Thursday, February 28, 2013

Should You Attend a Homeschooling Conference?

I prepared this to respond to a vague question on a homeschooling chat list asking for advice about choosing a homeschool conference to attend.

I have been to a wide variety of homeschool conferences in the last 13
years, all types under the sun it seems, MD, PA, CT, MA, and TX. I have
been to conferences with 300 people to 3000.

Here is my advice. Ask yourself
why you are going and what you want to get out of it. See if that conference
will provide what you need or want. Then make a game plan and go.

I always have something I need, support or encouragement, help on a certain
topic, or craving information about how to teach XYZ, and other times I just
need to shop for items in person in the vendor hall. Sometimes I just needed a pick-me-up boost of enthusiasm. I have been greatly
helped by hearing lectures sometimes, and other times disappointed.
Sometimes the only reason I went was to hear a certain speaker in person
(i.e. Susan Wise Bauer, Dianne Craft). Other times I needed high school
specific info that has been absent at other conferences where it seems to be
about younger children. Read the lecture topics carefully (and hope they are
accurate), this will help you decide if that conference is what you need or want. After you decide to go to a conference, decide ahead of time what lectures to attend so you are not scrambling at the last minute in the chaos of the hallways. Once you are in a lecture, if it is not what you expected, leave the room, your time is
valuable, and maybe someone needs your seat!

Your best chance at being satisfied is again, know what you want to learn or
do and see if X conference coming up will satisfy what you need. And ask how
far you are willing to drive to get that info, how many hotel nights can you
afford, if your schedule can take two days or more at a conference, so forth
and so on.

I said make a game plan because the conference and vendor hall can be
overwhelming. Pick ahead of time, what lectures you want to hear. But be
flexible if you hear a great speaker and realize their other lectures are
upcoming and you didn't plan on hearing those.

If you need to shop, build time in for it. Make a list of what you need to
buy and a list of items you want to see in person. Circle those vendors on
the vendor hall map. This will help you not get overwhelmed or
over-stimulated and will help you not forget to go investigate X curriculum. If you need more time to shop, you may choose to forego
hearing lecture and buy the $3-5 CD lecture instead. But check first to make sure
that the session is being recorded. Not all speakers allow the organization
to record & sell their lecture. Some conferences do no recording of lectures
at all.

I drove nine hours to go to a conference that said it was homeschooling for
Christians and not really anything about the lectures was about
homeschooling, it was a like a woman's Christian retreat for boosting on
Christian living in general. I was really disappointed. I personally get my spiritual fulfillment at
church and I go to homeschool conferences for homeschool and teaching
information. Their marketing materials in that first year of holding that conference were deceptive and
other times, vague, and the lecture topic session descriptions were not
shared ahead of time, hence my misunderstanding. If that is what a person needs, that's fine for them, but I
felt I was misled by the promotional materials.

Bring snacks and drinks into your car, sometimes food lines can be a half
hour or more, and time is precious at conferences. I said bring stuff in
your car because sometimes they ban you from bringing food and drink into
the venue.

Think about how you will transport purchases. Consider a small rolling
suitcase. Tote bags may kill your shoulders or arms when carrying them all
day. Consider going to the car at lunch to drop off purchased things. See if
there are rules for that conference about what kind of bag you can bring
with you to use. Some ban rolling carts.

Check the rules on children and teens. Figure out if you really want your
kids there, and if you want or need your spouse there. Will the kids be a
hindrance to your goal to hear educational lectures and to shop? Will the
time be spent keeping the kids entertained and satisfied? Will they beg to
leave early to go home or to get to the hotel for a swim?

Does the conference let kids and teens into the lectures? Some let them into
the vendor hall only and they cannot attend the lectures. (Some people
really complain about that!) Some seem to be loosening up on this but the
last one I attended was hard to hear the speaker because the four year old
behind me was playing a handheld video game with sounds. I had to ask them
to turn it down. And then the mom let the kid start in with it again later.
If you bring a baby please do not give them a noise producing toy to play
with in the lecture! Some conferences limit kids attending for such reasons
as well as the kids taking up seats in lecture halls while the parents who
paid full admission cannot find a seat and must stand or cannot even get
into the room due to fire code restrictions. Some conferences have
children's programs and teen programs, but often these book up fast, and
they are not always for the entire conference day either.

I consider homeschool conferences work, and serious business for me, so most
of the time I attended by myself or with friends, we carpooled and talked
shop on the ride to and from. When staying in a hotel we share rooms and
have fellowship in the evening and a nice dinner together. I am with my kids
nearly 24/7 so 1-2 days a year at a homeschool conference, they can stay
home and enjoy time with Dad.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Homeschooling is Like Dieting

I have poured my heart out in recent posts, perhaps more than I should have shared publically. I then kept quiet because I had nothing more to say. We are busy learning and doing homeschooling. Some days there is nothing special to say about parenting or homeschooling, it's just living. I was going to say "living the daily grind" but that is too negative, I don't mean it to sound negative. Homeschooling and active parenting is a lot of doing, doing, doing and sometimes is just a lot of repetition. It can be tiring. There just isn't always something new to say about it to make for a worthy blog post.

I just realized my blog's eight year anniversary or birthday has just passed. How much can a person say about homeschooling?

Last week was a late-sleeping week. It started off normal with the early rising to get to the homeschool co-op class. But the next day we overslept. Another day I woke up for co-op with a stomach bug and the kids shut their alarms off and went back to sleep, not knowing I was sick. I was so sick I could not walk across the room let alone go upstairs to tell them I was sick so I let them sleep, until ten o'clock which is when I felt I was human again and we could get on with the day. But later I got sick again with a fever and wound up taking a deep sleep nap for two hours of prime homeschool time in the afternoon. I woke up cured. The flow of the week was thrown off and the next day I started reading email on my iPad in bed when I woke up and didn't wake the kids til nine. Bad mom. The last night I ate a praline after dinner, a gift from my husband who had been to New Orleans and it wound me up so I couldn't go to sleep til midnight then I overslept to 8:30.

I almost said something negative to myself but bit my tongue. True, we were not as productive last week as we normally are. It could be traced directly to not following our normal wake-up routine and getting a late start.

