Monday, April 30, 2012

Resisting Organization and Cultivating a Neatness Habit

I used to resist organizational systems as I didn't always see their purpose and thought they were stupid processes being used for no good reason, dictated by people who were control freaks who had too much time on their hands.  

I later came to realize that not wanting to put things away in a proper place had its root in laziness. I always wanted to get on to the next fun thing and not take the time to finish putting away everything that I had just finished using. Even as an adult sometimes I'd not unpack my suitcase from a trip for a month!

I used to think that not putting something away in a specific place was saving me time. However, the chaos that results when trying to find items that you need at a certain point in time is stressful and anxiety-producing and can also cause problems for other people (such as those in your family).

In order to avoid the stress (which no one likes to experience), it is worth the effort to realize your situation, create a useful organizational structure that works for you. Then you must force yourself to use the system. If you have a negative attitude about it at first, and refuse to comply to try it you may not realize how much time and energy it actually saves and that it spares you stress in the long run. Just give it a try!

Being organized is not about control or trying to make work for someone else. It is about being deliberate and it is about being responsible and respectful of the things you own and respectful of the people you interact with.

Taking the time to put things away where they belong, and having a place where everything belongs, pays off in the long run.

The quality of life is so much better when people get along well and when the things we do in our daily lives go smoothly. Kicking the laziness habit and learning to be responsible and organized with our material possessions can only be a good thing.

For Christians, taking care of our material possessions is about being a good steward of the gifts that God has bestowed upon us.

Working at having an organized home is something that I've been working on seriously for about five years. It has been a long journey. In the end I realized it is all up to me, the desire has to come from within. However as a mother I am teaching my sons, or at least I'm trying to teach my sons these things so they don't have to suffer through it until they are homeowners themselves. We make mistakes and we see the negative ramifications of our errors. We are reminded that to do a thing correctly has benefits and to be lazy or sloppy creates problems and stress. It's a process, there is a learning curve when working with preteens and teens. We're moving forward in the right direction, I think.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Camping Gear Organization Tip for Boy Scouts

It has taken me years to figure out a working system so I thought I'd share this with you. I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out.  I can't tell you how many tantrums and flip-outs my kids have had on camping day over the packing. Even when they pack ahead of time we had problems.

Maybe this will save you some stress.

Camping Gear Organization

1. Buy your Boy Scout everything they need. Give them their own one of the thing. Do not share items as a family, it is nothing but trouble. Do not make siblings share. Have each boy be responsible for taking care of their own gear. They will feel they own it if they actually do own it.

2. Buy a foot locker at Wal Mart in the automotive section. The black one is sturdy and best. It has a hole for a padlock (others do not). They cost $20. There are flimsier ones on the market that are (surprisingly) more expensive. Do not buy ones with wheels, those break and you can't drag them over dirt and rocks anyway. You need the ugly black sturdy one because other Scouts may step on it and use it as a ladder of sorts to get to the top bunk at camp. Repeat: do not buy the flimsy models.

3. At home your Scout's gear should be stowed in their foot locker.

4. Make it a habit to unpack from a camping trip immediately. All gear goes directly into the foot locker. Exception: airing out sleeping bags, those go in later.

5. Consider buying an inexpensive day pack that can get wrecked at camp. Designate that day pack for camping and keep it full of things like sunscreen and insect spray. Put those sprays and lotions into ziplock bags. Keep that day pack inside the foot locker.

6. Buy a large duffle bag that will hold all the camping gear, the sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and pillow, and everything else other than the day pack. When packing for a camping trip put it all in one duffle bag and then have the Scout carry their day pack with them in the car to travel to the camping trip.

7. Anything the Scout may need while in transit goes in the day pack. That includes: full bottle of water, bagged dinner, snack, book to read, pack of cards, and anything else they may use in the car while on the ride.

Prior to starting this system we used the empty footlockers for general camping supplies, some of which were seldom used. We had problems with the most common things used at each campout being mixed with rarely used things, then sorting through all of that to find what we needed. Also the kids fought over whose headlamp that was, so forth and so on.

Other Tips

Take an inventory of your camping gear in the late winter or early spring. Replace anything you need in the early spring, because some stores consider camping a seasonal activity and replenish their supplies in the early spring. As summer goes on, inventory runs out, and you may have trouble finding items.

Buy your Scouts the inexpensive stuff. They can lose headlamps, so buy the $5 one not the $20 one, for example. Boy Scouts need servicable stuff. Preteens and teens are not always the most careful, and it's inevitable that things will be lost or broken. My sons have even had items broken by other Scouts. So even if you think your son is really responsible with items, know that someone else may be the one to break or lose an item.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wildcrafting Link

Here is a chapter from one of Linda Diane Feldt's books about wildcrafting.

Wildcrafting: Each venture outside is a chance to connect with and learn more about plants

I enjoy her writing and I totally agree. Disclosure: See the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Trip to Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

In March 2012 my eleven year old son and I went to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch near San Antonio Texas. We'd headed to the city to bring my older son to The Alamo FIRST Robotics tournament (because he is not a public school student the school district does not allow him to ride on the bus due to liability insurance policies so I had to drive him the three and a half hours one way myself). We decided to just get a hotel and stay there while he competed.

We were so busy leading up to the trip that I'd not planned what we'd do with our time. Standing at the display of tourist brochures at the hotel the night of our arrival, I asked my younger son what he wanted to do with me while his brother had practice rounds for the competition.

I realized we'd never been on one of those drive through the ranch and pretend you are on an African safari experiences with him. He loves animals. When I mentioned it and showed him the brochure he jumped at the chance. At that moment all the tween "I'm cool" and "I'm grown just up like a teenager" facade faded away and there was the spark of joy dancing in his eyes that I haven't seen for a while. So it was decided! (I did negotiate in that afterwards we'd stop at the fine art museum.)

