Saturday, March 31, 2012

I-45 at Greenspoint

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 & Instagram taken in Houston Texas 3/17/12, drive-by photography.

Theo Gray's Periodic Table Table

We enjoyed watching this and I hope you will too.

My older son loves the book The Elements and The Elements Vault by Theo Gray.

He also loves reading about experiments and activities you can do with chemicals in Mad Science by Theo Gray.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Downtown Houston

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 & Instagram taken in Houston Texas 3/17/12, drive-by photography.

Something to Use Ruined Homemade Pudding For

My 14 year old son made his first batch of pudding from scratch. It was a giant batch. It was intended to be a food that he'd eat after he had his tonsillectomy surgery.

There is a trick and a chance taken when blending hot milk into room temperature egg. One wrong move and you wind up with pudding with bits of tiny scrambled eggs in it.

With about a gallon of odd texture pudding on my hands I had an idea. I tried it, and it works.

Freeze the pudding, then use the frozen pudding combined with milk to make a milkshake.

The grainy texture of the pudding is undetectable in the milkshake.

Variation: Peach Milkshake

With frozen vanilla pudding: put a 15 ounce can of peaches in pear juice into the blender and add the frozen vanilla yogurt (just estimate the quantity). Mine yielded two peach milkshakes. It's delicious.



Thursday, March 29, 2012

An American Icon

Like it or not these signs are an American icon, all over our landscape.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 & Instagram taken in Houston Texas 3/17/12, drive-by photography.

What Son Said About Me Reviewing Books

A conversation I had last week with my eleven year old son.

Me: I need to go read this book. I want to finish it.

Son: Why?

Me: I need to write a review on it. I have been putting it off and am just going to make time to sit and read it.

Son: Do you like it?

Me: Not really, it's boring.

Son: Why are you reading it then?

Me: The book sounded good when I read the marketing materials. I thought I would learn something from it that would be of use and that I'd enjoy it. But the fact is, I don't like it, it's boring and I have some issues with it.

Son: So why bother?

Me: I made a committment to write this review.

Son: Why do you do the reviews if it takes your time and you don't like it?

Me: I do enjoy reading the books that I think are good. It's just that I don't always know that a book is not going to be great.

Son: What do you get out of this?

Me: Well I thought I wanted to read it, it did sound good before I started reading it. I got the review copy of the book for free. I was happy to get it, I thought it would be a good use of my time.

Son: But now you don't like the book so forget it, don't read it.

Me: I am following through on my committment. Plus with the Amazon Vine program the new policy is that I need to review 80% of the items that I have received in order to stay in the program. I am trying to stay above 80%. I can fall behind if I don't force myself to read these books.

Son: I wouldn't do it. I'd rather just not participate and then get to stop reading a book I don't like.

Me: Well that is why they require that you only review 80% of what you receive, you don't have to review every single thing. I do want to stay in the program. I am not forced to order things, I am offered items and if I like the idea of some of them, I request it. I have a choice.

Son: Well it just stinks that you have to finish reading a book you don't like.

Me: You win some, you lose some. It's okay.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Non-Thinking Doctor?

This is considered a radical opinion website by some people. However what I take issue with are quotes stated in court.

State Demands Child Take Cancer-Causing Drugs

This case is about whether the parents have a right to determine the medical treatment for their minor aged child. Here is the block of text that sums up what I have an issue with. The child had Cancer and had some treatment and recent diagnostic scans showed the child was Cancer-free so the parents didn't feel any more treatment was necessary. In fact the additional dose of medication was said in package inserts to cause secondary Cancer. If I were the parent I would question why more drugs should be given knowing the documented side effect.

In the quotes, the emphasis is mine.

“‘Have all of these drugs been approved by the FDA as safe and effective for children?’ I asked Jacob’s treating oncologist,” he said. “‘Yes,’ she replied, they have been FDA-approved for children.”

However, according to the official package inserts mandated by the government to describe the drugs contained and their complications, she was “flat wrong,” Farris said.

“In fact, as it turned out, the treating doctor had never even seen, much less read, these official FDA-required package inserts,” he reported.

A warning accompanying another drug demanded by the doctors, vincristine, was typical of those in the case, he said.

That warning said, “Patients who received chemotherapy with vinchristine sulfate in combination with anticancer drugs known to be carcinogenic have developed second malignancies.”

“This is not an easy case. It is not a case where a child has a current illness and the treatment is tested and proven to be safe and effective – those cases are easily resolved. The best evidence is that Jacob no longer has objective evidence of cancer. And not a single drug that the doctors want to give Jacob is FDA-approved for children for his kind of cancer,” Farris said.

He said it is a judgment call, a balancing of risks, and the issue is who makes that decision.

“The doctor told me during the deposition that she thinks that she should make the call – for every child in this situation. And she would give the same answer every time, rather than making an individual judgment,” Farris wrote. “I can’t imagine a more clear case of the need for parental rights.”

Michael Farris works for HSLDA, an organization who is concerned with parental rights and homeschooling. Homeschooling is often couched as a parental rights issue (and I agree that it is a parental rights issue).

Exit Through the Gift Shop Documentary Review

I was rivoted while watching this documentary about street art: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

This is an odd tale of a man obsessed and addicted to making video recordings of his life. He made recording after recording and would never watch them. This segued into him filming street artists at work. He then started saying he was filing to make a documentary when in fact he was just having fun doing the filming.

In the end perhaps one of the most famous street artists, Banksy, wound up making the documentary film using the original footage.

This is also the story of when a person decides to become an artist themselves, using a staff of hired artists (not unlike what Andy Warhol did) and as an unknown, to put on their own one man show. You won't believe what happens.

If you like art and the artistic process, and are curious about street art, you will enjoy this documentary.

They never did explain the title but I think I know. When you are accosted by Disney's security they bring you to their underground interrogation rooms through a door in the gift shop. What that has to do with the movie, you'll have to watch to find out. (How I know that fact about the gift shop door: while at Disney as a high school senior with a school trip some of my classmates attempted shoplifting and were caught and went through the gift shop door to the underground inquiry rooms.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sunset Over Busy Intersection

I was surprised it was so busy on a weeknight at 7:30pm. Photo taken at I-45 feeder road and College Park in The Woodlands Texas in March 2012.

Homeschooling on the Rise with African Americans

Article: Homeschooling: Why More Black US Families Are Trying It
Published by: BBC 3/14/12

I feel like this headline keeps being repeated every year or two, or maybe even more frequently.

In any event, here's an article from March 2012.

A single mother who works full time shared this about their new homeschool endeavor:
"It was not the violence, or even the fact that he was being bullied, that finally led to the decision to remove Copeland from his public school in what she describes as a "really bad area" of Washington DC, but the fact that he was "losing his love of learning".

"For the African-American community there was a huge amount of pressure against it, because in America, the grandparents of today's home-schooled children fought for desegregation of schools. They thought, 'The public schools are going to save us,'" he says.


"The teachers are always telling the parents they have to drug their kids, like they have some kind of problem. It's just crazy." says Sonya Barbee. "You don't want your kid to be a zombie."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Overdue for Haircut

Busy homeschooling Mama often puts kids before her own vanity related endeavors. Not sure if that's pathetic or not but that's life.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram March 2012.

Results of Study About Hormone Mimicking Chemicals

Article: Low Doses of Hormone-like Chemicals May Have Big Effects
Scientific American 3/15/12

Here is the result of a three year study which was inspired by the claims of the Bisphenol A chemical such as in water bottles and baby bottles, that hit the news as a scare story a few years ago.