Homeschooling is like dieting, because when you slip off the plan and get sloppy and don't live the ideal, you can look at tomorrow as a new day, a day to buckle down and do better, to try harder, and to resolve to put into practice the steps that need to be taken to achieve the goal.

The only harm done last week was the kids got more sleep. Sleep is a good thing. My younger son is growing tall, growing overnight, it seems. My older son's brain is tired from the neurofeedback. They both work out a three hour long practices, rowing, lifting weights, running, and doing core workouts and stretching exercises. Yeah, my error to let them sleep extra was a real crime, wasn't it?

No guilt felt here...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Assembling a PC

My fifteen year old son put together a new PC after my husband's PC died. The kid has always enjoyed hands on projects that have real world applications. He has never enjoyed stupid or silly hands on projects.

...and one of his chores is taking out the trash...and I am trying not to be a nagger.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Younger Son Started a Blog, Then Got Writer's Block

Here's the twelve year old son's blog. He said he wanted to write for a career since he thinks he is good at it. I said how about starting a blog now? Five mintues later he announced the first blog post was up, which meant the blog name was decided upon. He also made the blogger account by himself without asking me a single question on how to do that.

I'm proud that my kids can figure things out on their own.

I am not forcing my son to blog, so if he tapers off, that's okay. He is working on other creative pursuits which I'll share on another day.

The Mind of Little John

Note: No, my husband's name is not John. This is a nickname the teens on the rowing team have given him. The team has two older Johns: a senior and a junior, and my son is the youngest kid there, he's in seventh grade.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Belly Lecture with William Davis MD to Watch Online Free

Last week I heard a lecture by William Davis M.D., a cardiologist, speaking about his book Wheat Belly, followed by a three panel medical doctor Q&A session in The Woodlands, Texas. I have not read the book yet. A lot of this I already knew but am grateful that someone is putting it all in one spot, and that medical studies back it up.

I have a lot to say about my opinions and to summarize but today I just want to share a video from YouTube of a talk he did a year ago in case you have not heard Dr. Davis speak.

Part 1:

Part 2:

I plan to buy and read the book, of course, since I'm a reader, like to have this information at my fingertips and because frankly I want to support the author's work by rewarding him with income.

Thank you Dr. Davis for researching the medical studies that back up the formerly "alternative" idea that wheat makes some people sick.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Alka Seltzer Gold Product Review

GOLD is the only Alka-Seltzer product which is aspirin-free.

GOLD was recommended to me as a fast-acting relief from food intolerance symptoms. People with (non-anyphylactic) food allergies report this works wonders. I read that when the body is in a state of reacting to a food the system is acidic.

I have not been able to find this product in any local drug store or department store, thank goodness sells it.

This is an alkaline product which quickly lowers the body's high acid content, which is said to occur when having symptoms from food intolerances.

This product is high in sodium which is not a problem for my family, but I share it in case you have health issues that warrant a low sodium diet.

We notice results in 15-20 minutes.

This product review shares our family's story and is not intended to serve as medical advice.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Super Soaker Switch Shot Blaster Product Review

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

This Super Soaker squirt gun has four different shooting choices, which makes it fun and different than other Super Soakers we purchased and use.

We wish it had a bigger magazine to hold more water.

This is durable and made of heavy plastic. Super Soakers last for years and years so long as you don't let kids throw them down onto the ground or on pool decking.

This is a fun Super Soaker. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I received one unit of this item from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on the Amazon site. I was not paid to write the review or to blog it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Artist, The Cook, and The Gardener Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Artist, The Cook, and The Gardener
Author: MaryJo Koch
Publication: Andrew McMeels, 2013

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

My Summary Statement: A Cookbook for Gardeners Loaded with Gorgeous Photos and Watercolor Paintings

Maryjo Koch is an artist, a cook, and a gardener. She hosts painting classes in her gardens and serves the students homemade foods made from her garden harvests. Located in California, her garden not only contains vegetables and herbs but also fruits, thanks to her tropical climate.

I read the eBook version, and it is gorgeous. The photographs are breathtaking and span shots of the finished dishes, the base ingredients, that plant in the garden, and other subjects such as wild creatures and birds that are seen in the garden.

The recipes are arranged seasonally. The categories are soups, salads, savory tarts, sandwiches, pizzas, and sweets. A sampling of the gourmet slowfood recipes are: fresh pea soup with mint and creme fraiche, zucchini blossom soup, fennel, blood orange and grilled chicken salad with candied walnuts, flower petal salad, fresh fig and black forest ham sandwiches, home-cured salmon with horseradish dill cream sauce, four cheese pizza with mixed herbs and herb flowers, botanical mushroom tart, rose petal ice cream and meyer lemon ice. If your curiosity is piqued and your mouth is watering you will love this book.

Disclosure: I was given temporary access to "borrow"/read an eBook version through I was not paid to write a review or to blog a review.

My French Onion Soup Recipe

I made my first two batches of French Onion Soup last week. I modified Alton Brown's recipe and am including here my recipe.

I looked at a bunch of different soup recipes and they vary in the type of onions used. Some use all yellow onions, some all sweet, some use a combination of yellow, sweet and red.

My better tasting batch used 1 lb sweet and 3 lbs yellow, as that was what I had on hand. The all yellow batch I made was not as mellow. I plan to make an all sweet onion batch next time.

My first batch was a bit too thick (see photo). The second batch required a bit more liquid at the end.

French Onion Soup Recipe


Large cast iron skillet
toaster or toaster oven
oven or toaster oven

cutting board
chef's knife

oven safe soup crocks

Yield: 5-6 servings


4 lbs. onions
10 oz beef consumme
10 oz chicken stock, low sodium
10 oz apple cider or 14 oz applesauce
3 Tbsp butter
splash of cognac
about a half a bottle of white wine
3 tsp sea salt

1/2 lb grueyre cheese
toasted bread


Remove ends of onions and take off the peel and the tough exterior piece. Slice onions in half. Slice onions then cut that into quarters. You wind up with 1/4 onion slices, not too much larger than the spoon size. This makes for less sloppy eating.

Put butter into skillet and heat on medium to melt. Put 1/3 onions in and sprinkle 1 tsp salt over that, add another 1/3 onions, another 1 tsp salt, and repeat.

Carmelize onions over medium or medium high heat. Stir occasionally. Try not to burn them, but a little burn is okay. If it seems too dry take extra chicken stock and add a couple of ounces to the pan. Turn the heat down a little if you have to keep it from burning.