It was 68 degrees and overcast and occasionally sprinkling rain. That is much better weather for this kind of trip (or a zoo trip) than hotter or sunnier days when animals tend to look for shade or hunker down to keep cool. We bought some bags of feed and fed the animals. We saw almost every animal they have, very few were hiding in spots we could not see. It was a quiet Thursday during the school day so the place was nearly deserted. Amazingly we took about an hour to go through this ride. A good thing about this place is they let you do the route over and over if you so desire. They also had some other exotic creatures in displays near the gift shop and cafe.

The best part about the trip was the fun we had. We laughed a lot and even screamed. When some of the animals tried to enter the minivan we were laughing and howling at the same time as we mentally tried to will the automatic window closers to move faster. I really enjoyed this time alone with my younger son and especially liked seeing his "old self" the "little boy" in him. He had not laughed that much with me in a long time. (He is very peer-centered now and laughs and has a grand time with his age-mates though.)

Here are some photos I took of the trip.

I really enjoyed this time alone with my younger son.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Son & Primitive Archery

Both of my sons had Greg Anderson for a teacher at their homeschool experiential nature classes at Great Hollow Wilderness School in New Fairfield, Connecticut. They both enjoyed him.

The last two sessions that my older son took, in eighth grade, focused a fair amount on Native American ethnobotany, including primitive hunting skills and primitive archery. My son made some of his own arrows using traditional methods.

My son speaks to the students and parents explaining the process of making arrows by hand and shows the arrows he made by himself, November 2010.

Greg started a cottage industry business, North Wood Traditional Archery, and began selling at festivals. Now he has a website and you can purchase his traditional bows and arrows online. The website has a fair amount of educational information about self bows, check it out if you are interested.

My younger son has also enjoyed having Greg as a teacher for various experiential nature classes but the younger kids were not handcrafting weapons and shooting them. Two things happened at about the same time: we moved out of state and the program closed, so my younger son never got to learn to make his own arrows or to shoot primitive archery with Greg.
Here is a video of Greg making a traditional arrow.

Greg Anderson June 2010

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Son's FIRST Robotics Team Competed at a Third Regional

The third regional FIRST Robotics tournament that my son's team, 1477 Texas Torque participated in this season was the Lone Star Regional held in Houston, Texas on  April 5-7, 2012.

My son attended all three days and spent most of his time doing scout work: watching and documenting the actions of robots on the field. This is done in case our team made it to the top 8, they would know who'd they want to pick to be the other two teams on their alliance. While scouting, they look for robots who have good drivers, robots which can handle the obstacles on the field, robots that can balance well on the bridges, and have other good skills in game play (as well as noting which teams struggle with various tasks).

I attended for the second day of seeding rounds then the third day which included the finals. My sons is independent at these events and barely looks my way. That's the stage we're at in both his teenage maturity state and with his general independence and comfort level with his teammates and mentors. I sat in the stands with other parents with my monopod and 300mm zoom lens and DSLR camera and refined my skills at shooting in manual mode long distance at things moving quickly while the stands shook from people climbing the stairs or stomping their feet to cheer. It was a challenge for me take decent photos to say the least.

Before I tell how it went I will share some of the process. I am proud of the kids on this team for being forward thinking and very good under pressure. When this was happening all I could think was this is what it is really about: having problems, brainstorming solutions, making a change and seeing how it goes, tweaking that, and hoping for the best.

The first thing that happened was the mechanism that drew in the basketball was sometimes not functioning perfectly at past competitions, so back in the lab, the team completely redesigned it with a very different system. They installed that at the end of day one. Starting day two it was clear that thenew system had a problem and there was some new problem with the programming. Both problems meant low scoring points. By lunchtime the team was ranked 43 of 53. It was painful to see to say the least. Over lunch break they figured out what was wrong with the ball intake, and they worked at the programming.  That afternoon they saw that both problems had been solved. By the end of seeding rounds the team had climbed to 7th of 54! Our team was confident that they'd do well in the finals.

The team wound up in an alliance with 624 CRyptonite of Katy, Texas (again) and 2773 IRONDOGZ from Edmond, Oklahoma. They competed well and made it to the top two. Everything was going great and they had a 50/50 chance of winning. Due to the high scores they were getting, I thought winning was a real possibility.

It was a shock in the final two to suddenly see our robot had a new major problem! For the first time in this competition, they lost the internet connection which meant the remote controls could not move the robot!

Troubleshooting while in time out between final rounds

They called a time out after losing the first round and worked at it. In the second round, they again lost internet connection and lost the second round. So the other alliance won 2/3 and it was over! Thus my son's team came in second place at the Lone Star Regional. I think watching an alliance suffer due to a robot being dead on the field, especially in the finals is the most painful thing to see happen!

Some friends have said to me, "You didn't need the regional win to make it to Worlds since the team already qualified to go." The problem is that team 2773 won't get to Worlds. Team 624 already had qualified to attend with the alliance win with our team at Bayou. Our technical probem let down the IRONDawgs, and that's sad.

In a speech later that night, the lead mentor said that having problems like that is how real life works, and how engineering on the job works also. It is so important that kids learn these skills of problem solving, testing, and making changes on the fly under pressure.

The season isn't over yet: the team is off to World Championships in late April. Because we homeschool, my son can't take the bus the school paid for, so my son and I are flying up together. I'm glad we had miles to use to pay for those tickets. I'll be in the stands cheering teams on and snapping photographs. My son is so excited, and I am too.

I've said it before but I'll say it again: I am so grateful that this team exists. This has been one of my son's favorite things to happen to him since moving here. He enjoys it so much he is planning to phase out of some of his other extra-curricular activities to spend more time with the team next year and beyond. I am happy that he is learning more about engineering which he has always said he wanted his career to be. It's nice when the reality of something matches a wish or dream. If something were to happen to this team and my son could not participate it would be a crushing blow and a tragedy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Homeschoolers: Stop Bashing Teachers Please

There are some great school teachers in America.

I am grateful to the excellent teachers who have influenced and taught my children -- even though my kids have never been enrolled in a regular school they have had some classroom time with private tutors and been involved in other alternative learning enviornments that exposed them to teachers.

