Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tapestries of Hope: Documentary Review by ChristineMM

Tapestries of Hope

Documentary Movie: Tapestries of Hope (2010)

This was an emotionally heavy documentary to watch. I had to split it up into two parts in order to be able to emotionally handle it. The film certainly taught me some things and made me think so I am glad I watched it.

An American white woman, Michealene Cristini Risley, travels to Zimbabwe Africa to meet with Betty Makoni, an activist, and to film her organization's work: The Girl Child Network. There, certain girls are taken in to live, to start a healing process for their emotional wounds, and to be schooled. Moving to live at The Girl Child Network releases the girls from their typical culture's plans so it's controversial for them (but the idea seems perfectly reasonable to Americans).

Who are the girls? They have all been raped by men in their community who were HIV positive because the men believe that the blood of a virgin girl obtained through raping her will cure them. These girls are emotionally scarred and some have also contracted HIV during the rape.

Now you can see why this was hard to handle.

The government of Zimbabew is hostile toward actions such as outsiders coming in to film, so the filmmaker was there filming in secret. She was arrested after filming and the tapes were confiscated although they were retrieved later, and used to make this film.

The film not only discusses HIV and AIDS but medical ignorance about the cause and treatment of HIV and AIDS. The film also discusses rape and sexual abuse of girls and begs for victims to be able to heal. They feel that what the victims need is to know they have a voice and to be able to speak openly and to participate actively in their healing process.

The film makes you think about the rights of children and women in Zimbabwe versus what we American women have experienced in our lives. It made me think about third world countries and their inferior medical care and the impact that a lack of education and living in ignorance. To think that anyone would think that HIV could be eradicated from a man's body by raping a girl virgin boggles my mind.

People Say AP Classes Are Harder Than College Classes

I have heard this said for a few years and now my homeschool mom friends whose kids have just completed the AP US History class are saying it too: that AP classes are harder than the same content taught at college.

If you are one of the 99% who went to school yourself, take a second and think back to how your teachers communicated to you.

They know the topic and know the test while they are teaching you.

They would say in their lectures that this would be on the test so be sure to take careful notes.

If they didn't use the word test they would say "this is very important".

Sometimes they'd repeat it three times about the same tidbit (which annoyed me to no end- was not once enough?).

When doing review for tests they would say with intonations "You may want to take special note of this..." which was a key that it definitely was on the test.

I even had some teachers that would say, "I will not tell you what is on the test but you should know X, Y, and Z about this topic." Semantics!

Students would ask questions directly to inquire if X would be on the test.

Other students would see the teacher privately to ask if X would be on the test.

Sometimes when I was worried about not understanding something I'd ask for clarification and would be told, "Don't worry it won't be on the test" and they would not explain it to me. Conversation over.

The AP course scope and sequence is defined by the College Board. The AP test is designed by the College Board. There is a huge span of information on the test. The teachers whose courses are certified by the College Board to be designated as an AP course covers so much information. The teachers do not see the test. There is more than one version of the test and you don't know which your student will receive. To teach a complete course seems to me to be a huge task and to get through it in one full academic year seems a challenge. The homeschool courses say 12-15 hours a week or 20 hours of homework a week must be done to get through it all.

Some public schools have compressed their schedule to half-year. So, the AP course would go from August to January only. These classes attempt to cover all that material. That would mean 24-30-40 hours of homework a week for just one class. A friend who is on a Board of Education recently rallied against this schedule saying that the teacher's insistence that the teacher can get through the material in the class time is one thing but the student's ability to do double the amount of homework and do all that memorization of facts is questionable. I would concur that the brain can only handle so much learning in a 24 hour time span and to double the studying just may not work, especially given that most of the schooled kid's day is spent in school and going to and fro, and that they have other homework and still need some hours of sleep! Also let's not forget the issue that some kids are taking the AP course in the fall and not taking the AP test until June!

The challenge of an AP course, it seems to me, is both in the large amount of material that must be covered as well as studying. AP courses also involve analytical thinking and the ability to do analytical writing and to do that in a timed high pressure setting. The hard part is that to teach or learn a complete course to try to cover all the bases the student and teacher have to work extra hard, harder than the college courses. Why?

The college course professor knows what is on the test. They can focus the lectures and homework on what they feel is most important. There is an element of control over content and assessment that the college teacher has which AP course instructors do not have. College professors can and do give hints as to what is most important to learn to help the student realize what is most important to know and what is fluff or extraneous information. Some college professors practically dictate what will be on the test which makes the student realize their responsibility of what content to learn if finite which happens to also make studying easier.

If you have taken a college course you know what I'm talking about: they tell you to read the textbook chapter and then they lecture on what they feel is most important plus give tips on what is vital. Anyone with smarts can figure out how to streamline the studying and memorization. The untested material was good to know but not essential for memorization. It can always be looked up later if someone has a need to know.

Teachers of AP courses in school or in other settings (i.e. online classes that homeschoolers use or at homeschool co-ops) do not have the luxury of scaling back what is taught in the classroom and teaching to the test in a more targeted way because they don't know exactly what will be on the test, they know the course has a ton of information and they know that they have to deliver it all and the student has to study it all. They know that the information on the test is just a fraction of the large amount of material that they were exposed to and there is nothing that they can do about it. Those wishing to be the most prepared need a comprehensive course and they need to put in the time and effort to study and to master analytical essay writing too. Those taking history classes need to be able to read source documents and digest the content and to form opinions.

If my kids ever take an AP course as part of their homeschool you can bet I'll find the best courses out there which produce the highest scores on the tests so we are not wasting our money or my kid's time with a sub-par course. I don't feel I am in the position to custom create a course for my kids and I know at least one of them lacks the personality to teach himself rigorous content with self-discipline. For some kids and for some parents it really would be best to outsource the taking of an AP class.

If pondering all this leaves you to question quitting homeschooling and using public school so the AP courses can be accessed easier and for free there are a couple of issues.

First, schools have differing policies to decide which of the students are able to enroll for the class. (I heard in my former town that it's political and that certain families are favored by administration thus locking other kids out of other classes.) Enrollment is often limited and administration has to choose who gets to take what class.

In some schools the students are tracked (even if they never use that word). If they fail to take certain classes by grade 8 they are locked out of certain classes for grade 9. If they do not enter the honors track in grade 9 they will never be allowed to enroll into an AP class in grades 12, 11, or 10. That is school policy in some schools.

AP courses also sometimes are cut from public school budgets, something that tax-paying citizen parents have little control over and the manner in which that happens is sometimes sudden and makes any future change too late for your child to access. A parent can advocate to reinstate an AP class at the school next year but it's too late for their child to have taken the cut class this year. 

Lastly, look at the school's scores for the class and the test scores: you will see that nationally the kids are scoring well in the class but too many bomb the AP test. What does that say for the quality of the teaching and what the students actually learned?

In contrast when homeschoolers take AP classes they have more freedom of choice, parents pick the course to use. No one limits the students to taking a certain number per year either. Sometimes homseschoolers are allowed to take the classes earlier if the professor deems them truly ready.

Often the only challenge for homeschoolers accessing AP classes is having the money to pay the class tuition and to pay for the textbook and other learning materials. Well, that and staying on top of enrollment dates and rushing to get a spot in the class before it's full.

Friday, June 29, 2012

That Evening Sun: Movie Review

I absolutely loved this movie and wish there were more high quality movies like this for me to watch.

An elderly white man in a nursing home sneaks out and goes back to his lifelong home, the family farm, only to find it inhabited by a young family who he's known for years: a southern white trash family. The old man is shocked to find out that his lawyer son (who has left the country to go to the city to work his white collar job) has rented out his home and had seemingly on his own, decided that the man would spend the rest of his life in the nursing home. The old man rejects that notion and he is angry that he is not being allowed to have a voice or live his life as he feels he is physically able to.