"There truly are no safe doses for chemicals that act like hormones, because the endocrine system is designed to act at very low levels," Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University's Levin Lab Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, told Environmental Health News.

But many toxicologists subscribe to "the dose makes the poison" conventional wisdom. In other words, it takes a certain size dose of something to be toxic. They also are accustomed to seeing an effect from chemicals called "monotonic," which means the responses of an animal or person go up or down with the dose.


As examples, they provide evidence for several controversial chemicals, including bisphenol A, found in polycarbonate plastic, canned foods and paper receipts, and the pesticide atrazine, used in large volumes mainly on corn.


My thoughts:

Yet again with the corn! More corn issues!

I was extremely concerned with the findings and the scientists resistance to stop believing the old school chemical ideas that problems start with a certain dose and get worse the higher the dose. What this says about problems with a low dose and problems with a medium dose but not necessary having problems with a high dose means a paradigm shift is in order.

These findings are troublesome.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Who could ever think cats are not cute?

Photo by ChristineMM using Instagram and iPhone4 on 3/10/12.

Unzipped Documentary Review

Unzipped is a documentary film released in 1995 which shows the process that Isaac Mizrahi used to create his fall 1994 clothing line.

The film is interesting and is non-stop motion. In fact listening to the creative process that Mizrahi uses had my head spinning. He goes in a million directions at once and has so many ideas and so much inspiration that pinning it down and narrowing down choices seemed hard to do. The process is like a whirlwind.

As a person who is interested in the creative process I really enjoyed the film. If you enjoy today's reality show Project Runway and have never seen this 1995 film, I think you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Beef Stew

March was a month with twice in a month beef stew made from scratch.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram.

Pinterest User Agreement Concerns

I created an account and haven't done much with Pinterest. Truth be told, I felt I didn't have time for it. My time online feels full enough already and I am busy doing things that do not entail me looking at a screen.

There is a major issue with Pinterest that everyone who uses or who is thinking about Pinterest should know about.

First, the user agreement states you must own the content you share. This is not what 99.9% of people who use Pinterest are doing. They are posting links to sites and material which is copyrighted by someone else.

Second, once you submit something to Pinterest (that you supposedly created) you are transferring ownership to them.

Did you know those things?

Here are two articles from Scientific American that discuss those items in detail.

The Promise and Perils of Pinterest
By Glendon Mellow March 16, 2012

Pinterest’s Terms of Service, Word by Terrifying Word
By Kalliopi Monoyios March 19, 2012

I am specifically frightened by the notion that I publish a blog, and I publish photos online, and some stranger can take my post and put it on Pinterest and then Pinterest thinks they own my copyrighted image and text content.

I now have a new reason to choose to avoid Pinterest.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you use Pinterest?

Update: On 3/24/12 I received an email that Pinterest has changed their user agreement and TOS to remove the things I was most concerned about. Well, consider this blog post a historical post then. It was drafted and set for publication before they edited their TOS.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Homemade Chicken Soup

(Confession: husband ate the cooked chicken intended for this so it was a homemade chicken stock soup without actual pieces of chicken meat. Such is life.)

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram 3/15/12.

The Hunger Games Movie Review by ChristineMM

I've read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, as has my fourteen year old. My eleven year old was creeped out by the plotline and stopped reading the books. You have to admit it's a pretty grim movie. The books are for the young adult genre, but my son thought he wanted to read it since so many kids he knew had read the trilogy and loved it.

(The plot is very similar to an episode of the TV sci fi drama Sliders from 1996 "Rules of the Game", a show I watched back when it was on prime time. I was also reminded of Stephen King's "The Running Man". I have heard it is like the book "Battle Royale" but I have not read that book.)

Today I saw The Hunger Games movie with my kids. We saw it on opening day in XD, which is on a large screen with digital high definition visuals and with enhanced surround sound. The XD was excellent.

We all enjoyed the movie. (Although I normally don't let my kids see the movie until they read the book I was faced with a decision with our schedule. We saw this mid-day on a weekday and I wasn't about to leave my younger son home alone while I saw the movie with just my older son.)

I had worried about how the movie producers would fit in everything but it was done fairly well. What gets lost in translation is some emotion such as really getting a sense for the dire straits that every District is in, we get just a sense for District 12 being full of hungry dirty people living in shacks and flickers of the fact that they are a mining community. The relationship between Gale and Katniss is barely evident, shown primarily by longing looks by Gale throughout the movie rather than setting it up clearly at the beginning.

It's a gory concept, to murder off fellow kids and teens in a game of sport in a no choice "kill or be killed" scenario. I was glad for the blurry fast action shots of the kills and for the lack of pure gore. This is far more tame than the slasher horror films I watched while in my teen years. The scenes of personal injury were detailed enough, and the acting was very good, so we felt empathy when the characters we like and care about suffer. That is an important feature, for me. This isn't the stuff of horror movie gore, to get scared and surprised then see lots of blood and guts, this is suspenseful story that ends often with death, unfortunately.

The action running scenes were done well to give us a sense for what it's like to be hunted not only by fellow Tributes but also by the Gamemaker. I was a bit surprised at how the major focus on the killings and loving the game was shown with the Gamemaker and his staff, it made the kids who killed each other pale in comparision, cruelty-wise. I don't recall having such a strong feeling when reading the book. It helped me feel empathetic toward all the Tributes and made me hate The Capitol and their Hunger Games even more than hating the actual Tribute murderers.

Key parts to the book were all here, and the scene with Rue's passing was done in good taste and made me cry (as did the book).

We have hints that the districts are not happy with The Capitol for this disgusting game in which their children are murdered off. The movie set this up well, we long for the sequel, sooner rather than later, please. If anyone has not yet read the books, but plans to see the movie, I implore you to try to read the book first. But if you saw the movie first, do go back and read the book. Then go on and read the whole trilogy. It will keep you satisfied until Hollywood gets around to making the other two movies.

I was very pleased with the acting of Katniss, Peeta, Rue, and Gale. The screenwriters and directors did their job well to get us to like them and to root for them. This is good storytelling, a hero's journey tale. This first installment just gives a peek at the corruption and sick nature of the government. There is more to come in books two and three.

The action kept moving along. It is over two hours long but didn't feel that long. The backstory leading up to the start of the actual Hunger Games was necessary. Although I was never bored in that lead-up, once the games began it felt like we'd been strapped into a roller coaster ride that kept us rivoted until the very end. It was so good, I didn't want to get out of my seat when it was over, and nearly everyone in the theatre was slow to rise out of their seat as well.


If you are a Kindle reader, Amazon has a great price on the trilogy.

Thoughts on Outlining

When I attended public school we were forced to outline some textbook readings. Some middle school teachers put outlined notes on the overhead projector and all we did was sit and copy them (no text was involved in that type of "lecture"). When we had to write a research paper the teachers required that we first submit an idea, then submit an outline (due on a later date) then submit a rough draft on another date, then the final paper was due on yet another date. I hated all that and it was one thing I wondered if we could completely avoid in our homeschool journey.

Why do I hate outlining?

First, it's easiest to outline as you read along. However when material is not told in a neat order you have to go back and add more information to the outline. When using an outline with pen or pencil on paper this makes a big mess. Then to have something read-able you have to go back and copy over the whole outline in neat penmanship, meaning spending more time working on something I didn't think had much value in the first place. I resented having to spend my time that way.