Now my oldest has a teacher as a FIRST Robotics coach, I am amazed by this man's influence and the fact that he does all that work virtually for no compensation! You see, some school teachers actually teach outside of their regular classroom, so they can teach homeschoolers too.

Homeschoolers, be careful of your language. Not every teacher is a bad one. Not every teacher is the devil as some accuse. Some homeschoolers who spread various poison and negativity actually create the illusion that all homeschoolers are nutjobs who are nasty and look down upon others, such as looking down upon teachers. The odd thing is some of those preachy high horse homeschoolers drive around with bumper stickers that tell everyone to live with tolerance and to accept diversity.

How about practicing what YOU preach?

How about trying to be open-minded as you say you want non-homeschoolers to be open-minded about your choice to homeschool?

Even if you are not a follower of Christ, living the Golden Rule is a good idea: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

A first step is to stop making broadly sweeping generalizations and to stop making blanket statements. Just stop that. If you can't speak in specifics, say nothing at all.

A second step is to speak as an authority only if you actually are an authority on a topic. Don't preach to me how to educate and raise my teens when yours are still in Kindergarten. You may be capable of teaching your child the Alphabet Song and how to sound out c-a-t but when it comes to higher level studies it is right and good to expose our homeschooled kids to some great teachers and mentors about things that we as parents don't know a lot about.

It's good for teens to feel motiviated and enthusiastic about things that other adults are passionate about which we just are not interested in. So, go ahead and enjoy your time with your young child, and later if you choose to have your child taught by a teacher, even still as a homeschooler or using alternative education methods, I promise I will not sit in judgment of you. So you can stop juding me, is that a deal?

Monday, April 23, 2012

What a Life

One of our cats.

Photo by ChristineMM using Instagram and iPhone4 taken April 2012.

So That's Why Homeschool Kids Are Socially Great?

Homeschool kids are thrust into situations where they often know no one yet have to network and fit in to do what they went there to do. This has happened so many times in my kid's lives that they do not fear entering a room of stranger peers and reaching out to socialize and interact.

As homeschooled kids participate in the same activity with the same kids they form closer relationships. However there are many times when such interactions are just a "one off" thing.

When we are out and about in the real world my kids have to interact with stranger adults to get what they want. I have gently pushed them to ask the librarian for help or to ask a store clerk where something they want to buy is located and other small steps. They also, obviously, have been with me in situations where they have observed my interactions and lack of fear of interaction. If we're in a strange place and lost, I may ask someone for help. If I have a question to ask of the waiter, I ask.

Here is an article written for adults about networking, which begs for a return to more face to face talking and interaction instead of over-reliance on social media.

Network Like It's 1959

If you read this and if you are a homeschooling parent you will see the similarities with homeschooling, such as this:

Joining collectors at hobby shows, participating in a biking club or even starting your own book group will help you develop interpersonal skills and potentially lead to valuable professional connections.
Yeah, uh, that's daily living for homeschoolers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pasta Revolution Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Pasta Revolution: 200 Foolproof Recipes That Go Beyond Spaghetti and Meatballs

Author: Editors at America’s Test Kitchen

Publication: America’s Test Kitchen, April 2012

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

My Summary Statement: Another Gem from America’s Test Kitchen – Classic and New – Simple and Fast New Pasta Recipes

I love the publications of America’s Test Kitchen, in which we learn the how and why a recipe works and are told everything about the recipe. A team of over three dozen people test old recipes and adapt them or create entirely new recipes to make it the best dish possible.

The goal of this book was not just to reinvent only old staples but to share new recipes.  These are some Italian dishes as you probably assumed but also some Asian recipes. They also tried to cover various bases: fast cooking recipes, recipes with a low number of ingredients, lighter eating options, slow cooker recipes, no cook sauces, pasts for two, pasta for company, casseroles and skillet pastas. What a variety this cookbook presents, a little of everything. With 200 recipes there is a huge variety and something for each season of the year and every type of meal.  There are even special recipes for the new whole wheat pastas available in grocery stores.

The book starts with a short chapter that lays out foundational principles of pasta cooking including what cookware and which utensils and gadgets make pasta cooking easier. Then each chapter tackles a topic. There is one recipe per page and each has a long introductory paragraph that tells the how and why’s, before the recipe is revealed. Many of the recipes have a full page (mouth-watering) photograph. Scattered throughout are shopping tips to recommend the best brand of a product, and telling why, of course.

I highly recommend the Spaghetti with Lemon, Basil, and Scallops!

I was already a fan of the publications of America’s Test Kitchen and this book is fantastic, so I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It.

Disclosure: I receved a review copy of this book from Amazon Vine. See my blog's disclosure statement link near the top of my blog's sidebar for more information.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

FIRST Robotics Six Weeks Build Video

This is my son's FIRST Robotics team, last year, before he was on the team, which shows the six week's work the team went through to complete the robot.
On day one acrosss the world, at the same time, teams watch live opening remarks from the founder of FIRST including animated video explaining the new challenge. Then they open an envelope revealing details and the rules for the season. The team immediately begins brainstorming ideas and the process starts off with a bang. At the end of the six weeks the robot is "bagged and tagged" and cannot be touched until they arrive at a regional competition.

In the first six weeks the team can also build a practice robot. In between "bag and tag" day and the competitions the team can work on the practice robot only. The practice robot can go to the regional competition with them and parts can be scavenged off it and swapped out onto the competition robot. At the end of the regional the competition robot must be bagged and tagged again and is to remain untouched until they arrive at the next competition.

FIRST Robotics is a competition open to students in grades 9-12.

For more information see

Click the label "FIRST Robotics" to learn more about my son's experiences with this competition.

Boozehound Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits

Author: Jason Wilson

Publication: Ten Speed Press, October 2010

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

Summary Statement: Witty Travelogue – Entertaining and Enlightening

Wilson is a professional writer of a magazine column about spirits. In this book he travels around the world to visit spirit manufacturers. I enjoyed the combination of his voice of wisdom combined with new impressions when he visits these places. His writing is witty and high quality, so I won’t call this book a “project memoir” (where typically an ignorant yet curious and eager learner person goes around to places to learn about a topic and writes from the perspective of a newbie-discoverer).