When the onions have reduced and are a deep mahogany color, there will be about 2 cups of onions left. Smooth them down then pour white wine over them, enough to cover. Stir to deglaze the pan. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is like a syrup. Then add in the other liquids, stir to deglaze the pan, and bring to a boil. After it boils, turn heat to medium then let cook 15-20 minutes.


Turn the broiler on your oven or toaster oven.

Make the toast. Turn the bowl over onto the toast to make a round shape in the size of the bowl.

Shave the cheese or slice it.

After the above described cooking method, spoon the soup into the bowls. Leave room at the top for bread and cheese. Put toast onto the top. Then about 2 oz cheese per bowl.

Place bowls on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and put into the broiler.

Broil so the cheese melts. Do not burn it.

Remove the hot pan from the oven. Transfer the hot bowls to a cool small dish to help safely move it to the table.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why the Increase in Food Allergies Since the 1990s?

I first watched this video lecture in 2011 when it was released.

We all need to watch this. Now. Or re-watch it if you already have seen it.

My big take away was that the body may find new synthetic proteins and growth hormones in our engineered foods, crops, and dairy products as foreign invaders that need to be attacked as if they are enemies, thus producing a food allergy reaction. O'Brien also discusses environmentally triggered (food triggered) Cancer.

TEDxAustin Robyn O'Brien 2011

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

3M Protectve Cover iPhone 5 Product Review by ChristineMM

The first clear cover we purchased, made by a different company was too large and didn't fit right. The fact that it was half the price of this one lured us in. Again another stupid mistake that we've made before:buy a cheap one and think it is good enough when it's really so bad that you throw it away and wind up buying a second one that costs more money. We should remember that you get what you pay for.

This 3M natural view clear protective cover is crystal clear and works great. The sensitivity of the touch is the same as if there was no protective cover on it. The size is perfect.

It was simple to apply, we didn't even need the piece of cardboard to help smooth it out.

The only downside is that there is one unit in the package, not multiple, and it is more expensive than other brands. However we no longer care as our family wants quality. This is worth the price.

Love it = 5 stars.

Disclosure: I received one unit of this product from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on their website. I was not paid to write the review or to blog it.

Monday, February 18, 2013


The score my son got on his two chapter chemistry test (at the homeschool co-op) after one hour per chapter review and clarifying the concepts with a tutor and a half hour flash card online site review for each chapter. That is a full ten points higher than the "smartest" kid in the class (as my son said).

From a 70 to a 60 to a 94 after a change to use a tutor and to actually study.


My son's confidence is soaring. He is starting to get it that he needs to study and that the work is do-able.

He has completed 23 weeks in the class and has 11 weeks to go until the course ends.

I am so grateful and happy that my son's confidence is rising. I never questioned his ability to master the content if he actually tried and made a concerted effort to understand and to memorize.

Quarter 1 grade: 78
Quarter 2 grade: 83
Semester 1 grade: 81


I have not overly focused on grades as I want him to learn and want him to learn to study. However I told him if he pulls C's or D's he may have to retake the course because for a STEM major, the grades should be higher.

I also want to mention the method the tutor starts off with is Charlotte Mason style narration. (Can you believe it?) She asks him to tell all he knows about topic X then she listens and corrects him if there is an error, then she fills in the gaps of what the chapter presented that he somehow missed. If there is math, he does some and she sees if he is doing it correctly, if not, she re-teaches it to him.

We are so blessed to have found her. After the second session with this new tutor he was beaming and said he loves her.

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and hope...


Future Plans

Prior to the May 9 final test my son will have to study and see if he can understand the old information that he formerly did not comprehend.

After that he can focus on studying for the SAT II Chemistry test. This will be his first SAT Subject Test.

The tutor can help with the studying process.

My son says he buys into this plan of attack. Now that he has had a taste of success he is excited to do what has to be done. He is not protesting, complaining, or refusing. Thank goodness.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Article Link: A Warning to College Profs From a High School Teacher

Article: A Warning to College Profs From a High School Teacher

Published in: Washington Post

On: 2/09/2013

The first generation of public schooled kids who have been taught afte NCLB are starting to enter college.

From this AP US Government and Politics high school teacher comes these criticisms, in the order they appear in the article.

1. "In many cases, students would arrive in our high school without having had meaningful social studies instruction, because even in states that tested social studies or science, the tests did not count for “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind."

2. "Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays."

3. Poor writing skills, he credits due to #2. "Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure."

4. AP classes criticized: "I mentioned that at least half my students were in AP classes. The explosive growth of these classes, driven in part by high school rankings like the yearly Challenge Index created by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, is also responsible for some of the problems you will encounter with students entering your institutions.The College Board did recognize that not everything being labeled as AP met the standards of a college-level course, so it required teachers to submit syllabi for approval to ensure a minimal degree of rigor, at least on paper. But many of the courses still focus on the AP exam, and that focus can be as detrimental to learning as the kinds of tests imposed under No Child Left Behind."

5. Poor grammar skills.

6. Writing rubrics are poor. "If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support." Be sure to read that sentence CAREFULLY.

7. Writing in AP classes does not support true analytical thinking. "Some critical thinking may be involved, at least, but the approach works against development of the kinds of writing that would be expected in a true college-level course in government and politics.My students did well on those questions because we practiced bad writing. My teaching was not evaluated on the basis of how well my students did, but I felt I had a responsibility to prepare them for the examination in a way that could result in their obtaining college credit."

8. Too many students to give extra writing assignments to try to boost their writing skills becuase there is no time to read it.

9. Teaching a mile wide and an inch deep, even in the AP classes! "Further, the AP course required that a huge amount of content be covered, meaning that too much effort is spent on learning information and perhaps insufficient time on wrestling with the material at a deeper level."

10. Students lacked context and content familiarity. ",,,too many students in AP courses were not getting depth in their learning and lacked both the content knowledge and the ability to use what content knowledge they had."

11. Ignorant students. "Students often do not get exposure to art or music or other nontested subjects." These have connections to history and politics and are relevant.