The old man moves into the former slave quarters which he finds a personal insult, supposedly on a very temporary basis until he can get the renters out and move back into his own home. However the family will not budge and a power struggle and stand-off  between the old man and the young, alcoholic, abusive, disabled man begins. At times the conflict is comical and at other times it is heartbreaking.

This movie is a melancholy story.

The old man just wants to be allowed to live the rest of his life in his home and on his farm, to be allowed die there. The temporary setback from his now-healed fractured hip he feels is over and he thinks that he is now able to live back on the farm on his own, even if he can't do all the farming that he did when he was younger. He is lonely since his wife passed on. He must struggle and negotiate with his very busy attorney son about his future plans and he resents having to have to convince his son about what he wants for his own life. He wants to continue to be independent and he wants to live his life with dignity: two things that living in an elderly home do not provide.

The younger man who rented the farm and house is also struggling to fulfill his dream, of owning his own home and land and making a living off a farm rather than just squeaking by on disability payments. However it seems doubtful that he is able to do what is takes to live the life of his dreams.

This movie is fantastic and makes us think about the rights of the elderly, issues regarding the safety of the elderly who wish to live alone in their twilight years. It makes you think about your dreams and what it takes to make them happen.

I found the movie heart-wrenching and I was brought to tears multiple times.

The film was beautifully shot with wonderful artistic cinematography.

This movie is based on a short story by William Gay "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down".

Links Official movie website

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two Options for Homeschool High School Online Classes

In summer 2011 I attended a homeschooling high school all day seminar given by the Pennslyvania Homeschoolers. They offer a slate of AP online courses for homeschoolers. At that time I did not know anyone who had completed a course with them.

The courses and the organization's mission appealed to me because they believe in rigorous academics.

One session that I attended was a meet the teacher panel talk of sorts. The teachers sat at the front and described who they were, what classes they teach, why they teach the way they do and other good stuff. I was not planning on enrolling my rising freshman in any AP classes so I was not there to check out certain teachers per se. I was impressed to say the least, with these teachers who all had a true passion for their subject (most teach just one subject, their favorite topics or their area of specialty).

I left there thinking that this was the best thing I'd ever seen being offered to high school homeschoolers to date, because it was a truly customized education. The ability to hire different teachers to teach our homeschooled kids high level courses seemed impressive and almost elitist. I always homeschooled for a customized education but this was so fantastic that it almost felt wrong -- I am a product of public schooling and with my own education had to settle for mediocre and to just "make do". The ability to hire such fantastic teachers for my kids seemed too good to be true. Hand picking each teacher and selecting the best of the best way to teach the various subjects, wow.

Another thing that I walked away thinking was that sometimes learning in isolation at home is just not as good as having a great teacher to discuss things with and having a class of similar minded kids who are really doing the work and actually learning stuff. Every memory of me in public school involves being with kids who didn't want to be there, most weren't really learning, many were not doing the homework, and many were cheating on a regular basis. Even in college many of the students were focused on cutting corners and getting by. It is hard for teachers to engage the class when most of the kids hate the content and don't want to be there or can't even discuss it as they didn't do the work. I knew this as a student and I saw it from the teacher's perspective when I was a corporate trainer who was getting new employees ready for a job they supposedly wanted. I saw it again as a homeschool co-op teacher when parents made a kid take the class and they didn't want to be there. It is hard for an interested student to enjoy learning and discussing if they are around kids who they can't engage with or who make fun of them for either doing well with learning or for actually having read the book. When you worry about being put down just for having read To Kill a Mockingbird it hinders the reading of the book and discussing it freely in class. So imagine a class where the kids are actually doing the work and able to discuss it, that's what was being offered by Pennsylvania Homeschoolers.

I liked that the courses had a common goal: the intention to prepare kids to pass an AP test or CLEP test or score high on a SAT subject test was more than most online classes or local homeschool co-ops offer. Some courses offered elsewhere teach what they say is good material but how that would connect to the expectations of the different tests was an unknown that left the student hanging. I as the parent have no way of knowing if homeschool co-op class X would truly prepare the student to fare well on the SAT subject test.

However more important than the idea that high test scores would result from taking the class was the obvious fact that these students were challenged and pushed and were given a serious and rigorous courseload: more than the public schools offer. Kids who take these classes and actually do the work cannot help but actually learn this stuff. Working in small settings the kids can't get away with not reading the book and by reading just the Cliff Notes (like I did in high school and even did a bit in college). The test scores are not the goal, the goal is real learning. The high test scores that students obtain are just what happens naturally by doing the work and studying. Amazing, that's what the tests are supposed to do but instead it seems that most school students care only about getting the course done and on the transcript and getting a decent grade so they look good on paper and make everyone around them happy or impressed (parents, teachers, or college admissions officers).

I left the seminar thinking that I honestly am not trained or knowledgable enough to teach all the high school level courses to my kids. In fact I doubt I'm competent enough to teach anything on the high school level. I always said I wanted rigorous academics and a high quality education but I was facing the fact that I was no longer able to deliver such a thing or that what I could deliver put my high schooler in jeopardy of getting a mediocre education. Our family's reliance on homeschool curriculum, reading books and using primary source documents is more now than in the elementary and middle school grades. I was happy to know that something exists out there when the time comes that we need it. Due to the upheaval of the long distance move our family was not in a position to figure out which online classes, if any, were right for my son, outside of one math online class offered by another company that he was already signed up to do in the fall of 2011.

It was said in the sessions as well as in private conversation with me that most 9th graders should not be taking AP classes. A handful of 9th graders who were friends with my son planned to take a US History AP course through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers in the fall and I was feeling a bit of peer pressure or that my son was not measuring up to their kids. I thought that if I enrolled my son in that class with his friends it would monopolize his time and wind up robbing him of the ability to do basic academic work in the other subject areas. I decided that doing well on all the high school subjects was our priority, not acing one AP class and neglecting to even teach multiple other core subjects due to not having enough time in the day to get it all done.

I was told that perhaps a student who has time and some internal motivation to take one class should select just one AP class to take in grade nine. It was said that pushing too hard and having 12-15-20 hours a week of homework for just one class may backfire and cause the student to fail and to hate learning or hate that subject or get turned off to rigorous academics. Most classes were said to require 15-20 hours of homework per week. Instead it was said to MAYBE try one AP class in grade 10, again, something they really love.

Over and over it was said that grades 11 and 12 are the right time to take AP courses. Grade 11 is the most important because those class and test scores will be available to colleges at college application time. This shows colleges that homeschoolers actually are learning things are not padding their transcript or exaggerating. Taking AP courses in the senior year shows the colleges that the student is continuing a rigorous courseload but the test scores won't be back in time to help the college see how they can perform.

I wished there were other courses online that were rigorous and would help a student prepare for college level work and prepare them for future AP classes. One vendor there was Debra Bell, someone I thought maybe I'd heard the name, but knew nothing about her. I purchased her book about homeschooling high school and read it. That book: Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens focused on two things: a rigorous education to prepare students for admission to selective colleges and about raising Christian kids and doing Christian homeschooling.

The topic of rigorous academics in homeschooling is one that is not written about enough and the closest that comes to it is The Well Trained Mind by Wise and Bauer, although TWTM focuses on custom creating a program that the homeschool parent-teacher or the student will teach themselves. Bell's book is open to online classes, community college and other outsourced teaching (which some of us need as our teens are doing a push-back for independence thing which is typical and a normal developmental stage).

If you yearn for a book on the challenges of homeschooling high school and about rigorous academics read her book even if you are not Christian, because you can read and take what works and leave the rest behind.

Another thing I learned was that Debra Bell has some online classes for regular high school content (not AP) and also some pre-AP classes. She said something about expanding her course offerings in the future and using other instructors. I filed that information away for exploration later. As I write this I have enrolled both of my kids in some of the classes offered on Debra Bell's site (but the classes have not started yet). I plan to blog more about that specifically in another post.

Note: I was not paid to mention these online course companies.