The outline that I create myself can serve as a study tool. However truth be told, I never found the outline notetaking method of special use. I hated ever looking at it.

Over the years I have found that the act of writing out information or taking notes when listening to an audio lecture helps me remember it. I rarely go back to re-read the notes. The format of the notes does not matter. The fact that they are in an outline format doesn't help me at all.

One may argue that outlining helps a reader read carefully and to hone skills to pick out a brief phrase that captures the most content. It may help with summarizing. I will agree with that. But if you are already a careful reader and already have good reading comprehension skills, it's not helpful for that.

I would counterargue with a flaw with outlining that I learned from my schoolwork. That is, base material that you read for information can either be very detailed or it can be vague. How much detail should go in an outline?

When working off just one source such as a school's chosen textbook, going beyond is not encouraged let alone required. You outline what is there but you still don't know what the teacher feels is most important or what will be tested. If the text is detailed you can make a richly detailed outline and wind up with a ton of content to study. The key to the school game is trying to determine what the teacher wants so you can streamline your studying efforts and to ace the test. I said I didn't need to study but that is not true if the case was to memorize non-easy vocabulary terms, to match things like the names of parts of a cell or a flower or the anatomy of the heart, or memorizing dates with an historical event. However if your teacher says "you won't need to know the dates" or "just these three dates are the important ones" you can focus your studying and not go crazy to memorize every single thing.

When writing a research paper, it is easiest to outline each reading separately. When reading more than one source material you realize that different facts are shared in different sources. Some of the same things are in multiple sources but some readings can go deeper than others do. Then in the end you have multiple outlines and need to somehow combine the data. A flaw with outlining is that you perhaps would choose to make one combined outline in the end. However if writing a paper you need to keep sources noted for your bibliography or for footnotes and quotes. Thus, you will need a system for footnoting. You could label each outline with a number then next to the outlined item, note one or more footnotes for each thing (if the same data was in multiple sources). This is a time consuming endeavor. I don't know how many people actually do that process.

The work it takes to outline, for me, is not worth the effort. There is something about the way my brain works that does not need all of this in a certain order to research and write papers with proper footnoting. I learn material just as well by making bullet point notes as when outlining, but outlining is aggravating and distracts my attention away from thinking about the actual material being learned. I feel that any time a supposed learning activity distracts a learner from actually learning, that's a problem!

I believe what's important to learning is the process, not the procedure. Stop and think a minute: there is a difference between a process and a procedure. Researching and reading is a process. Writing an outline using a special format is a procedure. When writing a paper what's important is the final product, and that proper credit was given to sources (footnoting and the bibliography). No one will know whish of the procedures you used, if you had an outline, if you had X number of drafts.

So you can see I have a negative view of outlining. Now you know why I avoided having my kids do outlines for so long.

I think certain people who learn in certain ways feel that outlining and other learning procedures are necessary for them to learn and study and write research papers, so they think we all need them. People with that kind of mind are so rigid they can't imagine a mind that doesn't need that, so they dictate that everyone should do it. They sometimes are also closed minded and may dictate that "this is the one correct way that everyone should do" and they may also think "it's pretty easy and even fun so everyone should enjoy it".


What We're Doing Now

With all that said, I feel every kid should know how to outline.

As I write this I am working with my older son (9th grade) to outline. This is late compared to what school forced me to do. Before you criticize, I'll throw in that my son has done many things in his learning endeavors which are worthwhile and that I was never allowed to do or given the chance to do, things that today's schooled kids are often not even allowed to do. If he learns outlining "late" then so be it. He's been doing a lot of really cool interesting good stuff with his time instead.

I have a hunch that those who work easiest with outlines are visual text based learners with left brained learning leanings. My older son is an extreme right brained learner with visual picture thinking. My son struggled on his first day of outlining.

I am having him do it as I think it is forcing him to read carefully with good reading comprehension. Formerly he was skimming the textbook or spacing out (due to the fact that it's a fairly boring book). He is using the most popular public school high school text for this subject and I want him to have a curriculum that is recognized as legitimate and credible in the eyes of bodies such as the NCAA and college admissions officers. With science especially, science college majors are expected to have used certain texts and to have scored well on certain standardized tests (i.e. SAT II or ACT). To score well one must have learned the topics on the test. Some texts that homeschoolers use have gaps in content that would lead the learner to fail portions of the text unless supplemental learning was inserted by the homeschooling mother. So, that's why we're staying with the boring textbook.

My son has not been able to demonstrate absorption of read material before he started outlining the chapters. I'm trying this to see if it does help his reading comprhension. I bet part of the reason outlining works is when you have to write it down you are forced to read it all and you are forced to pay attention and forced to summarize. One glance at the finished outline is proof that the reading was done. Then if that helps as a study tool, he'll have that also.


Right Brained Learners

I shared that this son of mine is a right brained learner and that I think outlining is a left brained thing.

We are presently reading and discussing the book, Study Smarter, Not Harder by Kevin Paul. My intention was that my we would discuss the book and that my son would discover what method may work for him and start using those methods. I am open to nontraditional study methods. However he is not cooperating much with getting through the book.

My hope was that study methods would not be a top down forced thing by me but that we'd discover a range of options together by reading the book and that he'd make some decisions for himself based on what he knows of his own mind and preferences in order to use study methods which work easiest and feel most natural to him.

I am disappointed that to date it has not panned out that way. I'm holding out hope for the future. Perhaps he will be more open-minded about my idea to finish the book after he learns some traditional study methods which he feels have a high work ratio to the amount actually learned. In other words if he hates the traditional study methods that left brainers taught me to use he, the right brainer, would yearn for something less painful and easier to learn from.

As I said I think all kids should learn to outline, so that's what we started off doing. He's getting a top-down mandate since the learning is not originating from the bottom-up in an organic manner.

Outlining is time consuming for him.. It took my son one hour to do one section of the science text. At that pace he would spend about an hour a day, five days a week doing just the outline. That seems like a lot to me. Additional time would be spent memorizing terms and even more time would be spend doing lab experiments.

I don't know how long this outlining will last but we're doing it for now. He has to do something in order to make learning happen. Not learning is not an option. We did hardly any science while he was going through medical treatments, now that they are over it's time to put the nose to the grindstone if he still wants to finish high school on time, to graduate in 2015.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Alamo Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram taken 3/03/12 in San Antonio Texas.

Praise for Khan Academy and a TED Talk

In the middle of the homeschool day when he was supposed to be doing homeschool lessons, I looked over to see my fourteen year old son watching a video on his laptop with headphones on. I was immediately worried that he was sneaking entertainment videos. I asked what he was doing. He replied, "Watching a TED talk with Salman Khan".

Oh. Okay. (Wow.)

I guess we're headed in the right direction when a fourteen year old finds and watches TED videos on his own.

I've shared here already that my sixth grader is using only Khan Academy for math this year (after quitting Teaching Textbooks 7 in the fall). My older son, the fourteen year old, was discussing Khan Academy with his friend. Why?

They are a family we know from Boy Scouts. The mom called me and asked me for advice about math for her tenth grade (schooled) son. She said she felt he had gaps and holes in his math like swiss cheese from instruction received at schools in England last year and prior. She felt he was very good at math, naturally, and used to be 'ahead', but had been the victim of poor instruction. She was considering homeschooling. I suggested free Khan Academy to help him, right now, not just when and if they did decide to start homeschooling. I said to try it for 30 minutes a night in addition to his normal high school homework load. I felt it would find his gaps and fill them and could help him while he was in school this year (regardless of whether they wound up homeschooling or not). She said she'd try and would also suggest that her younger son try it too.