By the time I finished reading this I was thanking God that we still homeschool. I am trying my hardest to decently educate my kids and a key component is careful selection of their curriculum such as choosing writing composition curriculum that I think is solid, teaching my kids grammar, different ways of learning and lots of time discussing that leads to critical thinking skill development. We spend less time spent on memorizing facts and parroting back information and more time learning deeply and thinking. I am raising independent thinkers and if that's all they wind up being, our homeschool will have been a success.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Food Struggles Update and Next Steps

This may be of interest to those of you with food sensitivities and allergies.

My son made it eleven days on a diet where he was eating meats and vegetables only. He did crave sugar but had no other signs of candida die-off so I don't think he had candida overgrowth. On day seven he cheated with wheat and was so exhausted he had to leave his robotics team meeting early and spent the rest of the day with severe fatigue, such as you feel when you are sick with flu. On day eleven he quit the diet altogether.

After the bad reaction to wheat he swore off wheat but 48 hours later was in denial and said it wasn't bad. He resumed eating wheat and his body built up a tolerance. He gets tired when eating wheat every single time. When eating it in small portions or eating it with dinner he can manage the crashes better and pass it off as end of day tiredness, or after practice tiredness. He refuses to stop eating wheat so he meters out small portions, such as eating just one roll a day with ham as a sandwich, or a smaller portion of pasta than he ever used to eat. We are unsure if the issue is the protein in wheat or if it is gluten. Oats and other grains have gluten so if gluten is the culprit it's a bigger animal. (I am avoiding buying gluten free foods to replace wheat because a lot of them are full of soy or added sugars; my son still seems to flip when he eats soy such as soy flour in a storebought bread.)

He has been eating sugar laden foods only 1-2 times a week such as a piece of birthday cake at a party or a couple of cookies. That didn't go so badly but the Superbowl party with the Dairy Queen ice cream cake that a guest brought was a complete and total disaster with a major meltdown, a rage, slamming doors, yelling profanities, and an inability to calm down even when the very small issue was resolved, then it was followed by a major crash, emotional moodiness and then crashing to go to sleep. That was the first time that he ate ice cream since the last rage (2.5 months ago) which was ice cream/protein shake induced.

I am upset with our pediatrician of the last year and a half, every single visit we've had has had one issue or another, either we don't see eye to eye or their staff does something like screw up the blood draw on my son with big veins, or made us wait two hours for just a vaccine, so we changed practices yesterday. The final straw: my son's pediatrician denies that food can affect behavior, mood, or physical feelings, and since he thinks an endocrinologist consult is unnecessary. As of yesterday, my kids now go to my general practitioner who sees all ages. She is down to Earth, kind, talks to me like I am a real human with a functioning brain and has decent office staff who can acutally do their jobs well.

At the Scout physical she asked my son to tell in his words what happens when he eats certain things. He explained that he feels that any kind of refined sugar makes him irritable, moody, and tired, such as desserts, sugar added to breakfast cereal, Frappuccino, candy and sweet drinks, as well as energy drinks or electrolyte drinks used at sports. I was shocked by that as he had not admitted to me that he feels that way from sugar. He also explained that ice cream, cow milk, and cream cheese seem to affect him badly but not blue cheese dressing parmesan, romano, or a slice of American cheese on a cheeseburger.

The new doctor has recommended that my son to see an endocrinologist to rule out diabetes, pre-diabetes, or issues with adrenal depletion due to past Lyme Disease, Mono, and chronic tonsillitis. If my son is having issues with insulin levels it could explain the changes that occur after eating white flour products and foods with sugar in them.

My son has decided to eat more vegetables which for now means he eats 3-6 small heads of romaine lettuce a day as a salad. He also eats one banana a day but avoids all other fruits. He meters out the wheat in small portions. He finally has realized that the problems he has from food is not worth consuming those foods. Avoiding certain foods means even more processed foods are off limits so he is eating more whole foods than ever, which I know is ideal anyway, but which is hard to do with independence-striving teens who are offered all kinds of crap food at parties, gatherings, sport events, and club meetings.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Five by Fitzgerald Audio Book Review by ChristineMM

Five by Fitzgerald: Classic Stories of the Jazz Age is a collection of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Previously this collection has been published under various titles in book form. I listened to this on audio CD while in the car with my older son. Younger son heard some of it but not all of it. This was assigned reading.

Each of these led to interesting discussions about history, our society, the rich vs. the middle class, morals and ethics. Some were more entertaining or weirder than others.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: I know this was a movie a couple of years ago but didn't know anything about the story. This is a strange story that starts in 1860 so it is not exactly a jazz age story at least for the entire story's duration. This story is just plain weird however it is captivating and well told. Should I spoil the plot? A baby is born as a young man and as time goes on he gets younger and younger. This story includes characters who are wealthy and go to Yale and Harvard and wind up working in family business and being respectable businessmen. Even in this tale there are issues of how people judge each other based on their class, social standing, and so forth.

Diamond as Big as the Ritz: This is a great tale to show how the rich do not always appreciate what they have, and often crave or value things that they never had access to even when it is inexpensive and very common for the poor and middle class to own. The bigger issue is the ethical questions of how far people can and should go in order to preserve the type of lifestyle that they feel is good for them. I don't want to tell much of what this is about lest I spoil it. I knew nothing of the tale when we listened to it. There is a lot to talk about with your kids if you read or listen to it together. This story also involves rich people who use prep school and go to Ivy League colleges.

Head and Shoulders: This is an interesting tale that starts off with a male child prodidy who went to college early and was getting a master's in philosophy before he was even eighteen. He is an academic and has little real world experience and of course, never worked at a job, living all in his head. He meets and falls in love with a flapper showgirl who makes good money but at first seems to be a stupid airhead. He is the head and she is the shoulders. Their roles wind up being reversed. Some things to discuss are making money to make ends meet, working at your passion, and the twist about who winds up famous for what talent.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair: This is a story of girl cousins and focuses on the social life of girls and how nasty and shallow some people are. Bernice is treated well in her hometown because she is rich and relies on her mother's social arrangements and party planning so she thinks she is popular due to her personality. Her actual personality and social graces stink and her cousin agrees to help her out. This is a mean girl story set in the 1920s. The ending left me speechless and laughing hysterically. This is another time when Fitzgerald focuses on the shallowness of rich socialites.