Hollywood Complex: Documentary Movie Review

Documentary Movie: Hollywood Complex

Here we have a documentary movie that feels like watching a train wreck, a tragedy unfolding before our eyes. The movie is not the problem, the problem is the real people who are in it. Yet I found the movie so interesting, to get inside the heads of these parents and to see this Hollywood machine in action. I felt guilty for watching the movie as I was rivoted and couldn't help but talk to the TV set trying to talk some common sense into these starry eyed parents.

Hollywood Complex is about an apartment complex that caters to usually temporary short term rents for families from around the USA to come and live during the several months of pilot season. Usually one parent comes with the child who is going to auditions to try to be cast in a pilot to become a Hollywood star. It is not just an apartment complex though, it is a business where the parents are lectured to about the ins and outs of the system and where people try to boost them up to think this is actually a possiblity for their child. Many businesses cater to these wanna-be stars including acting coaches and head shot photographers.

By immersing in a micro-culture these families actually feed off each other, boosting each other up and thinking they really have a shot at breaking into the business. It is like an unhealthy co-dependent relationship in action.

I was especially confused and perplexed by the people who chose to stay long term, running up credit card debt in the many tens of thousands of dollars and those who are there year after year with no real progress to show for it. The family who has been there multiple years with no job found was the worst of them all. The mother said she felt that if the girl had a dream it was hear job to try to fulfill that dream even if it put the family in deep financial debt and split the family up across states for years.

Statistics are given in the movie to show how slim the odds are to actually be cast in a role and to become a Hollywood child star. I felt that some of these businesses were the least ethical I'd ever seen, preying on the dreams and hopes of little kids. If the parents were wealthy and had the money to burn it wouldn't bother me so much but to hear the stories of the debt they incurred was sickening and seemed nonsensical to me.

Not everyone can or will be a Hollwood star. Period.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Can't Do This But I Can Do That: Documentary Review

Documentary Title: I Can't Do This But I Can Do That

HBO Documentary Films

Official website

Through interviews with children with learning disabilities, we learn what it feels like to be a student in the public school system with its inadequate identification and not-good-enough services. The children all have dyslexia and some have other learning disabilities such as dyscalcula, ADD and auditory processing disorder.

The film shows the struggle and heartache, negative self-esteem and challenges the students feel about their capacity to learn as well as the social stigma faced in school.

However the film is about children who finally were identified and who, through various ways, got better help and were now on better footing to get on with learning and life knowing their LD label. Most seem to have already gotten over the first hurdles and were in a better place now. They exuded a certain confidence that indicated they were in what I'd describe as the "learning to adapt and live with it" phase.

The film attempts to show, in the voices of the children, that although they struggle with doing some things they have strengths in other areas that other kid's who can easily read are not so good at doing. The movie seems to be a feel-good movie that shows kids who in the process of surviving the school system and who have started to feel they can thrive and that all hope is not lost.

It seems to me that the film producers intend for this movie to be shown to children to help them see these messes coming from the mouths of other children, and that there is hope that it can get better.

The film is also good for helping open the hearts and minds of adults who are ignorant about dyslexia and learning disabilties.

The film is not negative in tone, it feels hopeful. However I know that the reality is that many kids do fall through the cracks and are not helped as the kids in this movie were helped. So my heart still pains for kids who are not properly identified who do not get the help they need.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Homeschooling: Deciding What to Outsource

This week I am making a decision about homeschooling my older son (rising sophomore), specifically teaching/learning writing composition.

Fact: We have not done as much as I had hoped.

Fact: He produces more with deadlines imposed by outside classes and teachers who are not me.

Fact: He is having typical teenage "trying to be independent" and "need more space away from Mom" feelings.

Fact: If I am to teach this I will have to exert more time into intense teaching than I think I want or have available given other life circumstances (i.e. moving next month - again).

Fact: I am not as trained on teaching writing composition, I just do it for fun in my adult life and I was a decent writing student while in public school and college. I do not know the tips and tricks that teachers know. I do not know what is normal for ages and stages of students and what is typical for writing expectations.

Fact: My son is running out of runway, as they say, and it is coming time for him to be able to produce well-written essays for the SAT and for the community college entrance exam for dual credit enrollment. He needs to be able to write academic papers for his high school coursework and for college. We can't keep putting this off forever.

I could do this. I could slog through it. I could force myself to read the materials I already own and to refresh my memory or learn what the latest grading rubrics are and apply them (versus what my memory tells me about how I was taught to write). That effort would require using nights and weekends to do teacher prep work. I don't know that I have that time to give after doing normal wife and mothering stuff and adding in a little me time such as intentional exercise for health reasons. After doing all that, I am not sure that after all my effort that it would be worth it or that the level of learning would be equal to what my son may experience if I outsource the teaching.

Let's also not forget that I have a younger son to homeschool also.

I wondered what may be accomplished in community college but suspect that it would not be as intense or personal. I am fairly certain that I found a good fit for an online class, although the cost is higher.

I have not found a homeschool co-op that could handle this (with open slots for enrollment).

I'm thinking the online class is the way to go, even though it's more money than my husband and I wanted to spend. However, a writing class is more intensive teaching than some other types of classes so we can still balance out the budget with other subjects being taught at home or by reading books or textbooks on one's own, by DVD or online recorded video. I could pay for other courses to be outsourced but since our funds have limits (and we choose to not go into debt to finance our homeschooling) I think what's best is to carefully pick which courses would provide the greatest return on investment.

Sometimes a family has limits and we have to "make do" and to compromise. We can't always provide the ultimate experience in every single area of the child's life. It's a good experience for kids to have since in their adult life they will never have ultimate peak experiences in every single aspect of their lives either. My husband and I discuss these decisions with our kids so they can see we put careful thinking into things and weigh the pros and cons and then look at the financing aspect before arriving at a decision. That is a great thing to learn about how to live one's life that may be even more important than how well a person can produce a persuasive essay or an academic paper.

More Things That I Learned From Trying Watercolor Painting

I have made one watercolor painting so far. It awaits finishing by adding three birds, so I'm not sharing the image.

In experimenting I have learned some lessons. After I learned those I read three books about watercolor painting all which mentioned the problems I already experienced. I have heard these things before but was not sure if what I was doing was really one of those mistakes. It was. Well I learned it in real life and now I know for sure. It's not just some book telling me not to do it, I learned the hard way.

Here are the things I learned. If you have wanted to try watercolor painting and are reading this, I hope you learn and save yourself money by not making these mistakes.


You must not use the student grade paints. Never, not ever. Do not be tempted. Buy a small amount of artist grade Winsor and Newton paint in tubes. Plan to spend about $5 for the smallest tube each.

Read a little about blending paints. You will learn that you can make a lot of colors from about six specific colors of paint. So plan to spent about $30 on paint for your first investment. Don't go overboard and buy a ton of colors and more than $30.

Plan to spend time experimenting using a watercolor sketch book such as the 140 lb Arches brand to learn what the colors you blend look like on paper. Do not experiment on an actual painting.

Different painters have different favorite colors. Each painting book author will tell you to buy different colors. Just know this as you read. I can't tell you what to buy but see the style of the author and if that clicks with you. For example if you are an earth tone person don't listen to advice from the vibrant color author and vice-versa.

See if your public library has a book about blending colors. Do not get overwhelmed by the book. Just look at the book with an eye toward trying to duplicate a small fraction of the possibilities. Pick a small palette to buy for your first purchase. Again, keep it to six tubes if you can, a $30 budget.

Different subject matter needs different colors. If you choose to paint flowers you probably will have to buy a wider variety of colors and some of the more expensive pigment colors in order to do what you want. I don't advise that as your initial investment is already going to be about $100 at the least so if you are trying to be frugal, narrow down the subject until you decide that you love this medium and want to invest more. If you have unlimited money to spend then go for it and buy everything your heart desires. I don't know many people who live that way but if you can then go for it.


The size of brush depends on the size of the painting you plan to do.

Be careful when reading about watercolor painting. One author I read did huge canvases and was telling beginners to buy 2 and 3 inch wash brushes for the sky. These are very expensive, like over $100 for one brush! She also advised to buy a #18 round brush.