The 10th grade schooled kid gave it a try. Surprisingly the 7th grade brother tried it and loved it and chose to do Khan Academy for more than the 30 minutes a day that his mother suggested. (Both kids hated math as it was being taught in school.) That younger kid liked it so much he is now asking to be homeschooled for 8th grade because "I realize how important learning what I need to know for college is, and it worries me to think that school may not teach me what I need to know to do what I want to do for the rest of my life". Wow.

After that, the 7th grade boy then had discussions with my son saying how fun he thought Khan Academy's math was.

So here's the video from TED 2011 with Salman Khan that my fourteen year old watched. When my eleven year old saw it, he sat down to watch it also. Then I watched it.

I note at around minute 14 he analyzed kid's progress with using the program. He notes that kids at the beginning who would have been labeled "slow learners" caught up at a certain point and then they appeared as if "gifted". Self-directed learning was praised as a way to help the kids who need some extra practice in some areas, then take off later and are doing just as well as the "gifted" kids were.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012


These 8's belong to another rowing club. I liked the symmetry, line and the colors.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram taken at the Heart of Texas Regatta in Austin 3/03/12.

The Storytelling Animal Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Author: Jonathan Gottschall

Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012

Summary Statement: A Short Odd Book That Jumps Around a Lot

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

I was curious to read this book since some of my interests are story, storytelling, reading books, writing stories, personal essays, parenting, education, the role of play in children and adult’s lives, art, psychology and the workings of the human brain including recent breakthroughs in neuroscience. I read about these things and have experience doing some of these things in my life.

This book was a disappointment. With 199 pages of text, it’s short. It is a very easy read and was a quick read for me. The book felt rushed in its writing process and perhaps some of this is the fault of the editor, because some ideas seemed to skim the surface rather than really get to the heart of the matter. The topics also jumped around and sometimes later chapters would revisit the topic.

Additionally the marketing on the back cover claims the book is “delightful and original” but I do not agree. Many times, Gottschall references nonfiction trade books and regurgitates a fraction of the ideas. There are 16 pages in his bibliography that provided his source material. I had a problem with the discussions of the role of play in children’s lives, a topic that I felt he wrote too much about observations of what he sees kids doing and not enough about the psychology behind it, chiefly never stating that children use play to work out anxiety or worry or scary topics to learn how to process and handle them.

The most original parts of the book are when the many examples from literature were given. Because the author is a college English professor he is well versed in the classics and references them often as very short examples, just quick examples. If you have not read those books yourself, you won’t have the context to understand the example. I found it confusing that he spent a lot of time explaining some things which perhaps he didn’t know much about and his good examples about literature were not explained (maybe he doesn’t realize his readers may not have read every single one of those books).

There are 11 pages of notes yet it was odd that multiple times the studies he quotes were not cited. I’d like to see the two studies he quotes on page 149 and 150: a claim that the adult human mind can’t separate fantasy from reality and the claim that watching violence on TV creates violent adults. I have heard studies to the contrary and that it’s only young children or kids with certain brain disorders i.e. Autism who can’t separate reality from fantasy.

This book is a strange combination of trying to explain the base structure of what makes a good fiction story, with some psychology and some neuroscience thrown in. The attempt was made to find a brain based scientific reason to explain why people are drawn to enjoy stories. An interesting thread was praising the old storytelling and praising the fiction book and the opinion that the claim today that story is dying due to the death of the book, the author claims is unfounded as new versions of using story are in vogue now: video games, adults playing live role playing games and reality TV.

The story of Adolph Hitler was bizarre in that he blames art for not enlightening Hitler and not making him human, if he were more sensitive and empathetic he’d not have orchestrated The Holocaust. I wanted to shout to the author, “Art didn’t save him, Hitler was mentally ill and thus general ideas about humans enjoying story do not apply!”

The discussion of conspiracy theories was entertaining and he says it is a way that humans find meaning in life. That segued to the chapter on religion which seemed like a secular perspective, referencing all religious texts as fiction stories was telling. The author then referenced Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins as being “leading lights”. Then we jumped to revisionist historians such as Zinn and telling what really happened with Christopher Columbus.

The last element that was odd to me was the illustrations. Sometimes the images were never mentioned in the book and perhaps should have been. I was disturbed by the photo of a porn movie shoot, the image of the African tribe members and a reference to tell us to go look at the pretty woman, who happens to be bare breasted. There was crudeness in an unnecessary image of a teen girl giving us the finger with an ugly sneer on her face. This had a relatively large amount of illustrations.

When I wasn’t frustrated by something I was reading, I found this entertaining and light reading. However, I had too many problems with the book’s writing style, the shallowness of some of it and the rambling almost ADD topic jumping, and writing too much about some things and not enough about others. If you want to know about these topics I suggest you go right to the source nonfiction trade books and read one or two of those instead, you’ll learn a lot more from those subject matter experts than you’ll learn from this college English professor.

Perhaps Gottschall intends to use this as required reading for his college courses? If that’s the case and if his lectures are on these topics, maybe his lectures and the entire course would be something definitely better than just reading this book.

I rate this book 2 stars = I Don’t Like It.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the Vine program for the purpose of writing a review on Amazon’s site. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor did I agree to blog it. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Knitting Swatch

I misplaced the pattern to make a vest out of this one giant skein of yarn and was doing test swatches while I tried to figure out how the variagated pattern unfolded. I am really stuck with my knitting projects winding up as dead ends that have to be frogged.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram.

Leanwashing Website

This is an interesting website, if you are into nutrition and food and if you have the time.


Leanwashing is like whitewashing but is done to processed food marketing materials which purport good health and nutritional claims when the product is junk or shall I say has more that's bad about it than it has good.

These products are targeted to children, the issues with marketing to children are another whole can of worms to get upset about.

You can upload your own information. I can just see myself snapping photos with my iPhone at the grocery store and submitting them to the website. Actually I choose not to spend my time that way but the site was enlightening to see nonetheless.

It's actually one of those good websites to share on Facebook then let have comments with your friends. Usually in those exchanges someone learns something, which is a good thing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Parking Lot Lines at The McNay

Something about line and parking lot paint that makes lines attracts me.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram taken in the parking lot of The McNay art museum in San Antonio Texas in March 2012.

Born Entrepreneurs Born Leaders Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life

Author: Scott Shane

Publication: Oxford University Press, 2010

My Star Rating: 2 stars out of 5 - I Don't Like It

My Summary Statement: Oversimplifies and Overgeneralizes – A Book of Little Use to Employees or Employers at This Point in Time – Contradicts Himself Sometimes

The author, Scott Shane is an academic, and did research and explains which genes influence which behavior or personality trait and wrote a book for academics that's more about theory than information we can put to practical use right now. I do not argue about the validity of that research, I’ll take Shane’s word on that. That aside, I have a few problems with the book.