Each chapter covers a category of spirit and then recipes are given. Many recipes have been adapted by Wilson based on older recipes. Some are new recipes from bartenders. I liked that Wilson sought to use the spirit in the best way to appreciate the unique tastes of that brand.

I really enjoyed Wilson’s wit.
“At home, however, I find it nearly impossible to find others who share my enthusiasm for aquavit. I’m often met with a response that frankly irritates me: “Isn’t that stuff rocket fuel?” It’s been the same thing with grappa. What is it about strong foreign spirits served in tiny glasses that scares so many Americans? It feels a little xenophobic to me, and I get impatient with the rocket-fuel label.” (page 129)

“Bagging on Patron reminds me a little of teenagers who hate a band as soon as it becomes famous.” (page 143)

“To be perfectly honest, beginning your relationship with amari by drinking a shot of 80-proof Fernet-Branca is like starting to learn a language by reading its physics textbooks. The taste? How about a bracing smack in the face with a eucalyptus tree?” (page 104)
Foodies may be interested in the book, as using high quality ingredients and trying to make best use of an ingredient’s flavor is not unlike cooking well.
“For eau-de-vie, you need perfect ripeness for each fruit. If it’s not fully ripe, there’s not enough sugar and too much acid. But the challenge is that all this is different for every fruit.” (page 146)

To test grappa, put some on the back of your hand and feel it. It shouldn’t feel oily, “Poorly made grappa contains a high percentage of oil. “The oil is what makes it hard to digest and gives you a headache, “ Guarda Nardini says. “That’s the grappa that makes you say, ‘Ugh, I could feel that grappa going up and down my system for three days.” (page 113)
I really enjoyed reading Boozehound. The book need not be read in order and you can dip in and out of the chapters reading slowly. It makes for great before-bed reading or is a good escape read such as a beach read for foodie types. The reading is light yet it informs. And just when you think you’ve heard too many descriptions for a drink that you wish you were also sampling at that moment and may start to feel a little annoyed, Wilson makes you chuckle and you forgive the fact that the book does not come packaged in a kit with sample sizes of every spirit mentioned.

I rate the book 5 stars = I Love It.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program. For my blog's full disclosure see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Neon Signs

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram taken at Fiesta grocery store in Houston, Texas (caters to the Mexican demographic) taken in March 2012.

Son's Robotics Team Won a Second Regional Competition

While my son was having his tonsils surgically removed, his FIRST Robotics team was busy competing at the Bayou Regional in Louisiana. My son was disappointed that he couldn't go, but health matters are a higher priority!

We used an app for iPhone to monitor the competition. On the final competition day on March 10, 2012, our family watched a live webcast of the competition via the Internet.

After seeding rounds, we were thrilled to see that his team was ranked 1st out of 49!

(Oh how my son wished he were there to see it all!)

Going into finals, our team, 1477 Texas Torque chose teams 624 CRyptonite from Katy, Texas and 4353 RoBoDawgs from Lafayette, Lousiana.

Their alliance took first place in the Regional!

Winning first place earns the teams a spot at World Championships in St. Louis in late April.

His team also won the Engineering Inspiration Award:

"The Engineering Inspiration Award celebrates a team’s outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school and their community. Criteria include: the extent and inventiveness of the team’s efforts to recruit students to engineering, the extent and effectiveness of the team’s community outreach efforts, and the measurable success of those efforts. This is the second highest team award FIRST bestows."

The Engineering Inspiration Award has no formal submission nor presentation to the judges. The judges get their information from other teams, students and mentors, and robot performance."



I mention the wins here, and it is cause for celebration, but really this competition is about the process. It's about the pre-planning, the six weeks of frantic designing and building. It's about a competition that is based not just on individual performance but also on cooperation with alliance teams.

Later, the coach said about the Bayou Regional, that every single thing went right and it almost seemed too easy. A lot of work went into that. The same could not be said of the next regional that they competed in. I'll share that story soon.

This competition is also about thinking on the fly, teamwork, problem-solving under stressful conditions and keeping a calm head and a good attitude of good sportsmanship in a crisis.

I am grateful that FIRST is a community event and that my son as a homeschooler, is allowed to join this team and intermingle with kids from four different public schools and a science magnet school.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Louisiana in March 2012.

Why I Keep Writing This Blog

I never know who is reading or if I'm repeating myself or saying things no one cares about.

Then once in a while I get feedback like this comment which I received today:

I wanted to thank you for your blog. I enjoy your writing style and honesty. I have similar feelings about homeschool forums and local groups and other blogs. Yours really is the only one I read regularly. I’ve been following your family’s learning adventure for about a year and I have changed how I do things with my 9 yr. old boy as a result of reading about where you are with your older boys. It gives me a picture of where I want to be when my son is older. When I feel overwhelmed or insecure I often read some of your older posts and realize I’m not the first to doubt and then find a way to succeed. Thank you again for your open mind and willingness to share….Your easy to read writing inspires across ½ the Pacific.


One clarification: it is not my intention to convince people to do things my way because I am not even sure what I'm doing is "right" let alone "the one right way". Some days I feel like I know nothing or that I'm  I realize there are many ways to achieve even the same goals. I support everyone doing individual things that works best for their unique children. With that said, I write of what we do, and if something her inspired or informs, then that's fantastic.

The only areas which I wish people did things my way are in the areas of attachment parenting, not doing "cry it out" sleep training methods with babies, treating kids with respect, gentle discipline meaning: no spanking or use of physical pain infliction methods. I use and like the parenting methods that Barbara Coloroso recommends and also William Sears M.D. and Martha Sears R.N..

It would be a wonderful world if children enjoyed learning and had time and chose to satisfy their curiosities by autodidactism. However, I know that not all of learning is fun and games, especially if there are medical problems or learning disabilities. I respect academic rigor and know that it takes serious effort and persistance over the long haul.