Another author whose advice I read does paintings half that size and he advised to only by a #8 and #12 brush. See the difference?

Watercolor painting is all about the ability of the brush to draw up pigment and water and to hold a decent amount. Then it is important how the brush lays down the pigment. Also important is how much control you can execute over the bristles to do the brushstroke.

Synthetic fiber only brushes don't take up water and pigment in large quantities. They may lay it down in a blob. The bristles can be hard to control. Do not use them.

Kolinsky sable brushes are the best natural fiber brushes. One brush I was advised to buy in a book cost $220 full retail. That was out of my budget. I'm just giving you an idea of what you are up against when trying to make an intitial investment.

Natural fiber brushes are made out of different animal furs. They each act differently. Of course the cheapest natural fiber brush is also poor for painting. So this is tricky.

There are synthetic and natural blends that are less expensive.

You might not be able to find anything decent in a chain craft store, even those with a fine art department. You probably will have to use an online store such as Dick Blick. You could use a fine art store if you have one near you but you may spend 40-50% more by paying full retail in those stores. Your initial investement in watercolor painting will already be at least $100 when buying at discount but if you want to spend $200 for the same things at your local shop that's your perogative.

Some books mention brand names of brushes to buy. I have had a hard time finding them even in the largest online fine art supplier. Perhaps some of these companies went out of business since the books were published, I don't know.

You can start with a small number of brushes and get to know them. Focus on learning to control how the brush lays down the paint rather than thinking you will have wonderful fully completed paintings for your first projects.

Large sets of brushes for beginners often have brushes you may never use so you wind up wasting your money. Buy each one individually.

Pick a Painting Size

High quality paper is expensive, even when purchased at discount. Just know that. I bet you, like me, will start out small.

Pick the Paper

Student grade paper is made from wood pulp. High quality paper is made from cotton rag or natural fibers.

Pulp based paper pills up and falls apart as you stroke the brush against it.

Cheap paper buckles and warps.

High quality paper should be used. This has a layer of fixative chemical on it that has to be washed off. Follow procedures outlined in a book or online from a credible source. After it is washed off it has to be be stretched.

Plan to invest in materials to help you stretch the paper. It's just a necessary part of the expense of getting started with watercolor.

You can buy paper in a block. It is sealed on the edges and in a stretched format. The downside to this is you must leave the painting on the pad until it is fully dried. It can take longer to dry. You can only use one pad at a time. The Arches pad is over $30. If you want to work on three or four paintings at a time you will need to buy 3 or 4 Arches pads up front.

Where Will Your Paintings Dry?

This was a major challenge for me.

Paintings must lie flat to dry and be undisturbed in a low dust environment.

If you own pets beware. You can't have the wet paintings where cats can walk or lay down on them.

Believe it or not this was the biggest challenge I had with teaching myself to paint in this small rental home with its open floor plan. I had nowhere to lay the paintings flat to dry for a few days.

You may find directions online or in books about using a hair dryer to speed the drying proess. I tried this and the painted moved on the page and it ruined the painting.


I hope these tips helped you if you are interested in learning to paint watercolor.

Once you have your materials and everything in place all you do is jump in an experiment and see and paint.

Just do!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Using Blogs for Small Volunteer Run Organizations (Part 3)

This last installment in my three part series will discuss managing other information online for your group which you may want to link to your blog.


Google Calendar is free and you can make a new Google Calendar for your group using the login with the free gmail group account I discussed above. You may link to this calendar from within blog posts or in the sidebar lists.

Making a Google Calendar is easy and simple and I'm not giving a tutorial on it in this blog post. I wanted to make it clear that if you want a calendar you do not need a custom created calendar that you pay a web designer to create. You can take advantage of free stuff on the web instead.

Group email communication

Managing an email address book is tedious and time consuming. Trust me, I did this for a while as a volunteer job.  I suggest automating this by using either GoogleGroups or YahooGroups. Both are free.

Both require that the members have an email and the members control their own data. For example if I am a member and I change my email address I do not contact the group secretary and say "I changed my email you need to update your list", instead I login to the GoogleGroup myself with my old login and then update my own data to reflect the new email. The member owns the data and the onus is on them to manage all their personal data.

Using the groups is simple because if you want all the members to see the mail you just post a note to the assigned group name such as HawkinsJuniorTennis @GoogleGroups (.com) or whatever it is.

Both of those companies keep an archive so if a member claims they never saw an email they can login themselves and read the messages online in the message list.

The lists can also be formatted so that only the leadership can post to the group. That can help keep the group running for announcements only and to keep idle chatter to a minimum. The risk with that is if multiple members have questions, which may be the same question, they will have to ask the leaders. The leaders will be stuck answering them and may answer the same question to ten different people. You can decide if you want everyone to post, so that when one person asks a question everyone sees the answer. It's a trade-off with pros and cons for each.

Do Not Over Clutter the Blog with Extra Info

It is so easy to input data for blog posts and to make sidebar links that you may be tempted to put a ton of information in that is beyond your org's sphere. Be careful about this because you need members and future members to find your blog easy to use and to find what they need.

If you have long lists such as lists of local tennis supply retail stores instead of making a long sidebar list telling the names, chunk the information to be one blog post then put that one link in the sidebar.

It is not your duty to give free advertising to local businesses but it may be a good idea to have some links to help new members.

If you accept donations from a company you may have struck a deal to put a link to their business in your sidebar. (Actually that can be a good selling point for your fundraising.) I advise to put these in your sidebar down below the most vital information unless they have paid you for advertisting space or struck a barter arrangment with you (free team t-shirts if you link to their business).

You could also sell advertising space in your blog sidebar but that is another whole project that the group could embark upon. But that is another project for another day and hopefully is someone else's job, not yours, since one person usually can't (or shouldn't) do everything in an organization.

Blog Design

I eluded to this earlier. The priority of the site or blog should be to have accurate, up to date infomration. The online data should be easy to update.

Of secondary importance is the visual design of the blog. You are not a for profit company trying to entice customers to buy your product by making something pretty for them to see.

Your members will value accurate information more than a pretty site. There is nothing more aggravating than seeing what looks like an expensive pretty website that gives registration information that expired six months ago and doesn't tell when the upcoming spring session begins!

However once you get the basics of the blog set up and have your accurate up to date information loaded, now you have time, if you so desire, to play around and make the blog look cool.

Perhaps your organization has an artistic person who wants to volunteer to spiff up the blog with different colors and graphics. But please don't make the background black or dark as it is hard to read from. Dark colors make artwork and photos pop but that's about it.

Blog Administrative Access

Now that you know your way around the blogger's pages I'll mention that you can grant access to modify the blog to more than one person. They will need to have their email for a login. Be careful about how many people have access to update the blog. With one push of a button an entire blog can be deleted or blocked from view.

Your org's blog should have access by at least two people, one being a top leadership person in the org. Should, God forbid, your blog maintenance person gets mad and quit the org, the other admin needs to update the blog access to change passwords to block out the angry person before serious damage is done to the blog.

Blog Professionalism

Blogging is fast and easy. As with all organization's publications, what is communicated needs to be careful and accurate. It is simple to write in a word processing program and do spell check and grammar check before copying the data over and pasting it into a blog post.

Your org should have rules set up for what goes on the blog and when.

Just because publishing a blog is easy do not let your blog writer post a zillion non-essential items or your members will not be able to find essential important information or may think the blog is counter productive.

If you let one person have free reign it could be risky. The blog is your public face. You need to trust the person in charge of your internet presence.

Communicating About New Blog Posts

You can use your email communications to notify members when a new blog post is published and you can directly link to the post by putting the post's URL in that email. If you do that you do not need to send an email with the duplicate information. Use your blog as the workhorse and direct your members to the data stored there. Lighten up the email content and move the data to the blog.

Sadly some organizations dream of fantastic expensive websites that they cannot afford so nothing gets created.