I agree that genes can be the basis for our parents or us choosing to do something, such as having a good ear may help us along the path of becoming a singer or playing a musical instrument. However if that aspect of the “nature” portion of the “nature vs. nurture” is just 1/3, that still leaves 2/3 to “nurture” and “the environment”. Why is so much stock being given to the 1/3? Worse, is later Shane contradicts himself by saying that a person may possess a gene that makes them a naturally talented athlete but that a person lacking that gene may choose to work hard, maybe harder than the natural athlete, and wind up performing equally or better. On page 21 Shane says that a person prone to anger may have to work harder to remain stoic, so the point is what? Is not how the person acts what matters, do we care if the person finds it easy or works at it? So, does it really matter who has the gene for something? Should not a person, whether they’re an adult or teen or child, be judged on their present actions and real behaviors and accomplishments rather than being ranked and rated by their DNA? At the end of the book the author speculates about employers reviewing potential employees with a DNA screen and while the ethical issue is debated it is clear that Shane likes the idea, an idea which I find highly disturbing.

The fact of the matter is that the testing for DNA is not available yet, to people or to employers. So, how can we use the information in this book? The fact is that we cannot use this information in a practical way today.

What do we have to go on today? As people thinking of our own lives: we have our own actions and personal choices to base our decisions on when seeking employment and other life choices. We have an awareness of ourselves, or at least some of us think we do. However Shane says that people are bad judges of their own selves, so we cannot trust ourselves to really know ourselves. So where does this leave us?

On page 11 Shane asks should we not know how the DNA of the person working in the next cubicle over is affected by their genes, if it accounts for 1/3 the difference between us. Well given the fact that I don’t know their DNA, this is a question without an answer. It's a moot point. After working with people just a short while we start to figure out what makes them tick (or at least I can and do) and we can base our interactions with them on our experiences with them. It's the best we have to work with at this point in time.

If you are a person who hires employees, you already have other tools at your disposal to help you figure people out and I’m willing to bet that you have good intuition and good body language reading skills (probably thanks to your DNA) and good communication and people skills to help you with the job screening and interviewing process. So is a DNA screen necessary anyway for hiring new employees, even if it were available? Just because this new information that Shane shares about which gene does what is known to some people now does not mean it is necessary to use in order to find a good match for a job when given a pool of job candidates to choose from.

What do we have now for tools for hiring new employees? Presently we have various personality tests; some are detailed and specifically written by psychologists and are already used by employers to prescreen potential candidates. These run along the same lines as what Shane tells us that genes can tell us, thinks like how much risk-taking we are comfortable with, our impulsiveness, extrovertedness vs. introvertedness, so forth and so on. Companies who believe in such things and who choose to pay for them, already use them now. My husband had to take those kinds of tests via the Internet before some employers would even consider interviewing him for a job.

“Before describing the implications of genetics for workplace behavior, I want to stress that the conclusions discussed in this chapter ARE SPECULATIVE. We need more research before anyone can make concrete recommendations.” … (Twin studies have shown genetic predispositions) “have not identified specific genes that influence those actions. And without knowing which genes are affecting what outcomes, the implications we can draw are limited.” (page 184) I think that sums up a big problem with this book.

I take issue with some over-crediting and over-generalization that Shane does throughout the book. For example he says that serotonin is gene controlled when in fact a majority of serotonin is actually due to the environment and is controllable by a person. For example, the foods we eat can boost serotonin, spending some time in the sun in the morning can boost it, full spectrum light bulbs for indoor use can boost it, not to mention the millions of people who take serotonin boosting drugs such as Prozac! Shane discusses the role of dopamine but again what’s vital is the neural activity to transport it, not just the genes.

Hormones (mostly testosterone) are also discussed a lot in the book, and it’s the same issue with them: they depend on environment for the large part! Furthermore, a major issue with both serotonin and hormones is not the genes but the firing between the neurons (which is discussed in a 2012 book Connectome by Sebastian Seung). Although estrogen is not discussed in the book, I know that estrogen is influenced by the foods we eat (soy, chickens fed hormones to grow larger breasts) and by air pollution. Many factors in our environment act as phyto-estrogens, tricking our bodies into thinking they are estrogen, and raising the levels. Even being obese can cause a woman to secrete more estrogen, since fat cells produce and release estrogen. He didn’t even mention the trend of women taking testosterone supplements! People’s bodies, mental states and personalities are unintentionally and intentionally changed by manipulating these agents. Thus, for serotonin, dopamine and hormones, environment is much more important than the genes, period!

The book is 200 pages of text and about 65 pages of notes and references.

It seems that Shane did a lot of research and with that data, he wrote this book, but the book does not provide practical information that people or employers can use now. A major problem with the book is that the author gives credit to genes for what is actually neural activity that is plastic and can and does change due to environment (nurture). I have a problem with how the book oversimplifies and overgeneralizes and seeks to give more credit to the 1/3 influence of the DNA than to the 2/3 that is life experience and environment. Thus I rate the book 2 stars = I Don’t Like It.

I recommended reading:

Connectome by Sebastian Seung

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Vine program for the purpose of submitting a review on the website. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor was I under obligation to blog the review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

San Antonio Building at Night

San Antonio has some pretty cool architecture. I didn't have enough time to take photos around the city as I'd have liked.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram in March 2012.

Usurping Parental Authority

"Last month, at a Raeford, N.C., elementary school, a teacher confiscated the lunch of a 5-year-old girl because it didn't meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and therefore was deemed nonnutritious. She replaced it with school cafeteria chicken nuggets. The girl's home-prepared lunch was nutritious; it consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips, a banana and apple juice. But whether her lunch was nutritious or not is not the issue. The issue is governmental usurpation of parental authority."


"Part of the problem is that people who act as instruments of government do not pay a personal price for usurping parental authority. The reason is Americans, unlike Americans of yesteryear, have become timid and, as such, come to accept all manner of intrusive governmental acts."


"Americans have become compliant in nation-crippling ways."


How pathetic, but true.

Quotes from Compliant Americans op-ed piece by Walter Williams 3/14/12.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bar at Night

I snapped this while a passenger in a car driving past the bar. I later found out this is a pretty famous old bar in San Antonio. Our hotel was on this street and my room faced that street also. All night drunk patrons would stumble down the block talking loudly or yelling. It was some of the worst sleeping I've had in a hotel in a long time.

But still, it's a cool photo.

Photo taken by ChristineMM with iPhone4 and Instagram March 2012 in San Antonio Texas.

Do You Want to See What a FIRST Robotics Tournament Looks Like?

Here's the live streaming link for watching the finals today at the Bayou Regional in Louisiana.

Finals should start about noon CST today.

My son's team is presently in first place out of 49. Go team!

Update: They won the Bayou Regional tournament!

North Houston Homeschool Co-Op in the News

A local homeschool co-op we are considering using was on the news last fall. A bit of a debate between two men and the newscaster follows.

Story link:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Loading the Boats After the Regatta

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram taken 3/03/12 in Austin Texas.

Noro Collection Book 3 Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Noro Collection Book 3

Author: Jenny Watson

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

This softcover book of knitting patterns by Jenny Watson has 16 patterns: all are women’s sweaters.

The patterns are fairly basic, featuring stockinette stitch or knit/purl rib. All but one are basic designs that use all Noro variegated yarn so the color really shows off. One has an empire waist with a ruffled bottom, that’s the fanciest item. The tops vary from short, traditional length and tunic. There is a swing jacket and a hoodie. There are 11 items with long sleeves, 2 vests and 3 with short sleeves.

These patterns use just four of the Noro yarns: Kureyon, Kureyon Sock, Silk Garden, and Silk Garden Sock.

The photographs are gorgeous and the models are shown in two poses against backdrops of castles and gardens that complement the Noro yarn colors.