Dalywimple Goes Wrong: This was our least favorite tale and tells the story of a young man who doesn't work very hard and starts a life of crime to get money the easy way after realizing the job of a shelf stocker (after dropping out of college) can barely make his ends meet. He also seems a bit entitled thinking his abilities are greater than they are and that the world owes him a better living. I won't say what happens in the end but it suprised me how he winds up spending his life. Sometimes those who wind up doing that job are actually criminals, it was true then and it's true with some corrupt people today!

We borrowed the audiobook from the public library and listened to it while driving in the car.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Son's Online Addiction

I punished my younger son (12.5 years old) off his laptop and xBox360 for a month. I had it with his sneaking online to play games or to chat about games and do his administator (unpaid) job (!!!) on a chat forum instead of doing his schoolwork. He would do this when I was even two feet away from him. I could make a long story out of his situation, but choose not to, not today at least. He flipped out when he found out and said he would lose his administrator job if he was absent for more than a couple of days and if he missed the mandatory weekly staff meeting.


I suggested he tell the powers that be that he is punished, and why, and see what they say. Some in the group are in their 20s, 30, and 40s (!!!). He had a chat with the big boss of the chat board and he was told that schoolwork is the top priority and that they would hold a position for him when he came back. Thank goodness someone had their head screwed on straight.

Immediately (not surprisingly) his schoolwork began actually being completed. Hooray! He said he was so bored he was happy to have schoolwork to keep him busy. Hysterical.

We have not battled about this at all. I'm so happy about that.

A few days into the ban he began to teach himself to use Photoshop Elements software to digitally alter images, add text, and make digital art. This has morphed into nearly an obsession. I have no problem at all with obsessions and passions that center around creating new content not just being a passive user or consumer of media. For the first time he experienced a flow state of creativity. I was elated. He is having a blast.

He has another week to go on his punishment. My hope is that he will have lost interest in the chat forum and will have a new habit of doing his schoolwork during the day and using the evening to play around on the internet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Moving Horror Story About My Books

Our former Connecticut home had a lot of storage space. I had under the eaves closets that were cool year round and were about 60 feet by four feet. There were two walk in closets in the fourth bedroom that served as a playroom. We had a room full of bookcases and two rooms had built-in bookshelves. Those are where I stored my books. That is how I was able to collect over 8000 books and have it seem like I really didn't own that many. When things are stashed here and there you don't always realize how much you actually own.

I kept some books logged at and others I had in an Excel spreadsheet. I had received about 1300 books free of charge when a parochial school closed and was going to throw their books in a dumpster headed for a landfill. Others I got free at a local transfer station who ran a free book shed service. I bought others for 10, 25, or 50 cents, and some for a whopping one dollar. I got books from and bought used books for up to 90% off full retail at homeschool curriculum used book sales. Others I bought new, of course. I collected rare and out of print books over several year's time.

When we moved from Connecticut to Texas on short notice I put my hands on every single book and the process overwhelmed me. I donated over 4000 books to charity. I had no time to resell them other than paying a friend 20% commission to take 20 boxes to a used curriculum sale, they did not all sell either, even priced at 25 cents, 50 cents or one dollar.

The moving expenses were paid by us, not my husband's new employer. There was a base fee plus 60 cents a pound. The entire move cost us $25K. Ouch. Based on the box count and box weight of 40-50 pounds each, I estimated the cost to move the remaining books here was $3500. I did not know what we'd wind up moving into since we had rented a small home temporarily, I didn't know what storage I'd have but I felt these books were keepers at least for now.

We wound up purchasing a home with a full wall of windows facing the backyard, so that is a lot of wall and shelf space that does not exist here. The other rooms are open floor plan as most new Texas homes are. My windows start six inches off the floor so again there is little room for even a low bookcase let alone tall bookcases. I still own too many books than I can shelve in the new home. But I'm off on a tangent. Back to Connecticut and the moving story.

The move was so fast and I was alone with my kids since my husband had already moved to start his new job. I hired someone to help me pack. I sorted everything, chose what to throw away, donate, or to move, and marked the box as to whether it was going to the rental unit or into the storage unit. The hired friend packed my books meticulously so that the books would not be damaged in route by having spines broken or covers crushed. We painstakingly labeled the boxes to show what subject and type of books it contained. This was necessary since I'd not yet chosen materials for the upcoming homeschool academic year. I needed the boxes labeled "homeschool English, homeschool biology, homeschool nature guides, homeschool math, homeschool high school history", so forth and so on.

I found out about how professional movers work after signing the contract. Despite interviewing the local moving agent I found out that the truck owners are independent contractors and who you get to move you cannot be predicted in the future, they use whoever is close by who is contracted with that franchise company (i.e. Atlas, Allied). Our local mover seemed great but on moving day we were assigned a guy from Georgia who is contracted through the national franchise who has no direct relationship with the local mover agent.

Moving day was to begin at eight in the morning. A vehicle showed up with three local movers from the local agent's office. They informed me that the tractor trailer truck with the driver/owner/foreman and his assistant mover was delayed for five more hours and that they could not load that truck until after one in the afternoon. They didn't quite know what to do with themselves and asked if they could begin loading boxes outdoors for faster loading when the truck arrived. It was August and it was hot and sunny and I was so busy that I didn't know the local weather forecast. I told them it was fine so long as there was no danger of rain since I did not know the forecast. They said there was no danger of any rain and I believed them. They moved boxes of my books onto the newly mulched (and bush free) garden beds which were in the process of being redone. We were also in the middle of having a new roof put on and there were no gutters on the house yet. We were in the middle of renovations from an ice dam winter storm problem the previous season which the insurance had been hassling us about paying on the large claim (another major headache I was dealing with besides the unemployment and then the sudden move).

The moving truck finally arrived and the movers were now under the direction of the owner-operator who acts as job foreman. They had left the boxes outside and were told to work on furniture moving instead. All at once the clouds blew in and the thunderstorm hit and the rain was pouring down onto over a hundred cardboard boxes of my books. The rain on my v-shaped roof was pouring off in sheets (due to lack of gutters) directly on top of my books. I nearly had a heart attack. A lot of the books I had kept and decided to move with me were out of print or rare books. We kicked a fit and the movers started moving them onto the truck and threw a tarp over it. Now the mulch was wet and the moisture started wetting the boxes from the bottom up. My younger son went and sat in the rain to watch the activity.

