 and up. (Teaching middle and high school students to write this way may actually get some of them more interested in writing.)

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from’s Vine program. I was not paid to write the review nor was I under obligation to write a favorable review. I was not paid or mandated to post this review on my blog. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Friday, December 09, 2011


Photo taken by ChristineMM in Connecticut in June 2011 with iPhone and Instagram.

View Free Vintage Comic Book Online (One Per Week)

Click here to link to The History of Comic Books site to access the one free online viewing of a vintage or antique comic book.

I found that site while researching information to use for my grade nine son's high school art class which focuses on the art and craft and history of the comic book and graphic novels.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

When Christians Carve Trees

Noticed in my backyard after a heavy rainfall which made the crucifix pop.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone and Instagram.

Photographing Flowers Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Photographing Flowers

Author: Harold Davis

Publicaton: Focal Press October 2011

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

Summary Statement: Gorgeous Photographs with Both Creative Artistic Process and Technical Process Explained
I really enjoyed the format of this book, I found the method of showing a fantastic photograph with the explanation of how it was made engaging and interesting reading. I noticed the difference between other books that attempt to isolate one technique then show examples and liked Davis’s presentation much better; the other way sometimes comes off dry and uninspiring. Perhaps there is no other way for his process because often one photograph will use two or more different techniques, so splitting them off one by one would have been impossible. What I liked so much was reading about his thought process, what drew him to that flower, what different techniques he tried to capture the image then how it worked out in the end. I loved the process-oriented approach that this book has.

If you read this cover to cover as I did in the end what you will have learned is about:

Taking photos outdoors in the field and indoors in a studio as well as about how Davis uses Photoshop in post processing to create the images

 Taking photographs with a very controlled setting and improvising outdoors in sub-optimal conditions (too bright sun, breeze, etc.)

How you can use cut plants, garden grown plants, wild plants, and store bought flowers
Using natural light, artificial light, and a combination of both

Shooting against black velvet and white backgrounds as well as using a lightbox and even scanning cloth and using Photoshop to create textured colored backgrounds (i.e. papyrus and linen)

Regarding equipment he discusses using regular lenses, macro lenses, extension tubes, close up filters, and the Lensbaby.

I want to emphasize that unlike some other books I’ve read I didn’t finish this book thinking that my capabilities were lacking due to not owning certain photography equipment. Davis left me with the impression that the photographer must have a creative vision and it is important to observe, see, and to be inspired by flowers. You can’t get that from just buying a macro lens or a Lensbaby or any piece of equipment. I know already that I’ve taken some very good macro photos using just my 18-55 mm lens on the macro setting. Even with limited equipment by using some of these techniques or buying some black velvet from the fabric store anyone would have enough to stretch one’s creativity.

Much of what Davis knows he has learned through trial and error. By the time I finished the book I was reminded yet again of the importance of the power of observation, of training our eye to really see what is in front of us. Davis encourages us to see the flower in ways that perhaps we have ever taken the time to. It is clear that the author enjoys photography and that what he’s learned has come from many hours of working with the flowers and trying different techniques then doing digital editing with Photoshop.
As I finished the book I felt inspired to try some of the new-to-me techniques. I really enjoyed the focus of the book being on process and discussing inspiration and hearing the author’s creative vision.

(I see that Davis has written other photography books now I am interested in reading more of his books.)
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from’s Vine program. I was not paid to write the review nor was I under obligation to write a favorable review. I was not paid or mandated to post this review on my blog. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.