For the beginner or intermediate knitter this is a book of do-able patterns.

At first I was thinking these are kind of plain garments but the truth of the matter is the colors in the yarn really are the star of the show, it’s fine that a sweater is just stockinette cardigan when the colors make the garment say “wow”.

If you are looking for projects that only use one or two skeins there are other Noro books on the market for just those (more inexpensive to make) items.

I advise to read through your pattern completely and to double check the directions. For project 13 the supply list shows just one needle size. When I started to knit the pattern I used that needle, and then realized later that there was a typo and really two sizes are needed. I’d knitted with the wrong size first and had to unravel it.

I love the book, it’s right for me, so despite the one typo I found I’m still rating it 5 stars.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Knitting Again

Knitting is more portable than watercolor painting.

Below is a vest I started the other day. After at least ten hours of knitting I realized it was larger than intended and would not be wearable, so I frogged it (rip it, rip it).

Here's the next vest I'm trying out. Let's see if I can get it to knit up with the proper gauge to be something wearable in the end.

Thank You for Buying From Amazon Through My Blog

I earn a commission from sales that link from my blog to Amazon. Who does this is private information that is not shared with me, so I don't know who to thank, so thank you, whoever you are!

The commission is based on the number of sales per month, so even if you are buying a 10 cent used book, it helps me when you buy it from my blog. The commission depends on the money spent, it's a percentage, but the percentage I earn goes up with the more items sold. So please continue to buy your 99 cent books or 99 cent MP3 songs through my blog, it really helps me. The more individual items that are sold in a month means I earn more money on ALL the sales.

The way it works it you link through from my blog, to any Amazon page. Whatever you put into your shopping cart and finalize the sale within 24 hours gives me commission.

If you have items in your wish list on Amazon and link through from the blog over to Amazon then go into your wish list and add items to your shopping cart, I'd get the commission.

So, thank you everyone!

Connectome Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
Author: Sebastian Seung

Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 2012

My Star Rating: 5 stars: I Love It

My Summary Statement:
Enthusiastic Book Takes Us Beyond “You Are Your Genes” to “You Are Your Connectome”

Sebastian Seung is a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is working at the cutting edge of neuroscience, working to map the human brain’s connectomes (the connections between the brain cells, simply stated). We have known that genes are important but they are not everything as life experience affects us. Connectomes are the explanation of the what happens in the brain based on the “nurture” in the nature vs. nurture debate.

The book starts out with history: discussing past medical views which sought to explain things attributed to the brain ranging from why a genius has high intelligence to why some people have schizophrenia. Past ideas are explored and what we know today updates the claims (mostly disproving the original notions).

What connectomes are is thoroughly explained over multiple chapters. In general, people have been led to think that what matters is brain growth and new neuron development but Seung explains that the brain is both creating new connections and editing out or paring down unnecessary ones. “Perfection is achieved no when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” (pg. 108). I enjoyed the discussion about learning in the birth to age three range and the notions that exposure to learning to play a musical instrument or to learn a foreign language is best done or completely necessary to tackle in the very early years. Seung explores this in depth and accuses some in the media of over-emphasizing certain aspects of those findings about brain development in the birth to three period (in chapter 7).

I found the section discussing the fact that vision is both about the biology of the eye and the brain’s connectomes working together fascinating. “The brain can recalibrate vision, hearing, and movement to resolve conflicts between them. Eye surgeons have encountered a similar recalibration in patients with strabismus.” (pg 125) “Since experiences like visual stimulation and exposure to language were normally available to all children throughout human history, brain development “expects” to encounter them, and has evolved to rely heavily upon them. On the other hand, experiences like reading books were not available to our ancient ancestors. Brain development could not have evolved to depend upon them. That’s why adults can still learn to read, even if they did not have the opportunity in childhood.” (pg 124) I found these interesting since they speak to challenges some children have with reading, specifically, visual processing disorders. Could these same issues apply to what we now label auditory processing disorders? How does dyslexia fit in here?

The book goes on to discuss technology and how scientists may map the connectomes: a huge project. For me this was the least exciting part of the book. I’m more interested in the general ideas not the discussion of how they’ll get it done. If you want details, it’s there. The point I’ll share is that Seung is optimistic and feels that even though it’s a big challenge it is worthwhile to spend time researching. New technology we have today (computers) are already helping make this possible (which was not available in the past).

Throughout the book in various chapters mental illness is addressed, as are neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism. The section in chapter 13 about the use of drugs to stimulate serotonin production to help patients with depression was interesting. Here is where my question was answered: the drug is not enough, its effects are not immediate, they take several weeks to take effect, Seung says, because what is really happening is the drug (i.e. Prozac) is stimulating a change in the connectome’s actions which then goes on to elevate mood. Finally! Someone explained it! In this area of the book there is discussion of how drugs can help the brain but he acknowledges that the brain is really doing the work. We need to give the brain the credit it is due. It’s the connectomes! We are our connectomes. We are not just genes.

The last two chapters were of little interest to me. They discussed cryogenics and whether it is really possible to bring a dead body and dead brain back to life. The last chapter was quite science fiction-y with philosophy and some religion thrown in; suggesting that brains could be uploaded and we could live in some kind of virtual world. I was just not interested in that kind of pontificating.

I wished the book would have discussed biofeedback and neurofeedback therapy which claims to exercise the brain to create new connectomes or to strengthen weak connectomes. These therapies are being used on everything from ADD to Autism to anxiety to PTSD, addiction, learning disabilities like dyslexia and to help fix brain injury from Lyme Disease, stroke, and concussion. This is an emerging field with published studies, why wasn’t this discussed? How about syntonic phototherapy which stimulates certain centers of the brain? Seung could have also discussed older therapies such as trying to fix visual processing problems by patching one eye and the “vision therapy” exercises done by behavioral optometrists.

I found Seung’s writing style to be just right: not dumbed down so far as to be pabulum yet he explained things well so that a layperson such as myself who has an interest in neuroscience could actually understand it. I felt the book moved along at a good pace and enjoyed the optimistic and enthusiastic tone.

I envision that more will be learned in the next five or ten years and will warrant this book being updated and expanded. Good luck to Seung and all the other scientists working hard to map connectomes, this is promising work. It will be exciting to see what they discover as more research is done.

There are over 280 pages of text and over 50 pages of notes and references.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in neuroscience that wants the most current information and to learn about what is being done with technology today to map the connectomes. This book is fine for laypeople whom really are curious and it of course is appropriate for scientists and health care professionals also.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on I was under no obligation to review it favorably or to blog my review. See my blog's full disclosure statement near the top of my blog's sidebar for more info.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tile Stairs at The McNay

Photo by ChristineMM at The McNay Museum of Fine Art in San Antonio Texas taken in March 2012 using iPhone4 and Instagram.

Homeschooling Thoughts Lately

High school homeschool studies take the most effort of anything our family has done. We are attempting to be thorough and to go deep with the studies and that takes time and effort.

When kids grow older they stop doing cute things, the type of stuff that mommy bloggers share. They start acting like young adults. Some stuff is annoying teenage behavior and other times the behavior is good, mature, and young-adult-ish. This does not provide fodder for blogging.