I had a major concern about what would happen to wet cardboard and wet books while on a weeklong journey in over a hundred degree heat coming down to Texas. I worried that the soaking wet boxes would leach water into the books as time went on, even as the minutes ticked by, and worried that later the mildew or water damage would occur. If we could get the books out of the wet boxes quickly, it would prevent worse damage, I thought. I could imagine books growing mold and mildew and being ruined over the course of the move. Wet paper with no air circulation and hot temperatures is a bad combination.

I demanded that the books be repacked immediately. The driver said I had to supply the boxes. I had no extra boxes on hand as my packing was done. I didn't have 50 or 100 new boxes at my disposal. I started having an anxiety attack and hyperventilating. It was the mover's fault that this happened so I felt the mover's should give me free boxes. The driver said he had nothing to do with the boxes being outdoors as that was done by the local movers under their own direction, so he was not financially responsible for their actions. (I later learned that once he arrives on the scene the job is under his direction but whatever happens before he technically was not responsible for.)

As I freaked out, the moving men thought I was being hysterical. First my husband stepped in and dealt with them while I went and id deep breathing in a quiet area of the house. Later the movers started making fun of me, right in front of me and also behind my back in front of my kids. My younger son was upset to hear them making fun of me. You see we'd gotten rid of our four old non-HD, non-flat screen TVs since they do not insure them because they often break in a move. The movers, with their ignorant manner of speech and with their (only) high school educations had already made fun of us for owning so many books. Who needs this many books, they asked. Who reads so much? No one, they said. "Usually people prize their TVs the most but you don't even own any! That's weird!" I tried explaining that we homeschool, not that I had to justify myself to them, but it fell on deaf ears. They thought I was some kind of book nut packrat.

Not only was I afraid the books would be ruined and that they'd need to be replaced at my expense, but I did not want to pay 60 cents a pound to move ruined books or to have the ruined wet books infect good books and make more of a problem than we already had on our hands.

My husband I had to escalate the situation by calling the staff, then the manager, then the owner of the local mover. He agreed to drive boxes to my house to give us boxes free of charge. When the boxes arrived (an hour later) we began repacking (inside the truck). I handled wet books and wiped the covers and painstakingly repacked them with care so they'd not break in transit when stacked ten feet high in the truck with other heavy stuff on top of them. Then the driver said the insurance did not cover us being on his truck and we had to leave while his workers repacked them by themselves. I didn't trust them at this point but what could we do? They basically threw the books in the boxes any which way. The books were mixed up and topics were combined. For example homeschool curriculum was now mixed with cookbooks and adult nonfiction, and nothing was labeled. This would present a challenge later when I needed to get my hands on my books.

The thunderstorm passed and the sun came back out again. My garden thermomemeter that registers high and low temperatures showed that during the move the maxmium temperature in the tractor trailer truck had reached 155 degrees. The temperatures during the move on the Texas end was 105 degrees.

All the books that were wet were ones slotted to go to the (temperature controled) storage facility. Due to the way the moving process unfolded it was impossible for me to check those books for damage when the boxes arrived in Texas. The boxes were put into the unit and the stuff was stacked about ten feet high solid, going back 30 feet. The insurance claim deadline for damage to items going to a storage unit was 48 hours. This meant that most of our possessions could not be checked in time and no claim could be put in. Those boxes remained in storage for a year, at which point we had sold the old house, bought a new one, and paid the movers to bring all that stuff to the new home.

This weekend I finished putting my hands on all my books by going through the last boxes that the movers had repacked. Those boxes were labeled with the local mover's logo so they were easy to detect. I found a fair number of broken spines, bent covers, or books completely bent in half or warped severely, and about thirty books warped and had pages ruined from water damage from that thunderstorm. None had new mold or mildew. I had feared that if some grew mildew they would spread it to the other books in that same box, that did not happen.

For anyone who loves books and collects books and uses books frequently, I am sure you can understand the emotions I was put through that moving day. That to me was a true moving horror story. We had other damage done and even fraud done to us so this book nightmare was just one of the anxiety causing things that happened. I am relieved today to finally know the full extent of the damage. I am happy to know that our demand to change the boxes before the water full seeped into the books worked to save over 95% of the books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Second Chemistry Tutor

It had been about a month and a half with my son doing chemistry without the help of a tutor. It was not going well.

I started the research to find a new tutor. The first lead fizzled out, the high schooler my son wanted to tutor with was too lax about setting appointments and then the sessions did not happen. My son was struggling.

A mom I know whose children use public school referred me to a tutor. I interviewed her and discussed the situation and my son had his first session with her last week. My son's initial reaction to hearing of this appointment was, "No I am not going." This is in line with the behaviors of late which are basically every symptom of ODD (which I have tried to restrain from discussing on my blog in detail).

I think we have found a true gem with this teacher. She is a bio-chemist who is the mother of a child with a gifted and talented label who attended a top GT magnet school. She helped form a new GT school and wound up teaching science courses there. She understands GT and 2e. She understands kids who thrive with hands on work but who cannot stand textbook studies. She understands divergent thinkers. She likes and gets boys. She presently teaches college science courses and has access to the classrooms and labs.

On the drive to the first session my son was angry and uncooperative but after the interview session he opened up. Before the session was over he was smiling and laughing at her stories and explanations. He was telling her stories and she was laughing and smiling at him. When I saw this from across the room I actually teared up. I don't know if everyone can understand what it is like when you have a smart kid who struggles to learn and who acts oppositional and resists help and is performing under their ability level. It is like watching a train wreck unfolding in slow motion. When I saw my son reacting positively, the feeling of hope flooded over me.

I had discussed over the phone, and the three of us discussed in person that studying is required for all students. Nearly everyone must work to memorize terms. A basic understanding is not good enough, you have to put in time to memorize and be able to spit out the correct answer on tests, whether it is multiple choice, fill in the blank or open ended questioning.

My son has this idea that normal kids hear things once and memorize them instantly. He thinks that smart kids never study. He thinks that he is stupid because he doesn't instantly memorize every single thing. Once I figured out this was his line of thinking I began trying to convince him of his error and tell him what it is like for kids (and adults). He did not believe me. The tutor explained it also. Maybe she can get through to him? I hope she can convince my son of the need to study being normal because the statement of late is that my son hates this kind of learning and is considering doing something else with his life that is more enjoyable than taking courses to finish high school or attending college. At the end of the session she encouraged him to study with flascards or the online flash card type system and to take sample tests for practice to see where his weaknesses lay.