Seeking perfection, some people choose to do nothing instead of settling for second best.

A blog can be a very acceptable second best. The fact that Blogger is free is enough of a reason to start using it instead of delaying about creating a new website or hiring someone to help update the old website.

All that matters is that your blog is up to date and accurate. You need not feel pressured to post often, just post when you have something valuable to share.

It is possible to run an organization for existing members by email only but that locks out the public. If your goal is to have some kind of public presence and to help new potential members connect with you, a blog is a perfect way to do that.

I have worked with multiple organizations who wanted a way to communicate publically online but who refused the idea of using a blog. I have seen problems come from old websites with inaccurate information, wrong contact people's information, filled with dead email addressed and showing upcoming group meetings that are more than a year in the past. Please open your mind to using a blog instead of a website, it's easy and free.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Using Blogs for Small Volunteer Run Organizations (Part 2)

The first step to creating a blog is to ask what data you want online. The first step is not graphic design.

If you had dreams of a what a perfect website would look like, but want free and easy, forget your notions of the design and layout and focus on the data you want to be easy to find. Keep that in mind as I give some tips for how to create a blog for an organization.

Once you have a framework set up and everyone has access to the information you can work at making the blog pretty and doing all kinds of customizations that give it visual appeal. However remember you are a nonprofit organization who probably does not have a large budget for extraneous spending. I hope you are focusing on spending money to deliver the actual program to the youths or whoever your organization serves rather than wasting money on a fancy website.


1. To use Blogger you need an email login for the group.

I recommend to create a free email such as with gmail for the group. Do not set up accounts using people's own personal emails. You want the organization to own the email not a person who may one day leave the group.

Create an email name that makes sense to the group. Example: the town of Hawkins has a Tennis league called Hawkins Youth Tennis League, use email of HawkinsYouthTennis @ ( Once you have the email address check to see you can retrieve emails.

This email password and account name needs to be shared with multiple leaders of the organization and/or the board of directors. This data should not be kept secret with one person as that is a recipe for disaster should they leave the organization.

2. Determine a name for the blog. See if you can call it the exact name of your organization. Keep it simple. Be sure to go through whatever process your organization has for deciding upon these matters. Do not just make it up yourself then get in trouble later if other leadership in the org does not like the name you selected!

3. Open a FREE Blogger account using the organization's email. In this process you will need to have the name of your blog ready as it will hopefully be available to use for your exact URL. Example www.hawkinsyouthtennis. (blog host site goes

4. Begin to fill out the information in the "About Me" section.

Not of vital importance is the fact that your blogger profile can have a photo. When you have time you can upload a photo, such as a photo file of the logo of your team to put next to your blogger profile name.

In the About Me section be sure to put your group's contact email. This may be a second email account that is set up for members of the public to contact the organization. (The login email could be for the IT support person/blogger/webmaster.)

Put in the About Me section, only the bare bones essential information. Ignore the sections of the profile that are geared toward private people's blogs such as sharing your favorite movie titles. However in the favorite books section perhaps you'd want to put a few titles of books that your club members would read to enchance their knowledge about your activity. That's fluff though, so let me get back to basics.

Creating a blog can be a small or huge project depending on how complicateed YOU CHOOSE to make it. I encourage you to keep it simple when you are starting out.

You can make a long detailed post that tells more about your organization. I will explain that later.

5. Creating Posts

Blogs are ordered like a journal with "blog posts" which have a date that you enter as the "post date". There is a time stamp that you also may edit or change. When you look at the blog you will see the most recent posting and it goes backwards in time as you scroll down. Do not worry about this if it is not how you dreamed your perfect website would be, just stay with me for a moment while I explain how you can use the blog to your best advantage.

I asked you earlier to think about what your organization needs to communicate. I advise that you chunk out the data into topics, single topics if possible. You will enter each chunk of data as a single blog post.

For example if your tennis team travels to play competitively and you need to explain the various locations that you commonly travel to, get that data ready. Create a new blog post with a simple title such as "Tennis Clubs We Compete With". In that post you will list out in an organized way, the data.

You can use the simple buttons within the posting window to insert links to other website such as linking to the other club's websites and also linking to a Google Map of the location. You can include driving directions or special instructions such as "we recommend you park here and here" or "arrive 30 minutes early due to the long walk between the parking lot and the club".

You can save a draft copy of your post if you are not ready to publish it yet by clicking "saved".

You can preview the post by clicking on "preview".

When your post is finished, publish it by clicking on the "publish" button.

Published posts are listed in reverse chronological order in the tab "posting" then "published".

6. Editing Posts

You may edit a published post at any time to make corrections or to add new data.

7. Draft Posts

Draft posts are posts that have been started but have not yet been published. View the list under "posting" then "drafts".

Posting date: when you want to publish the post you can edit the post date, because it defaults to the time and date that you started to write the post. You have to update it to today's date if you want it to appear at the top of the list as the most current entry when you are ready to publish it. This is very simple to do by clicking on the "post options" at the bottom then going to the date window and changing it to today's date.

8. Linking to Individual Blog Posts

Every post you make has its own URL. Click on the title of the published blog post and look to your browser's window and you will see it.

If you are preparing an email to members and want to point them to the travel locations, you can insert that post's URL into the email.

9. Making a Sidebar List

You should create a LIST, following the easy instructions on Blogger, to make a list of information in your blog's sidebar. One such item would be to link to these clubs. You use that URL of that one post when creating a item in your list.

For example if you do a blog post telling lots of details about your program you could then make a sidebar link titled "About our program" or whatever you want to call it.

10. A Note About Blog Post Titles with Dates in the Title

If you are working with something such as giving registration information for a fall sport season, then will have a winter season and a spring season, title your blog posts appropriately. For example do not just say "Registration Information", call it "Spring 2012 Registration Information".

11. Old Information vs. Current Information

For ease of blog maintenance my opinion is you should work to make a nice sidebar with the essential links for what your participants need to know and what newcomers who are not yet registered members may need to know.

Update the sidebar lists in a timely manner.

For example if you are still in the winter session of playing a sport and are getting ready to open spring registration, delete the link to the winter registration information from the sidebare but leave that old post alone in the archives. There is no harm in keeping old data buried down low in your blog post list.

Then enter a new post for spring registration then add that new post's link to the sidebar.

You can also make the list on the side divided by seasons if it makes sense.

Imagine it to say:

List Title: Spring 2012 Season

Registration Information
Travel Match Locations
Spring Calendar

List Title: Winter 2011-2012 Season

Registration Information
Travel Match Locations
Winter Calendar

or you may keep it more simple and just have one list such as:

List Title: Team Information

Spring 2012 Registration Information
Spring Calendar
(delete Winter Registration link when the registration is long over with)
Winter Calendar
Travel Information for Matches (applies to all seasons)

12. Public or Private

Blogs are public by default. Blogger allows settings to make a blog private. If you make the blog private you will need a password and every member will have to keep this straight. If your audience is a mixture of members and the newcomers who enter through the general public you should not have it password protected.

As with regular websites you are probably putting only public information on the site so your blog would be public.

13. Posting Photos and Sharing Group News

Your organization will have to work out its own privacy policies such as if children's photos will appear and if so, press releases (legal documents) will have to be signed by the parents giving legal permission. Many teams ask parents to do this at enrollment time and keep it on file for the whole season.

Sharing photos is very easy with Blogger. The upload is done with a few simple steps to upload image files from your computer or a flash drive onto the blog. You can choose to have the image size small, medium or large. You may also double click on the published photo and see it blown up to gigantic on your computer screen.

Although sharing photos and group news is not essential information it is nice to see if you have the time. For example if you want to post some photos from a tournament you have that ability. Just write a new blog post announcing that you played in a tournament. If you wish to write a paragraph or longer summary you may do so. You might choose to only have photos in that post.