I support helping kids achieve their goals. I like the idea that anyone can be anything they want only if they try hard enough, but I know the harsh realities of life and realize that there can be many barriers to fulfilling one's dreams. Barriers can be from within the child (in their control or not in their control) as well as from the parents (unintentionally or intentionally). Lastly,  barriers from outside sources exist (colleges require that test score of applicants, etc.). Ideally kids would dodge the barriers thrown at them by various outside parties by doing what has to be done in order to do what they want to do, with the help of supportive parents and community members, and by working as hard as they can so they don't get in their own way while on the journey.

Texas Parents Form Organization to Fight Standardized Testing

Parents Call State's School Tests a Stinking Mess
Published in:  Houston Chronicle

Parents criticize standardized testing done by Pearson and claim teachers do too much "teaching to the test".

“These tests are a horrible waste of taxpayer money, instruction time and teacher energy that could otherwise be used to educate our children and involve them in meaningful and enriching learning,” Chamness, a former school teacher, told the board’s instruction committee."

"The board listened to the parents, but did not discuss the growing concern over standardized testing."

The same old, same old? Have a committee, listen, then do nothing.

I share the sentiment of the mother who claimed her child would be in college before the state comes up with something that these parents think is better.

Sometimes your best option to give your child an education you think may be superior is to homeschool.

UnBEElievables Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: UnBEElievables

Author: Douglas Florian

Genre: Children’s Picture Book ages 4-8, poetry

Publication: Simon and Schuster, March 2012

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

Summary Statement: Cute and Educational Poems about Honeybees For Children


I first became acquainted with the poetry and artwork of Douglas Florian about a decade ago when my oldest child was a toddler. His poems are whimsical and kids enjoy hearing them read aloud. The first books we read over and over were just poems with artwork. Insectlopedia is our family favorite.

This volume is entirely about honeybees. Besides the poem on a topic that educates primarily and entertains secondarily, there is a paragraph at the bottom of the page with factual information to read aloud or talk to your child about. Each topic has a two page spread with artwork on one page and the poems on the other.

The last poem is about the current problem of honeybee die-off. It’s not too doomsday, but I feel it may be unnecessary. Can we let little kids be innocent little kids for just a short while? The inclusion of factual information with each poem makes it an “educational” book not just a fun book to read that you can’t help but learn from. Something more important would perhaps teach kids to not be scared to death of bees they see when they are outside and to just leave them alone rather than scream their heads off, think the bees are out to get them, and to try to kill them all. I can’t tell you how many girls and boys I see flipping out over seeing a bee flying by or on a flower gathering pollen, minding their own business. Let’s teach kids that bees are not out to harm us but irrational behavior of humans can scare them and make them sting us!

I liked the book and enjoyed the artwork. It’s a book that is perfect for a public library or school library to own so that the most kids can get the use out of it. It would be a great read aloud for any child at home or in the classroom, from toddler ages up through grade three.

P.S. If you don't want to inform your kids about the die-off you can choose to just skip the last poem!
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of writing a review on For my bog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bee on St. John's Wort

Photo with iPhone4 and Instagram taken at my Connecticut home in July 2011. With Instagram you can edit any photo in your iPhone's photo album. I pulled this one out from the depths to filter with Instagram.

The Roar Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Road: A New Future is About to Explode

Author:  Emma Clayton

Genre: Children’s fiction, grades 5-8

Publication: Chicken House, 2009

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

My Summary Statement: Fast Paced Page-Turner – Dystopian Novel for Kids – Appeals to Both Girls and Boys

From the start of this book I was hooked. I’m a homeschooling mother who reads a fair share of juvenile fiction and young adult literature, whose sons enjoy dystopian literature. I couldn’t put the book down and was engaged from the beginning. Clayton did a great job creating the characters that I related to and cared about.

There is plenty of action in this fast-paced book while also having a real storyline and good character development. The main character is a boy twin and the secondary characters are the girl twin and another twelve year old girl, with other minor characters of both genders. I therefore think this book will appeal to both girls and boys, so long as they enjoy the dystopian fiction genre.

We are also curious until the end, about what The Secret is. The book was not at all predictable (thank goodness) and although we don’t find out what it is until the very end, there is enough story and action to not frustrate us due to our curiosity to know.

The book is a bit edgy for some fifth graders, especially sensitive kids, with some creepy characters and nightmares and intentional scaring and some dangerous sick things that adults do to the twelve year old characters. However if your child is already familiar with The Hunger Games this is nothing as severe as that (young adult) novel. Also if they already have read the whole Harry Potter series, this is either not as severe or equally edgy.

This dystopian novel is set in the future on Earth. Some things that happen in the book are happening in our culture today: bullying, classism, and social injustice. There are talking points here that would make for good discussion parent to child or teacher to classroom.

This may be a great book for reluctant readers too, thanks to the action, the engaging characters, the interesting topic, and the suspense.

At about 500 pages it seems daunting but the action and story pull the reader through and it seemed to me to be engaging and exciting throughout, so the long page count is fine by me.

I rate this book 5 stars = I Love It.

Note: The sequel, The Whisper, was released in February 2012. I’ve purchased that already and can’t wait to start reading it.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program. See my blog's full disclosure statement near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fair Food Booth and Signs

Photo taken at the Conroe Kidz Fest in March 2012 with iPhone4 and Instagram. They have fried foods here I've never seen anywhere. They say it's a Texas thang.

Why My Teen Wants to Keep Homeschooling

It has been a rough year with all the changes with the job, the move, and continued negative effects due to the bad economy's impact on our family.

When I found out a great magnet school with a specialization in my son's area of interest is right in my backyard I thought our reasons for homeschooling had now ended. We never had this option before. Our main reason for homeschooling was educational quality and customization to allow for learning styles and asynchronous development and the use of alternative education methods. Now that my son is 14.5 years old a lot of the asynchronous development issues have passed.

Now that he's in grade nine and on a pre-engineering path the alternative education has been reduced and more traditional schooling and tweaking to our scope and sequence has been done.

Why not just attend the magnet school?

In the last month we discussed this multiple times. Last month was the time when he needed to apply as a "move in" student. There was no guarantee that a single spot would be available for him as the only slots that would open would be if a student left the school.