A change as of this month is that my husband and I are buckling down more with our son to make him study more. There is no point in shelling out a lot of money for private tutoring if our son refuses to do the necessary studying that must be done in order to complete the learning process and to get grades above an F or D.

If my son does poorly on this course overall we have informed him that he may have to retake the entire course again for a higher grade, and at his expense, in order to have a good enough grade when applying to college for a STEM major. We have been going easy on him since he has new symptoms as a result of neurological damage from Lyme Disease and since he had a concussion, and since he has been under treatment for those. But he is in the third quarter now and it is time to get serious and do what it takes to learn the material. Just being lazy and refusing to do the work is no longer going to be allowed. Period.

Monday, February 11, 2013

First Tutor Experience and Studying Challenges

The chapter of using our first professional tutor opened in fall of 2012 and closed later in the fall of 2012.

We hired our first private tutor for my older son to help him with chemistry. We hired the assistant coach of his rowing team, so it was someone that my son knew, liked, and trusted. He was open to it for this reason. The guy is a college student who is an engineering major whose passion is chemistry.

The situation is that the chemistry text my son is using is condensed and minces no words. If you do not understand it based on the one way they explain it, you are lost. All the tutor did with my son was explain things in different words until my son could understand it. This is the very thing that I have been doing with homeschooling for my son's entire life.

This tutor helped my son go from failing, the worse score was a 38, to getting grades ranging from Bs to Ds. The grades were not the tutor's fault, the issue is my son was not putting forth enough effort in studying and memorizing terms once he had a basic understanding. He understood the concepts but was just not memorizing enough. My son was still rebelling at that point against the formal way of school learning and was refusing to study and do what it takes for what we call academic success = getting high grades.

The transition from alternative homeschool education to traditional school ways is not as smooth as other homeschooling parents and magazine article writers and book authors have portrayed. I believed those people when they said that by high school kids mature enough to buckle down and do what it takes to get good grades in courses that they are taking to prepare them for the paths they are choosing for themselves. This process is slow going and may take an entire academic year to develop. Or maybe my son just needs to mature more? I don't know. I do know that no matter how hard I want my son to do this or that he is striving for independence which means almost anything I try to encourage him about he rejects and rebels against. I am getting more gray hairs by the minute. I didn't used to think I was a controlling person but the more my son goes down a path that is not ideal the more I want to intervene and help which comes across as me taking control and is seen as me pushing and coercing.


One thing I learned is that tutors are half the cost in Houston than in Fairfield County, Connecticut. In Connecticut adult teacher private tutors range $70-$110 an hour.

In northwest Houston:

A high schooler doing tutoring costs $20 a hour.

A college student doing private tutoring is $30 an hour.

A professional teacher adult doing private tutoring is $40 an hour.

Tutor centers are $60 an hour and the teacher gets half of that.

Our local community college offers free tutoring for residents, even high schooler aged residents of this town who are not enrolled in courses at that school.

This nice assistant coach tutor moved away to attend college elsewhere so we lost his services. I went in search of a new tutor for the rest of the school year.


When Parents Are Not Experts

My son is taking a chemistry course taught by a retired medical doctor at a Christian homeschool co-op. The class started with eight students and is now down to four.

This is an example of how homeschool parents do not have to be experts in every field. I never took chemistry in high school or college. In this case I am paying for professional services for my son to learn chemistry. I could probably read the book and understand enough to try to help my son but he is going through this teenage search for independence and wants to separate from Mommy phase so it is best for us to hire a private tutor to help him, so long as we can afford to do so.

Tomorrow I will blog more about the next tutor we hired and updates on how this process is going.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby (1974) Movie Review

As part of my homeschool high schooler's English studies, after listening to the audiobook we watched The Great Gatsby movie released in 1974 starring Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy.

My first reaction to this movie was that it clearly was produced in the era before director jobs were taken over by those afflicted with ADHD. This is a movie with long slow shots and quiet scenes not the zip-zap-zig-zag-back and forth style used (even in drama genre movies) in the 2000s. As a result my teen and tween aged sons thought this movie was boring. They are accustomed to the fast pace of today's movies and especially to action and adventure movies. This movie was as slow and leisurely as the non-working wealthy classes' lifestyle, and it set a tone and the right pace for the story.

I recognized lines spoken which were directly taken from the book. Anyone who complains about the dialogue then would take issue with the original novel.

The mansion featured in the movie I read was one of the Newport mansions. There was a feel of the grandness of some Long Island homes, yet the roads were dirt and there was smoldering trash and mess on the roads leading from the stately homes to Manhattan. I had not thought about what Long Island was like in the 1920s but that sure gave a sense for it, wow, how things change.

The costuming was lovely and gave informed us that the characters were dripping in money. In contrast Mr. Wilson the garage owner with his messy small shop and his old clothes gave the sense of the disparity between the working class and the old and new money. However I had a hard time getting a sense with this movie that a central theme in the book: old money vs. new money, and the way the old money people looked down upon the new money people was not clear enough.

I'd read a review beforehand complaining that this film focused too much on the party scenes and costuming. Although more detail was seen with the party scenes than was described in words in the book it was not too over the top for me. This very thing is what I am concerned about with the movie that is set for release in May 2013, whose trailers show ridiculous parties almost like Moulin Rouge with professional dancers in the burlesque style, acrobats, and so forth, which were absent from the book. The 2013 movie also seems like it may be more steamed up with lovemaking scenes, which would bring it in line with movies of our era but which are not present in the book.

There were some small changes to the storyline that did not offend me much. Gatsby's path from teen to age thirty was not explained in this movie as it was in the book, which is a shame as it leaves movie viewers not finding out about that, unless they had previously read the book. One of the least shown things though was to what extent Gatsby was buried alone and how everyone who flocked to his parties didn't care when he was gone, that element of him coming from nothing, trying to appear to fit in by throwing big parties, then being instantly forgotten and that none of those shallow people ever cared about him was not a point that came through in this movie, even with just the barely attended burial, it wasn't enough to portray that.