14. Reminders About Upcoming Events

The blog format is actually nice for keeping members informed of the latest news. You can make a short blog post reminding members that a deadline for registration is upcoming or that it's time to sign up to participate in the annual fundraising or year end banquet or whatever you want.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Use Blogs (Instead of Websites) for Small Volunteer Run Nonprofit Organizations

This is the first in a series of blog posts about using blogs instead of websites for nonprofit organizations or grassroots organizations.


Here's my advice: any nonprofit volunteer run organization should use blog not websties? Why?

I will refer to the data that the site will hold as online data. Where that data goes is traditionally a website but using a blog would be easier for most laypeople.

Before deciding how to put data online the organization needs to define why they want an online information storage place. Who will read it? What is the purpose? How often does the information change?

As the Internet got more poplular it seemed even the least computer savvy person knew about websites. Websites became the thing that everyone thought they needed when they think about putting data online. The problem with websites is there is a cost to running them and special coding language must be known. Just owning a domain name cost something then you need a host server for your website. These usually are set up through a company such as Go Daddy and there are usually montly fees and often long term contracts three to one years in duration. There is a learning curve to using the sites, even the skeleton sites like Go Daddy.

Sometimes an organization has a computer savvy person who steps up to create a website for free. Often this person is the one and only person who can run the website. The others are so happy to have found some talent that they go forward with creating the website without looking at other options (like blogs).

Often the volunteer website person winds up spending more time on this than they expected. Every single organization I have worked with who ran a website has wound up having that person leave, whether it's just because they move or their kids grow up and they move on or due to interpersonal squabbles between adult leadership. Then what happens is the organization has an old website which no one knows how to update to make it currrent. Sometimes the person who controlled the website leaves and refuses to give the passwords and account information and the organization has old data stored on the web for months or years that cannot be edited.

Don't get yourself into that position, please! Why? Not only is it a hassle but the nonfunctioning website can be a problem for existing participants in the program and also it can impede or prevent newcomers to the organization from getting current data or joining. Imagine Boy Scouts who want a Troop to join but who cannot find who to contact?

An issue with a hosted site such as one with Go Daddy is if you wish to transfer to another hosting company the transfer process in and of itself can be yet another project.

How much work do you want this to be? Think about this and be honest with expectations.

Given what I know from helping and being in leadership positions with volunteers, I know the work of the organization, the actual working with the kids or whatever your activity is, is and should be your main focus. You do not want to focus too much energy and time or to create stress over something such as how to get your data online and how to keep it updated. Publicity and communication to the public are important but they should not be major financial investments, the organization should focus on what their mission statement says they should be doing.

Thus, I recommend a FREE blog with a company that is created to be used by people who do NOT NEED TO KNOW ANY CODING. I have been using for over seven years and it is simple as pie. In this post I will speak to the ways that you can use the FREE Blogger account to make a blog for your organization.

I Am Second Book Review by ChristineMM

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

My Summary Statement: Inspiring Testimonies

A combination of storytellng and dialogue reveals people's life stories of struggles and unhappiness and explains their path to discovering joy after learning about and accepting Jesus into their lives.

These compelling stories are interesting and inspiring. The stories are well-paced and edited well so as to not ramble yet are detailed enough to emotionally pull us in and keep us interested as the story unfolds. The chapters are short and the font is a bit larger than typical so it is not a long intimidating tomb nor is it hard on the eyes to read.

Photographs of each person helps us put a face to their story and testimony.

At the end of each chapter there are QR codes that you can scan with your smart phone to read other people's stories similar to the one printed in the book.

I think these stories would interest anyone interested in hearing first hand accounts of how people's lives were changed once they decided to open up and let God into their lives. Anyone curious about what that means and how God can heal and bring happiness into people's souls would find this book interesting, including curious (open-minded) non-believers. Of course Christians who like to hear testimony stories would enjoy reading the book.

I found this book inspiring. Since I was raised in an Athiest home I never understood what it meant when someone said God healed them or that finding Christ gave them new life. I found Christ in my late 30s and I always find testimony stories uplifting and interesting.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor did I have to blog it. I was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Wishing For Tomorrow Audio Book Review by ChristineMM

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

My Summary Statement: Fills in a Lot of Details Missing From A Little Princess and Updates Everything

I was wary about a sequel written by an author who did not write the original classic but this book did not disappoint.

In thinking about The Little Princess, there was a fair amount of detail lacking on the Minchin's, who they were and how the boarding school came to be, and who the other girls were and why they were there. This sequel answers all of that plus tells what happened after Sara left. As to what happens in the future of Miss Minchins', I can't and won't reveal the spoiler other than to say something does happen that tidies up everything so we readers know what would happen going forward.

I listened to the audiobook version which was well narrated by a woman with a British accent.

I enjoyed both the audiobook listening experience as well as enjoying the story. I'm an adult who read A Little Princess as a child and re-read it a few years ago. I think the sequel was well done and highly recommend it to any reader who loved A Little Princess.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this audiobook from Amazon Vine for the purpose of reviewing it on's site. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor to blog it and I was not paid to do this. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The College Solution Book Review by ChristineMM

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

My Summary Statement: Not Just About Finances - Grade 9 or 10 Is Not Too Early To Read This

This is the first book I have read about college issues.  My oldest child just finished grade nine. I thought maybe it was too early to start reading books on this topic but I was incorrect. Grade nine is when parents should start reading books about college, I have learned! For one thing, some things I have been told verbally by acquaintences were myths that the author debunked. I am glad that I know the truth now rather than going on false information.

For some reason I was under the impression that this book was all about financing and money issues. -- I was wrong.  The book starts out with that topic but the other four book sections are on other topics such as finding a good fit, general information, and how the US News ranking system works (and its many flaws).  (If the finance topic bores you skip ahead to the other sections, then you can come back to it later. I found the rest of the book a faster and less scary read.)

This book has over 50 four page chapters. Many if not all of these topics have been covered in the author's blog, so perhaps she is used to writing in short spurts. At first this bugged me but I soon got used to it and wound up liking the division as some of this, especially the financing and cost issues, are a scary and overwhelming topic, but O'Shaugessey handles them well and helps take the mystery out of the process.

A major theme is that students seeking a liberal arts degree have a lot of options if they do not just focus on the most elite colleges.  How difficult it is to gain admission to the elites and the Ivy League schools is discussed and she left me thinking that hardly anyone will ever get in so don't bother even trying. With 37,000 high schools in the USA that means there are 37,000 valedictorians and there are not enough slots in the elites to let them all in.

I especially found the topics of scholarships, the fact that sports scholarships are minute and was suprised that she recommended to focus the student's time on studying to get better grades and standardized test scores so they can apply for the many more merit aid scholarships -- not all students do sports for a possible scholarship, it is something they enjoy and it's a social outlet and a way to be in good physical shape. Also interesting was the analysis of how women and minorities have an edge over all whites and over male whites. The author's hatred of the US News ranking system is clear and it is discussed in detail.

Despite hearing pitfalls and scary statistics I somehow was left with the impression that all hope is not lost because there are a lot of colleges out there and there are multiple good fits for every student, my kids included. The financial situation is daunting due to the very imperfect federal government FAFSA system which only looks to your last year of income to determine what you can afford. I am grateful for the information that the author shared and feel that she made the discussion of this huge topic easy to understand (even if I hate the system and have serious concerns about it).

I found the book a fast and easy read but that doesn't mean it is unimportant or unhelpful. I wrote in the margins and flagged articles she mentioned to read on the Internet. This was a very useful book for me as the first book about the college process.

This review pertains to the updated revised 2nd edition published in May 2012. Since there is time-sensitive and updated information in this book I advise to only read the most current edition.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from to publish a review on's site but was under no obligation to blog it or to review it favorably, and I was not paid either! For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

When Teens Get Verbally Abusive

Something I have been dealing with that only cropped up in the 14 years old year is something that I consider to be verbal abuse, teen to mother and teen to brother and father too. How and why that was happening left me confused at first but I think I have figured out why that son of mine is doing it.

A friend posted on Facebook that her sons are telling her she's a bad mother. Here is what I wrote to her with a bit more information added.