I was on board with attending the magnet more than my son was, I realized. He did not share my vision. Then I explained why it would be a good thing:

1. They have an excellent academic record.

2. Their students are being admitted to very good schools, some with early admissions.

3. They have lab science classes with great labs and proper facilities, with teachers who love science.

4. They have foreign language classes (another topic that's a challenge for me to teach).

5. He knows a bunch of kids who attend and he'd fit right in. It wouldn't even feel like he was "the new kid".

6. It is a small school and the kids run in smaller circles. They are not lost in a sea. There are about a thousand kids in each class at the public school. Comparing the public school to this magnet regarding size is like apples and oranges.

7. The students rotate through a certain number of teachers and repeat classes with them over the years, which is great.

In the end I did not push onto him what I wanted for him. I let him make the decision. Why?

First, we looked at the application. When my son saw the questions he had to answer, he did not answer the answers that I thought he would. Two of the questions were simple: why they want to attend that school and what they bring to that school community. I could have answered them myself with certain answers but I wanted him to write it himself and for it to come from within and from within him. It clearly became apparent to me that it was not in his heart to attend the school, but it was more in my heart and mind that he apply for admissions. I was shocked.

But with that decision came a promise to cooperate I think I've shared this before but I have been thinking about it again, so I apologize if this is repetitive for you.

What my son wants for himself is a healthy, well-rested body. He has been through multiple cases of Lyme Disease, had mono, chronic tonsillitis and just had his tonsils and adenoids removed. He recently finished four months of neurofeedback therapy for brain injury from Lyme Disease. Can you blame him for wanting to be healthy now?

He wants to be well-rested. He feels he does not want to do homework until midnight. He does not want to have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the school bus. (If he attended the magnet I actually would have to drive him so I'd suffer too but we didn't discuss that.)

My son wants to have time to do the FIRST Robotics team. He sees how much some of the magnet school students miss full participation due to homework and studying. My son likes participating the level he is now, and he does not want to decrease it which would happen if he had homework and woke up earlier and was tired.

My son wants to continue to do the high school competitive rowing team. He sees the magnet school kids missing practice and regattas due to having school work.

My son wants to stay in Boy Scouts and he has seen the magnet school kids skip meetings or sit on the floor at meetings doing homework, and even doing homework by the campfire at the Scout camping trip.


The Compromise

There are subjects that I cannot teach my son at home that he needs for college prerequisites. Since going to high school would cover those topics, and he's refusing, we needed another option. My son is now willing to take these classes at community college. The first step to community college enrollment is taking some tests, and passing them. My stubborn son does not want to take the tests or prepare or study for them.

That is exactly why putting everything in a kid's hands is not a good idea.

Even when setting goals themselves, kids do not always want to do the work it takes to actually get there. Before I get harsh on a kid's lack of discipline, I'll give an example: this is not unlike an adult who knows they need to lose weight for health purposes but does not want actually change their eating habits today and procrastinates.

The difference is that we are the parents, we are the adults, and sometimes we need to provide both the guidance and encourage our kids to persevere when they waver due to poor self-discipline. We parents have learned some things in life and we are here to try to help our kids learn positive character traits and skills such as time management.

There is some push and pull between parents and their kids even when trying to help a teen fulfill a goal they set for themselves. This process is also complicated by developmental stages in the teen years and hormone surges and a yearning for independence and self-governance. Teens know what they want but don't always do the right steps to make that happen. Errors in poor judgement due to developmental stages or foggy teen-brain thinking can have lasting negative effects. Parents should try to guide their kids to avoid some pitfalls, some of which cause damage that is irreversable.


Since so much of what we do in our family is based on my children's paths in life, is this not a self-directed education, otherwise known as unschooling? I don't know, and it doesn't matter I guess. Unschooling is just a label. What matters is what you do not what you call what you do.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Photo taken with iPhone4 and Instagram at the Insectarium in New Orleans, Louisiana in March 2012.

Shutting Out the Noise of Other Homeschoolers

Three things.

Well first, a short backstory. If it were not for the grassroots support from other homeschoolers and for homeschool magazines (Growing Without Schooling and Home Education Magazine, specificially), I would not have known enough or become courageous enough to homeschool.

With that said....three things:

1. In December 2011 I went no mail on the various YahooGroups which were to connect me with my new local homeschoolers and also homeschool groups which are relevant to my current and near future situation. I was being stressed out and getting scared by things said. I was becoming doubtful of the ability to homeschool high school. I was getting scared to jump through even more hoops than I already had planned. There are other reasons (see #3 below) that made me pull back.

This was the first time since I was seriously introduced to the Internet for homeschool information gathering purposes in about 1999.

It has been a full four months since then and not only have I surivived but I have thrived.

I have been able to stop thinking about the "what if" and "what Johnny in California did" and just to think about my life, my family, and our unique, customized homeschool lifestyle.

By shutting out the noise of other people I have been able to be more in tune with my own family.

I have been doing less comparision of our family's homeschool to others and had more ability to just see and experience life with my own kids, and to feel happy about that. By not knowing what the Joneses next door are doing I was able to think just about what we were doing.

I have enough on my plate regarding my own family and matters such as the Connecticut house still being for sale and us paying for two households, and all the normal everyday living stuff that families deal with.

I have felt so liberated by cutting the ties.

I recognize that I do not know it all and will need to rely on the help of others and the info they share online but for right now we're okay with the information I have on hand.

2. Since moving I do not feel strongly connected to the local homeschool community. I feel like we are some kind of loner homeschool family despite me living in a much more homeschooler-dense community. Well I clarify that we interact most with kids who go to school and their parents, we are not alone.

I hear there are at least 300 families homeschooling just in my town of 100K people. Numbers like that were unheard of back when I lived in Connecticut. You'd think I'd be more immersed with homeschoolers here but it is not happening.

My older son has more than enough to do with Robotics Team and new friends made there, Rowing team and the friends made there, and Boy Scouts with his leadership position taking up more time than he had realized it would.