My 11 and 3/4'ers year old son is mature, and always has been. He is starting to have some of those teenage behaviors like wanting to be grown up, wanting to look cool, to wear the right thing, and not wanting to be seen hugging Mom in public. He is self-conscious about what he says and does so he's acting in mature ways which don't provide blogging material. I feel like I have two teens in the house. He also is "ahead" of typical grade level material and finds learning very easy so anything I throw at him is done quickly with ease. What he's experiencing and doing is not what my older son was doing in grade six. I feel like he is older than he really is.

We are busy with studying in our family. I can clearly see pros and cons to homeschooling and schooling. Knowing the pitfalls of homeschooling has taken away some of my pleasure in standing on a soapbox preaching how fantastic homeschooling is.

I don't really feel like I have much new to say at this point, after seven years of blogging. Rather than report in to say that we're studying hard over here and boring you with the same stuff I'll just keep quiet or will blog about other topics.

Just know that we're busy learning here and that it takes time and energy and it doesn't always provide interesting blog material so I don't always have something new or interesting to blog about. Other times I'm so busy homeschooling and parenting and running a household that I don't have time to blog something profound.

Repeating things that happen in the course of typical learning are:

Something the kids learned before, they forgot, and have to re-learn.

One thing after another is challenging to learn so they push through and get it done.

Learning new things can be hard or uncomfortable and requires persistence and determination while griping and complaining.

Something suddenly clicks and seems easy and the learner asks why they had a problem with it in the first place.

Learner questions why our society feels they must learn X, Y, and Z and tries to rebel against it.

Learner wants to continue learning about their favorite subjects and keeps trying to avoid learning the less interesting and more challenging material.

Learner thinks they've learned enough of something but our society feels a thorough study goes from A to Z not A to M.

Learner thinks that textbook is boring and cannot understand why anyone would publish such a thing. Asks why textbooks aren't more exciting with better writing.

Learner asks what the point of short term memorization is if they are just going to forget it after a test is taken.


I do not have all the answers and the answers I do have do not always jive with what the American education system believes. In these high school years we are playing more of the school game than ever before. With an eye toward college admissions it's time to play the school game and jump through their hoops in order to qualify to attend college and to pass standardized tests that they require.

The relaxed alternative education methods used in the earlier years are used less today. My challenge is to somehow meld the traditional school way with some interesting stuff so my kids don't learn to hate learning in the process of doing their homeschooling. The problem is it is hard to get all the basics done in a thorough manner when hoop jumping and to do more work to make the learning experience more meaningful and fun, it is like doing double work.


Related post: BIC

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Courtyard View at The McNay

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram at The McNay Museum of Fine Art in San Antonio Texas, March 2012.

Study: Possible Tie to Anesthesia and ADHD

Something to ponder and think about our modern parenting and current western medical practices:

Food sensitivities and/or food allergies -> multiple ear infections

Multiple ear infections -> ear tube surgery with general anesthesia

Food sensitivities and/or food allergies -> GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) in babies and toddlers -> Diagnostic testing under general anesthesia

Formula Feeding instead of breastfeeding -> Increased Ear Infections

Juice in Baby Bottle -> Dental caries in babies and toddlers

Baby Laying Down or Sleeping with Baby Bottle of Formula, Juice, or Cow Milk instead of baby breastfeeding in mother's arms -> Dental Caries

Dental procedures on toddlers and preschoolers i.e. teeth removal due to dental caries -> Dental procedures done under general anesthesia

Retrospective Study: 2 or more general anethesias in young children = 17% rate of ADHD


To seek best health, prospective parents should learn about the benefits of breastfeeding including common pitfalls and problems. Babies should be breastfed. If problems happen with breastfeeding, just as with every other baby-related medical challenge (and feeding problems are a medical challenge), expert help should be sought.

Parents should feed kids good food. Parents should learn to become aware of food reactions and sensitivities. Read the book Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp MD.

If a child is having multiple ear infections, teach yourself about the link that some people have with consuming dairy products and becoming sick with ear infections. (Milk produces mucous.)

Ingesting some foods and drinks causes some people to have GERD. A dairy allergy can manifest itself as GERD in babies from their formula or in toddlers from drinking or eating dairy. Soy can also be an allergen that causes GERD.

If food is causing a body to have negative symptoms the best treatment is to avoid eating or drinking that food.

Whether there is a direct cause between general anesthesia and ADHD is something I cannot judge but the basic advice I gave here is a good idea to follow anyway, and it can't hurt.

Disclosure: See the link near the top of my blog's sidebar for full disclosure statement.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Trees in March

On an overcast night after a rainy few days, I sat in the parking lot waiting for my younger son to finish playing lacrosse. The field was mush and I was not up for standing on the sidelines in that mess, nor did I want to be eaten alive by mosquitoes and gnats. So I read a book and sketched, and walked around taking photos instead.

Photos by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram on 3/08/12 in The Woodlands, Texas.

The Taste of Tomorrow Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food

Author: Josh Schonwald

Genre: Nonfiction, Project Memoir

Publication: Harper Collins, April 2012

My Star Rating: 3 stars out of 5: It’s Okay

Summary Statement: Mildly Entertaining Beach Read Project Memoir for Foodies but If He’s on the Opposite Side of Food Politics from the Reader It’s Not a Fun Read After All

I’m interested first and foremost about health, and when food interferes with health, I have an issue. I’m interested in not ruining the Earth either, nor do I want to help deplete the world’s supply of a wild food such as certain breeds of fish. I thought this book sounded interesting, with the marketing description of “lively and fascinating” and “he doesn’t shy away from controversy”. This is not a straight nonfiction book. The author is a journalist and this is a project memoir, which is a term I like to use for a book where a person who is interested in a topic goes out to interview subject matter experts and to see things in the field in order to inform them, and the journey is documented. An important element of a project memoir is it is full of opinion and observations which differs from traditional journalistic reporting which is supposed to report facts and hopefully will present both sides of the story.

My first realization that this was perhaps not quite what I’d hoped was the statement in the prologue that said that his intention was not to write a controversial book about food politics (note the opposite claim in the marketing materials). Second he explains that this does not have a wide span of topics, he researched only what interested him. I have no problem with focusing on what you’re interested in but sometimes the research was too thorough or not thorough enough, an even coverage of each topic should have been attempted.

Schonwald admits to being a bagged salad lover and the book starts off with 84 pages of writing about mostly salad (the exception being a side trail with radicchio which can be eaten raw in salad or grilled and prepared cooked also). There is a good explanation of industrial farming, the unique climate of Salinas California, and the necessity of extending the shelf life of greens so they can be transported to the consumer who lives in other areas of the country. I never knew about the science behind the bag the salad is in and wish more time was spend talking about that. Not discussed are the ways that fresh produce is kept in storage or how that is picked, I thought we should have heard about that also. For example we have access to more fresh produce today than twenty or thirty years ago – why? And what technological changes are happening now that will make other fresh produce more readily available to us in the future? Are there cons to harvesting before a crop is actually ripe? Those are some controversial fresh produce topics that I wish he covered (not just salad greens).

The next section of the book was about meat, specifically, growing meat in labs. This was 36 pages long and was highly disturbing to me. The idea of a meat such as beef having the consistency of tofu and growing it in layers to stack up into a cutable piece made me lose my appetite. The writing in this section was less entertaining and got boring in some parts (as well as causing my gag reflex to kick in). I get the challenges, I was enlightened. What I found most interesting was the fact that attempting to pander to vegetarians by using a non-animal base for the meat culture is impossible and that growing meat to eat is so expensive that only millionaires could afford to buy it right now, if it was brought to market. The picture for the future of meat grown in vitro is grim.