Welcome to the club. We have been accused of being the worst family on the planet and running away to be homeless would be an improvement. Teens say these things sometimes but they don't mean it. Their moods swing like pendulums. At the grocery store the other day suddenly my younger one (age 12) said, "I am so happy." I asked why (this was so random) and he said, "because I have a really good life". It all balances out.

They seem to be testing out using their words to hurt others which is something that I don't like being the guinea pig for. I tell them I will not let them verbally abuse me as it's sick and cruel so knock it off.

To communicate or to feel negative emotions is okay, but it has to be about what they really are feeling about the real issue. Since they were toddlers I have worked with them on identifying the real core thing that is affecting them. I tell them it's not alright to call me names and try to emotionally hurt me because they are mad about something like losing their earbuds. If they are feeling low about their own actions they should not start trying to bring everyone else down with them, in my opinion. I think that's what teens (and some adults) do. "If I can't be happy right now then no one will be happy" is how they think.

I tell my kids these things both when they are calm and happy and when they are ranting and raving and angry (but I try not to talk to them too much as dis-engaging or choosing not to engage them when they are irrationally angry seems to be the smartest thing to do.) I tell my kids that when they are mad about something they did to themselves, it is alright to feel that emotion. However, it's not alright to transfer the anger to other people or objects by throwing things damaging physical property or hitting people or using words to abuse people just to try to make them feel crappy like they do. I tell my kids that is what abusive people do and what bullies do. I say we (parents) don't abuse each other and didn't abuse them and we are not raising kids who abuse other people, so they need to learn to not channel their emotion in that way. Period.

When they are angry, I tell them to go run around the neighborhood, take a bike ride, do deep breathing, go sit alone and listen to music, go write a letter telling of your feelings, do whatever it takes to work it out but do not turn the negative emotions to hurt other people or to damage things.

Alamo the Price of Freedom: IMAX Movie Review

Title: Alamo the Price of Freedom

IMAX movie

While in San Antonio, Texas we watched the IMAX movie Alamo the Price of Freedom. This film is about 45 minutes long and it has high action throughout.

It shows the battle at the Alamo which obviously is war based violence and it was fairly gory. I mention this in case you are considering showing it to young kids.

Davy Crockett was a central figure and his personality added some flair and humor to what otherwise may be a too serious and depressing movie.

There were some emotional scenes as we saw two brothers fighting on opposite sides and there were casualties of women and children. Actually some kids were fighting in the battle.

The movie was patriotic and there was a strong sense of pride to fight to the death and to not give up. These are issues that I feel our young people today do not have on their minds. So, at the part of the movie where it seemed they may all perish yet they continued to keep fighting it was hard to watch, knowing they may go down in battle.

The movie was engaging and interesting.

Combining the IMAX movie with a visit to The Alamo helped breathe some life into the otherwise quiet and calm building. Seeing a war film in IMAX format was almost sensory overload and powerful.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thoughts About Assessing Homeschooling Success

Forgive me if this seems rambling, I am thinking out loud here.

When thinking of homeschooling success do you think of just academics?

Some of us look to the whole child to assess if homeschooling is working or not. Two simple examples are if a homeschooler is excelling academically but is lonely, or if they do not have access to a sport (or insert any other extra-curricular school based activity due to homeschooling).

However have you wondered if parents of schooled kids look to the whole child when determining if school is working? Do parents of schooled kids separate out school for academics only? Should homeschoolers look only to academics to deem their child a homeschool success?

Some homeschooling parents (like me) hope they can find a perfect balance to have optimal conditions all the time for their kids such as a good family life, good learning happening, and great extra-curricular activities as well as feeling happy with one's social life and friendships. Heck throw in the state of being in good physical shape and eating well nutrition-wise and it would make a perfect life, wouldn't it?

Are homeschooling parents being too hard on themselves if they are able to produce kids who are learning and are learning high quality stuff yet wish they had access to (insert an extra-curricular activity or some other thing that people complain that homeschooling does not always produce). A problem with this is that it is an entirely unrealistic expectation.

Show me any kid who every single year has perfection in every area I just listed. I bet one does not exist.

Show me any adult who is doing fantastic in every single area. I don't think any exist. Maybe this is just a people thing, it is just how life is, no matter if you are a child or a teen or an adult?

At any given point in time people, young and old, struggle with various things and feel they are failing at achieving the ever-elusive balance. It seems that in my own life I am always happy with somethings, neutral about others, and working at fixing something else that I'm not satisfied with. Just when one thing gets fixed and in a good state something else crops up that's a problem or a struggle. So why would I expect that my ever-changing, ever-developing, hormonal tween and teenaged kid would be "in balance" all the time?

I was thinking about a book I read years ago The Adversity Quotient which stated that not stellar experiences in life and also bad circumstances and even neglect can and have produced fantastic high-achieving people of character who had great adult lives. This makes me think that my bending over backwards to create some ultimate fantastic life for my kids is stupid and may even have unintended negative consequences of creating over-indulged, ungrateful brats (or something else, I am sure you can make a list of possibilities).

When parents of schooled kids can list off multiple challenges or imperfect circumstances their kids endure at school why do homeschool parents feel badly when their homeschool is less than perfect? Compare the complaints a homeschooled kids may have to what schooled kids complain about and they are apples to oranges. The examples that come to my mind are complaints of an over-indulged cushy lifestyle homeschooled kids which are really a joke and things that other kids would never complain about. I know my own kids have complained of certain things to their friends and the schooled kids scoffed and laughed at them. "I have to get up at 7:30 a.m." and "The science textbook is boring." To this the schooled kid says they get up at 5:30 a.m. and they have never met a textbook that was not boring, and they have them in all subjects for years when my kid is dealing with the first one in grade nine.

This leads me back to what I was thinking about years ago with that chapter in the book The Over-Scheduled Child (formerly published as Hyperparenting) which said that the adversity that kids face in school and in life builds character and helps kids develop and grow. The authors accused that parents who seek to insulate their children from feeling any negativity are actually harming them as they wind up not learning to deal with negativity. It is as if those kids are stunted in their development.

I am thinking of these things as my younger son asks to go to school as he is lonely, even though his sports schedule is increasing greatly as of July 2012 to start to do a four season sport. That will provide not only a full sports schedule and provide physical exercise that will provide "happy brain chemicals" but will create more chances for friendship making and fun social times. If his academics are just fine with homeschooling then why enroll him into school? If this sports thing will end the lonliness than there is no reason to start using school, right? He's also continuing with regular Boy Scout meeting and camping experiences so he'll continue to have friends and fun times there.

Lying with Statistics

Anytime I can find an outright lie done with statistics, it's a perfect opportunity to discuss this real life math issue with my kids.

There are so many half-truths and lies circulating about energy and oil. It's just ridiculous. Coming from the President, it's really depressing. Ideally, a President would tell the truth, to show integrity and it would earn trust, but that's not what I see here.

Op-ed from Houston Chronicle:

We Have More Oil Than the President Says

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Younger Son Played Lacrosse in Spring 2012

For the third year in a row my younger son played lacrosse on a community level.

All we could get hooked into in our new location was a clinic type thing for new kids. They didn't even have defense (which is his position) and they didn't even keep score for scrimmages. They didn't even have a goalie, just a piece of plywood covering part of the goal. They never played an actual real game.

Lacrosse is not big in Texas yet. There is little access to volunteer coaches and there are not enough teams to support the demand, in my opinion. If more teams and opportunities were available, even more new kids would start the sport, I believe.

Houston is the largest growing area in the country. People are moving here from all over for employment and our kids want to continue doing the sports they did in their former location. We are arriving asking for lacrosse and rowing, for example.

To have one team with just 21 kids for combined grade five and six in a town of 100,000 is what I call slim pickings. There is no reason why a serious competitive team can't have 30 or more kids on it, you need a rotation as kids do get tired from running in full sunlight nonstop.