My younger son has friends in Boy Scouts and he's doing lacrosse, although he says they all just play and don't talk so no real friends are being made there. He enjoys the new Sunday School class and informs me that he "is breaking in slowly, that is how it is supposed to happen".

I honestly am fine with not having a lot of homeschool friends here. I would love to have close homeschooling friends but it's just not happening. Actually, what I'm having trouble with is finding people who actually want to discuss home education and ideas. The homeschoolers only want to chit chat about the weather and other small talk. No one around here has real homeschool support group meetings where topics are discussed. When I need homeschool support I phone my Connecticut friends for a chat.

3. There is a lot on my plate now and I don't have time to read homeschool blogs. I have just one that I frequent regularly.

Regarding other online supposed support or encouragement, this last week I ventured over to a post from Twitter and got sucked into discussions. In the end the same old crap happened which made me realize I was wasting my time.

The closed minded people won't open their mind to realize their erroneous thinking.

People who ask not to be judged sit and judge others who don't do it their way. It makes no sense as out of one side of their mouth they say "we have freedom to do things any way we want" but if you do it differently you are an idiot or a lemming.

They spout statements that sound like sound bites but they can't discuss it further. If you try to explore it more deeply to reveal the flaw in the statement they disengage and never get to the eye-opening "ah ha" moment.

Also, there are too many parents of young kids spouting opinions about raising older kids when they know nothing about it yet. I know I was also more spirited in my opinions when my kids were younger but I don't think I ever thought I knew it all regarding homeschooling teens and about the (ever-changing and more difficult) college admissions process.

Over and over I see errors in logical thinking skills and it drives me batty. Fallacies abound. We are really suffering from the schools having removed that from the curriculum decades ago. What I've learned, I've learned on my own and it is so easy to spot fallacies that people make that they have no clue they are doing.


My kids seem get more learning done and they seem to be ejoying the extra attention they get when I'm more available to them due to being less busy on the Internet discussing homeschooling.

What a revelation: actually homeschooling gets more done than just talking about it.

Kerstin Florian Neroli Cleansing Milk (Facial Cleanser) Product Review

When I moved from the northeast to hot and humid Texas in the middle of a hot summer, my skin went crazy. To boot, I've always had sensitive skin that reacted severely to many different facial cleansers, day lotions and sunscreens. My formerly dormant rosacea resurfaced. My skin turned oily, I was sweating a lot (thanks, Houston!) and was constantly breaking out.

I started buying new products and trying different things, and nothing improved, and some of the new products made my skin worse. I wasted a lot of money in that endeavor and my face was a wreck. In desperation I sought the advice of an esthetician. She recommended three Kerstin Florian products (I had never heard of this brand before), and this neroli cleaning milk was one of them. She said they were high quality products, and worth the money. Mind you, I have never paid this much for a skin cleanser (my former favorite was about $3 a tube) but I was desperate.

This is a very gentle yet effective facial cleanser. It is not overly-drying, it is so gentle. In the winter I didn't even need a facial moisturizer after using it. Now that the sun is stronger I am using a KF facial lotion with SPF.

I am seven-plus months into using the first bottle and there is still about 1/3 left. A little goes a long way.

The only odd thing about this product is that it does not foam up and it is not slippery and sudsy. It goes on "flat" feeling. It definately works but it may just not be what you are used to. Adjusting to that change was no big deal for me, especially since I know that the agents that are added to skin cleaners to help them create suds can be harsh on the skin, and I needed gentle.

It has a light scent that is derived from essential oils of neroli, from the flowers of the bitter orange tree.

My facial skin has calmed down, and I'm grateful for that.

Disclosure: See the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sky After Big Thunderstorm

Photo by ChristineMM taken 4/02/12 in The Woodlands, Texas with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Does Curriculum Work?

My response to Why Curriculum Doesn't Work blog post:

Nearly all curriculum has let us down when used in isolation and when used strictly, or even when using it with every single intention of its author.

Using some of something, or abandoning it when you realize it is not working, is good. Blending with other things is probably best. Dipping in for help with certain segments can be useful. Using it in a sped up or slowed down way to customize for the learner seems right to us.

In the end we're talking about learning. And if learning happens, even if some is from a curriculum or inspired by a curriculum, I think it is okay.

We are not slaves to curriculum by any means, and our family is against anything that is "school in a box" clumping subjects and content by a grade level. We teach to the learner's need or ability and that requires more customization than school in a box offers.

Also, sometimes just having it on the shelf is somehow reassuring, silly as that may sound, so it can be emotionally useful if it is just collecting dust.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bucky Balls

My kids only toy received for Christmas 2011 was a set of Bucky Balls. Sold primarily as a toy for adults to play with at their desks in the office, these tiny balls are magnetic and can be formed into various shapes. They are mesmerizing. Photo by ChristinMM using iPhone4 and Instagram 4/10/12.

Homemade Version of the Perry's Steakhouse Pork Chop

My husband attempted to recreate at home, the Perry's Steakhouse Pork Chop, a signature dish of the restaurant.

Our homemade chops:

If you brine, then avoid over-cooking, the pork is juicy and tender.


Although our rub was not identical, since we do not possess Perry's recipe, and we did not carmelize as they do (we still need to figure out what exactly was carmelized), this was a delicious meal prepared at home for a fraction of the cost.

You can rest assured that my husband will continue to tweak this recipe until it is perfected to our tastes.

Here is how we made the chops for our Easter 2012 dinner.
First, buy a pork chop with 3 rib bones in per piece. Then proceed.

Step 1: Brine the Pork


3 cups water
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp salt

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then remove from heat. Allow to cool. Place with pork in a large container, all the meat should be covered. Brine 1 to 4 days in the refrigerator, covered.

Step 2: Rub

My husband used this base recipe for the rub: FoodTV Pat's Smoked Pork Chops but we both felt it was not sweet enough, so next time we'll use more brown sugar. 
Step 3: Barbeque
Slow cook with the Big Green Egg between 200 and 225 degrees.  
Smoke with apple wood chips. (We had read to use any fruit wood chip.)
Barbeque until reaches internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Although cooking times vary, ours took almost four hours.