Fish and fish farming was the third section which took up 54 pages. It seemed longer, I felt the section was too dragged out. Here is where the book was most boring. We don’t need to hear every single detail of an encounter which is not interesting or exciting in any way. This is the challenge with a project memoir: just because the author experienced it doesn’t mean it was worth including every detail in the final product: the published book. Some cutting and editing would have been in order here.

My favorite part of the fish section was where he explained that the excessive government regulation in the USA is prohibiting new industry from growth here and that other countries with fewer regulations are welcoming such businesses with open arms. Thus, thanks to government regulation Americans are forcing continued reliance on imported fish and shellfish (99% of what we consume already is imported from other countries). So much for the vegetarians who desire to eat fish from local food sources.

A short section of 23 pages discussed food trends in ethnic food and predicts the generic too large label of African food (even worse than labeling a food group “European”). This section was so short and felt rushed.

The last section was about the idea of non-food items providing our nutrients for basic survival. This section was just 11 pages long and focused on the U.S. military’s use of MRE’s and the idea that nanotechnology could somehow provide our bodies with food. Here I felt the author should have gone back to explore the idea of factory created foods infused with supplements and calories and protein in the same way that he exhaustively explored salad greens. For example today we have millions of people drinking diet drinks as meal replacements and the elderly using those or other canned liquid shake type drinks as solid food replacements also. There is a booming industry in the USA of medical diets supplied by doctors that are in ready to eat packets measured out to replace real foods which is low calorie, low cholesterol, sugar free, high protein (for weight loss help), and full of base vitamins and nutrients. Additionally people are relying more and more on supplements in pill, capsule, gel cap, or powdered form used to making drinks to consume in place of or to enrich one’s diet. The pros and cons of using such highly processed foods could have been explored, but it was not even touched upon.

Schonwald is pro GMO foods and keeps repeating it’s due to vitamin enriching rice that could help people in third world countries have better nutrition. I grew tired of that one mantra being repeated while the controversial issues of GM foods was not explored. The author puts down some people with concerns, referencing “the rising tide of food-specific neo-Luddism in America”. If you have an opinion other than the one he believes in the book turns from what I started out thinking was a fun beach read for foodies into something that irritates you.

I rate this book 3 stars = It’s Okay because I felt that the book went too in-depth in some areas and was too skimpy in others. It was entertaining in some areas and boring in others, it rambled in some parts and sprinted through others. It was not quite what the marketing materials said it would be either.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on their site. I was under no obligation to review it on my blog or to review it favorably. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog’s sidebar.

Recent NASA Photos

For your viewing pleasure from The Atlantic.

Hat Tip: Thinkwell on Twitter.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Homeschool Kids: Follow the Rules!

There's doing the alternative thing, then there's just plain not conforming, on a basic level, with society. They are two different things.

Homeschool kids: you do need to follow the rules. Period.

Every homeschooler I know wants to raise thinking kids who are independent minded. However, one can be a free thinker while still obeying basic rules of society.

If you want to drive, you must follow the rules for the minimum age of driving and pass the test and get that license. You have to follow the law to get your driver's license and you have to follow traffic laws while driving.

If you want to enter that contest you have to abide by the rules of the competition (even if the competition is for homeschooled kids). It's not a free-for-all, folks. Contests operate within a framework.

The mindset that all rules are optional and up to each child to choose whether to obey or to reject the rule is pervasive among homeschoolers. It starts with the youngest children, but you may argue that they are developmentally immature and that they don't truly know what they are doing when they refuse to do this or that.

It's not just the wee ones. I've seen the behavior continue through the elementary and middle school years and beyond. I was especially horrified by a middle schooler who kept touching artworks on display in a museum. The docent was so angered after many repeated statements to stop touching the art (while the mother stood right there and did nothing) that our homeschool group was told we may be refused admission for future classes!

I was recently made aware of two cheating episodes by homeschool students and their parents in a competition that resulted in the organization starting to limit homeschooler's participation. I had to push to get permisson for my family to run a free class for homeschoolers in the community and for participation in this contest. Yet even in this group I see resistance by students to follow the rules such that one team was in jeopardy of being kicked out. Two students just doesn't feel the needs to comply with the rules and they have decided it is their free will to determine their actions in the competition. It's a simple rule: you must do a minimum of five transactions, but they only want to do two, which would mean the team would be disqualified. This is absurd.

There are frameworks and limits whenever you participate in something designed by someone else with open participation from members of our society. Get used to it. If you want to do the thing, follow the rules or you are out. You will face elimination from the contest or endeavor if you choose to be so independent minded that you decide you are above following the rules.

The only time you get to craft your experience completely the way you want is if you are doing something completely independently and are not trying to join in with or comply with someone else's prerequisites.

When you boil it down, almost nothing that Americans can do in life is truly autonomous. Even if you seek someday be your own boss and choose to start your own business you will have to comply with a myriad of local, state and federal laws. You will have to jump through hoops for getting permissions, licenses, and so many things. If you are used to choosing what to opt out of doing, you may find that laws and rules prohibit you from opting out. You really are not as free as you think you are.

Homeschoolers can do a lot of cool learning experiences in order to craft an alternative education. However, there do come times when you have to follow someone else's rules. Not everything is up for YOU to determine if you CHOOSE to comply. The fact is, you must comply.

I hate to admit it but years of not being forced to obey and comply about a zillion things at school due to being homeschooled sometimes breeds kids who think they are the End All and Be All Decidors of Everything and think that everything is optional and up for debate or refusal. It's just not true. This is my fear with having mainly child-led or interest driven learning, or doing too many alternative "make up your own way" experiences, by doing that, it apparently sometimes teaches kids that everything and anything is up for them to choose or to refuse. That's not how the real world works.

Obey the rules.

Obey the law.

Learn to live with the limited freedoms you have. That's as good as it's going to get. Sorry to inform you of this, but someone has to.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Parking Lot 2

After two days of hard rain here's what I saw today.

I liked the bright blue with the different gray tones.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram taken 3/10/12 in The Woodlands, Texas.

The Loving Story Documentary Review

The Loving Story is a documentary about a married couple from Virginia. In the 1960s they left the state to be married in Washington D.C. because the man was white and the woman was African American and Native American, and at the time it was illegal for inter-racial couples to be married in Virginia. Actually the law was against co-habitation so even after the marriage, they were arrested and jailed. To be able to remain together they moved from rural Virginia to inner city Washington D.C. but they missed their family and friends and longed to move back to their hometown.

In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Loving's cousin convinced her to write a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy about the situation and to ask if the current bill in Congress would make it legal for inter-racial couples to marry. He said the bill didn't cover it but she should write to the ACLU.

The ACLU took up the case. The movie outlines what happened.

Of especial interest is the fact that old candid video and video interviews, and still photography existed from that time period. Using old footage and photos the story was re-created without the use of paid actors doing recreations. The married couple were very much in love. The kids were happy. This made me cheer on the couple from the start.

To cut to the chase, the Supreme Court of our Nation wound up ruling on the case that inter-racial marriage should not be illegal. They compelled the states to change their laws. At that time, 1964, 21 states still had law on the books to ban inter-racial marriage. The last state to change was Alabama who finally got around to it in the year 2000.

I highly recommend this movie for anyone interested in Civil Rights and U.S. History. The movie had no mature content and the pace was good so kids can watch it. The legal proceedings were explained in detail which I found interesting because it gives a glimpse of how our legal system works.