Lacrosse seems to be a good fit for very active kids. It has its fair share of ADHD players. These are the kids who think baseball has too much downtime. Kids who play ice hockey are also perfect for lacrosse. If kids don't have access to multiple seasons of ice hockey a year but have access to grass fields, lacrosse is a good option.

This clinic my son did this spring was described to me as a feeder program for the community team of the small 21 team member size and as a feeder to play lacrosse in the public high school. The competitive community travel team was the only thing open to my son in our Connecticut town, but they let anyone join, so we had 45 on the team with A, B, and C strings. That travel team was also considered a feeder into the public high school's team, so it ran to grade 8. That league expanded in 2011 from grades 3-8 down to K-8. The feeder program my son did in Texas this year was what I thought he was a good fit for in grades 4 and 5 but no such thing extisted. Back then with having lacrosse six days a week and taking up 3-4 weeknights for the family seemed like overkill, the kids were only 8-10 years old for goodness sake. However this year in grade 6 this clinic thing was below his skill level. It seems we are having trouble finding a good fit!

My son enjoys the sport and thinks it is fun. I frankly am worried of head injuries. Lacrosse played properly doesn't seem that dangerous but between intentional rule breaking for rough play and pure accidents it is still a dangerous sport. I saw kids here in Texas playing dirty and doing cross-checking and other dangerous things that were not being called out by the coach as improper.

My son is a B-string level kid. At present he is not conditioned for long distance running and for sprints as well as long endurance running on the field. That is half the battle with lacrosse, in my opinion.

I don't know if my son will continue lacrosse in grade 7. Time will tell.

Ideally I'd like my son in a year-round sport for fitness and something that doesn't have a high head injury risk. I also want him to be in a sport that he enjoys.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Marathon Boy: Documentary Review

Documentary: Marathon Boy

HBO Films Topic: India, children, exploitation, sports, competitive running, United Nations Rights of the Child Act

This movie is about an Indian boy who is neglected and starving in the slums of India who was sold to an abusive alcoholic slumlord. He was then adopted by a foster father who runs an orphanage for slum children that also teaches kudo skills and raises them to be competitive kudo athletes.

This boy, Budhia, would misbehave and was told to run for punishment, but he loved it. He showed endurance for running and his foster father decides to start training him to be an Olympic marathon runner, when the boy is just three years old! The father tries to use the boy as a symbol to illustrate how someone from the slums has promise to rise above and achieve something monumental. The boy becomes a symbol for Indian pride and personal achievement.

However after the boy collapses (which seemed to me from dehydration or heat exhaustion or both) after a 65 km race at age four the UN people ban the boy from running. Disturbing to me was his father's denial of any medical problem (on camera) as the boy continued to vomit (a symptom of dehydration). Also at issue was his lack of basic medical training and lack of formal training about the sport of running, then working with such a young child. (Of course as a mother I was worried for the health of the boy and asking if training so hard at such a young age is good for the human body.) These concerns were brought up by physicians and citizens on a TV talk show as well as a stated concern of the UN Committee for Children who had an office in that region.

The UN committee in India has offices and staff but it was said that they have "no judicial power" and they are not directly tied to the Indian government. It was confusing that they can rally the police to act out to prevent actions, but later corruption in the police force was shown, so this is a complex and confusing matter for this American to understand. (The same issues would apply in America if the USA signed that Act.)

I won't tell you everything that happens with this story, you'll have to see it yourself...

This movie gives you a lot to think about and probably different people will have different things to be concerned with.

I would ask that you consider the bigger picture as well as thinking about Marathon Boy's individual story.

What I want to point out relates to government involvement in families, parental rights, the United Nations and the UNICEF's Rights of the Child Act. In the film the Act is used to stop Budhia from running and later to have him go back to his birth mother (who sold him for $10) yet although threats of emotional abuse were being made in his new home and when he was directly coached to lie to police and claim abuse by his foster father, he was still compelled to stay in that abusive home (so much for the UN committee, an outside party doing what they thought was the right thing by removing him from the foster fahter when the boy was left to stay in an abusive situation). Later medical exams proved the boy was never abused or tortured by his foster father/coach.

These issues of parental rights and the USA not signing the UN treaty on the Rights of the Child have been raised by some Americans. Actually in my opinion this issue has not been talked about enough in the media, for a couple of reasons.

The first is it was being raised the loudest during the Bush Administration. It was not signed back then. The reason was mainly that the conservatives want America to remain a free entity who governs ourselves. There are elements in the Act that would make some common things done in America illegal and governed by committees of the United Nations instead of being overseen by American governmental bodies. For example in the Act, children could not be homeschooled and also parents could not take a child to church with them if the child voiced opposition (perhaps if only to be let to sleep late on a Sunday).

Another part of the Act addresses child neglect and abuse which is illegal, but that is already illegal in the USA. Some who care for children and wish no children were abused therefore say this UN Act is a good thing. They don't explain though why participating in a new law overseen by the UN is necessary if American laws already prohibit such behavior and American police and government and court systems are already in place to address the issue. Yes, we all know abuse still happens in some homes but if a large governmental body of Americans is unable to fix 100% of it then what makes anyone think that a new crop of workers who are paid by the UN can fix it?

If you keep this in mind while watching Marathon Boy you will see the complicated issues when there is more than one overseeing body trying to supervise and control the people of a land.

The second reason I believe this has not been discussed much is that it never really came close to being signed so it never was a media splash.

Some who know of The UN Treatyt are homeschoolers and every homeschooler I've asked opposes it. The issue of homeschooling is often cited as a parental rights issue (who has the right to determine the child's education: government employees or the parents?). In my past discussions with parents of schooled kids they didn't seem to care much if the Act was passed as they don't think much about the issue of parental rights. They don't think it applies to their lives so they don't care what happens. Although most said, "I want you to have the freedom to homeschool but I don't want to homeschool so this is not an issue that applies to me." There was not much support being put behind others, people seem to care only for their unique situation and put their opinions behind that.

The other bunch of people who oppose the UN Rights of the Child Act are those who are more generally liberty minded, wanting Americans to have more freedom and less government in their lives. They want limited government by American government so they definately do not want increased govermental oversight by a United Nations based government!

In the film it was said at one point that there were many slum children suffering in poverty and that the UN committee for children was over-focusing on one boy who may or may not be suffering due to too much sports training at a young age. In one scene, a large group of slum children were angry and shouting asking why (the UN committee) was doing nothing to look out for their rights, to see that they had food and clothing and an education.

I was asking myself the same thing.

For more information read the production notes on the Marathon Boy official website.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Parents Making Kids Try New Things

One of the best things that happened to my son in his first year in Texas was his participation in a community based competitive rowing team for high school aged kids.

In the middle of reading his science book for homeschool lessons my fourteen year old paused and said, "Mom remember when I was ten and you signed me up for Yale Community Rowing in the summer  and I had a tantrum and said I didn't want to go and you made me?"

Me: "Yes!"

(I knew he would love it, his friends were going, and he loved it the minute he tried it.)

Son: "Imagine it, if you didn't make me try it I wouldn't be rowing on this team now. I would have missed out on all the fun."

This was yet more proof for me that it is good for the parent to be the parent. Sometimes parents know best what activities or pursuits are a good fit for their child even if the child does not agree, before they even give it one try. I think some kids or most are afraid of trying new things. With good judgement a parent who knows their child well can find good matches. Not everything works out but so many things that I have decided that my kids should give a try did work out to become things they loved and that are a major part of their lives, things that became a passion for them.

If you let an immature child or even a teenager lead the way all the time, the fact is they do not always know enough to make good judgements about what is right and best for them.

I don't just force my kids to do things. We talk about it and I logically lay out my reasons why I think it is a good fit and what the program is like and who will be there (kids they know and like). I ask them what their opinion is as well as what they are afraid of. The fear question usually will reveal what they are really thinking. That leads to discussions of coping techniques and discusing what would happen if that thing really did happen. This helps prepare the child or teen for how to handle the negative situations should they arise. The fact is that usually the bad stuff never happens and it is "all good".