Step 4: Add "sauce" on top.
According to our waiter at Perry's, and per their menu, the last step is to use a garlic herb butter which by our guess had garlic and parsley only.


Serve by cutting the ribs off the chop and then cutting the ribs into individual pieces. The thick chop is then sliced then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Crighton Theatre

Crighton Theatre in downtown Conroe, Texas on a day when a terrible thunderstorm was raging.

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram on 3/02/12.

We Rescued a Baby Bird

One day last week in the midst of a typically busy day we had more excitement than usual.

The sequence of events went like this. My husband brought our oldest son downtown and dropped him at the convention center for the Lone Star Regional FIRST Robotics tournament. My husband proceeded on to go to work. I realized that I'd forgotten to have my son's hair cut before the crew team photo and individual athlete photo so added in a haircut appointment. I drove downtown after lunch to pick the kid up and then rushed home and went to the hair stylist for the hair cut. We were then to go directly to crew for the photo shoot then for practice.

As we walked down the sidewalk toward the car we went past a CVS. I heard a loud cheeping sound of a bird. My eye picked up something on the ground and there in the corner of the building was something little and brown. I heard the chirp again and saw movement. I turned and looked and it was a baby bird! It flapped its wings frantically and one of them pointed downward. No matter what it did, it could not lift up off the ground to fly. It was full of energy. I looked and saw the busy parking lot on the other side of the sidewalk. It was 85 degrees and humid. I thought, "This is not good." My son was bothered to see this and we wanted to do something about it but I didn't know what to do and we were late for the photo shoot, so we left. My older son said, "Leaving that bird there is going to ruin my whole day now."

As I drove him to his team photo and practice I phoned my younger son, who was home alone. I said, "I have something important for you to do. Google what to do with a bird with a broken wing." He said he would research it. I told him what happened. My younger son is even more emotional about the welfare of animals and I knew he was upset about this.

As publicity chair I had helped set up the photo shoot for the team. I set about to help as photographer's assistant. I told the coach's wife what happened and she was sympathetic, and said they'd rescued various critters over the years when her kids were young and they happened upon animals in need. She took over the task and I headed out early to address the bird.

Once in the car I was on the phone again (we have hands free mobile phone communication through the minivan's stereo system). My son told me he researched everything about how to care for a bird. I wondered what we were getting ourselves into and doubted we were up for the task but all I could think of was arriving back at CVS to find a squashed baby birdie in that busy parking lot and I didn't want that to happen. I arrived home to find my son waiting at the door. We took a small box and clean cloth rags and we made a soft nest (in case it thrashed around), which he'd gathered up. We rushed to CVS and the bird was still there but it was weaker, more quiet, and it had moved about two feet from where it was. I was afraid to pick it up lest I scare it or hurt it, especially if the wing was broken, but I just worked quickly and scoopd it up. I was surprised to find the its body was about the size of a chicken egg's yolk. It looks bigger but that's just feather fluff.

As I drove home, in my mind I was wondering if it could be just a baby that fell out of its nest. I remembered reading somewhere that people sometimes rescue baby birds that fall out of a nest when they should have left them there. I couldn't figure how leaving a baby bird on a hot sidewalk next to a busy parking lot was a good idea.

When we got home my son instructed me on what he read about helping the bird. This included feeing it seeds, giving it water, bandaging up the broken wing and caring for it for 2-4 weeks.

Two to four weeks?!?!

What had I gotten us into?

Following the online directions I attempted to wrap the wing. It was very hard. In the process the bird was moving more and I realized that one wing was no longer hanging down. I had to open the wing -- those wing bones are so lightweight and tiny and I was scared to death that the slightest pressure from my fingers could snap one so easily - and it didn't seem to me that the wing was broken.

I told my son that maybe we were wrong and maybe it just fell out of the nest. I also said I felt we were out of our league and that perhaps we should find another option.

I went to the Internet and within seconds read about bird rehabilitator volunteers in every community who are licensed and trained to take care of ailing wild birds. With a second search I found a list of bird rehabbers in my county, two of which were in my own town. I dialed the phone. An older gentleman answered. I asked for the woman by name and he asked who it was. I said my name and said, "it's about a bird". It was so funny when he called to his wife and said, "It's a woman about a bird."

We made arrangements for me to immediately bring the bird to her home which was less than ten minute's drive. My son was happy yet sad to see the bird go. I quickly snapped some photos before we headed out the door.

When we arrived she examined the bird and identified it as a juvenile sparrow. She said its wing was not broken, it had just fallen out of the nest. She estimated by its feather growth that it was about 2.5 weeks old, it still lacked feathers on its belly. I asked if we did the right thing by taking the bird. She said yes and explained that if a baby bird falls out of a nest in the woods, one should leave it there as the mother bird will bring it food and keep it alive until it grows enough for it to fly on its own. But left exposed in a busy strip mall on cement, it would have died. So, she said, we saved its life.

The bird rehabber had a host of wild birds in various cages in her home. In her backyard she had an aviary, where she would put it eventually, where it would learn to fly. When it was ready, she would release it to the wild, in the area behind her home which was green space.

After dropping off the bird, my younger son was now late for lacrosse, so we dashed off to the field and he joined his teammates almost a half hour late (quel horreur!). Little did anyone know that on this day we had a certifiable and justifiable reason for being tardy.

I was glad to know we did the right thing and that we alleviated the suffering of a baby bird and allowed it to live. Sometimes we as individuals can't do everything, but it is good to know our limitations. If we'd kept the bird ourselves, despite good intentions, in our ignorance we could have helped the bird die. Although my son loved the bird, even having known it just for a short while, and he wanted to keep it and help it for his own selfish reasons, he admitted that we were incapable of giving it the right care. We also now realize there is a whole world out there we didn't know about: volunteer bird rehabbers who dedicate hours of every day to help ailing wild birds, who knew? We hope and pray the little birdie makes it through and goes on to enjoy life in the wild soon.

I think this was one life experience that was a spontaneous homeschool lesson that taught a lot and won't ever be forgotten.