I felt Redford played Gatsby a bit more coolly than I imagined him, I thought from the book that Gatsby had more spark and charm than Redford portrayed, but Gatsby's idealized love toward Daisy was more apparent to me than I felt came through in the book. This movie played up his sentimentality and a more obsessive in a weird way view of his passion for Daisy. I felt this movie more clearly showed that Daisy's love was not as sentimental and came off as kind of a revenge affair or as my twelve year old said it seemed "like a rebound relationship" since it started after Daisy was sure that her husband was cheating on her with a woman from town.

I am glad we watched this movie together after reading the book. I think the movie is a good match to the book. I can't wait for the 2013 movie to come out but as I shared previously, I worry that the focus of the 2013 film will be less on the human characters and the moral and ethical issues and more on thrills of added in sex scenes and focusing on the outrageous and unrealistic party scenes.


This movie is available for instant streaming viewing from and "full" Prime members may view it free of charge.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

A Rant About Over-Scheduled Teens

We've researched and found that if we enroll our son in driver's ed school we will save a lot of money annually on car insurance. The cheapest package is $499.

Getting a driver's license in Texas is more complicated than it was in Connecticut (or maybe the rules changed and I did not know it). I am surprised at the amount of hoop jumping we have to go through.

The driver's ed company offers an online video course or in person lectures. There are 32 in person lectures to attend versus 16 online lessons. Due to convenience and his busy schedule, my son has chosen the online lessons. Once we enroll him into the school he has 90 days to finish the course. But it's not that simple. Day one, you pay and enroll in the course. Then the student watches the first three lessons and takes an online test for the driver's permit. Once that permit test is passed you appear in person at the government office, present proof of identity, and take a vision test. If passed, the permit is issued.

Then the student must complete the online lessons within that initial 90 days. In the meantime, the student takes driving lessons with the school (seven hours) and does more driving with parents.

After the lessons are finished, and when the 90 days is up, the student keeps studying and driving with parents for a total of six full months from the date the permit was issued. After that point the teen appears in person to take the driver's test at the government office.

Once the teen passes and is granted a license, the parents add the teen onto their car insurance policy.

We also save 20% of the cost of the insurance if our son has a 3.0 GPA. So much for homeschoolers not needing to grade their students. I am going to have to write a transcript with grades.

A tricky part of this is that due to the student's life schedule it may be hard to get all the courses completed in 90 days. For example, when my son is gone for 2.5 weeks in a one month period this summer, that would not be a good time to take the course. Crunch weeks for robotics team and the heavy regatta season for varsity rowing are also not good times.

My son is pushing to get his license as soon as he turns 16 which is exactly six months from today. He wants us to start the course tonight.

My son is going to have to mature and show responsibility in order to buckle down and complete the $499 course in 90 days plus juggle his academic courseload and maintain a 3.0 average. Since he is struggling in chemistry, and his tutor went away to college this semester, he struggled without that extra help. We just hired a new chem tutor yesterday which should help. However he will have to keep up his end of the work such as finally buckling down to memorize chem terms and laws and other memorization work that he has either outright refused to do or slacked off and not studied adequately enough. Until he can get an 80 on a test, we will not pay to enroll him in that driver's ed course. (His last two test scores were a 60 and a 70.) We have not told our son of this yet, we anticipate he'll be angry about it. He is in a phase of thinking the world owes him everything and any conditions we put on things are cruel and stupid. I would not be surprised if he goes into a rage when he hears our conditions.

I would also like him to pay for his own driver's ed course as it may help him take responsibility and finish that course in the 90 day limit, but he has barely any money, and has no time to work a job to earn the money. We want him to pay for his own car insurance. He does want a job, but realizes that doing a varsity sport, robotics team, and the few hours he spends on Boy Scouts, plus academic work, leaves him no time for a job. The travel schedule for the regattas and the robotics team means he does not even have regular available time on Friday nights, Saturdays, or Sundays. Perhaps he can find a small part time job in July after his Boy Scout trips are over so he can start saving up to pay for car insurance, and he could juggle and work that job through the end of the year, until robotics team starts up again.

I am really torn about this issue of hoping my kids can have a real part time job as teens yet wanting them to be able to do the team sport they love plus do enriching academic extra-curriculars like FIRST Robotics and finishing his Eagle project for Boy Scouts. How are these kids supposed to do it all? It seems like a rat race. Our society does not have moderation or balance as a goal to strive for. Everything the kids do is intense and they want to do multiple things, and society wants them to do multiple things. Doing just one thing well is not thought to be good enough for this generation of kids. It was fine for my generation but now kids are supposed to ace their academics, do a sport and be in good physical shape, do at least one extra-curricular in arts or academics, do community service, and maybe even hold down a real part time job. I don't see how it can all be accomplished.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Risky Homeschooling or Playing It Safe?

I have a perpetual feeling that my sons are not doing enough academics for our homeschooling. This has its roots in my perfectionism and my idealist views to create a fantastic comprehensive, mile wide and mile deep educational experience for my kids. It took years for me to figure this out. I realize the problem is me and my too high standards. I am sometimes getting in the way of a successful and happy homeschool.

I am writing this while on a break from documenting my high schooler's work completed for a literature class and a fine art class. These are courses I designed. I had a sketch of my plans written ahead of time, but as we go along and dive into learning more books and movies and activities would get added to the studies based on either my son's request or my discovery of something else. We are so busy living life in the moment and I am so not interested in documenting every thing every minute of the day that I slack on writing down in one neat place everything that was completed. Then when I periodically visit the old syllabus I wind up adding in a lot of work that was done. That is when I realize that although we didn't yet do all that was planned, my son did a lot more than is expected. I am aiming for 120 hours of instruction to issue one high school credit for a course. When the course goes over that, I cannot add more credit hours, it's just not done, it's not appropriate.

When the lists are fleshed out, I cringe as I delete the work that I thought he'd do that was not actually done. That is my inner perfectionist at work, which I choose to ignore. When the list is complete I sit back and read it in its entirety I am often stunned at the scope of the studies and I'm impressed with my son's accomplishments.

I have taken risks to custom design courses that are geared toward my son's interests. I usually do this with courses that he loathes in an attempt to present the core subject with a twist that he will either love or at least find palatable. Other times he has an interest and he wants to learn about it and instead of just doing things in his free time and calling it fun I figure out how we can work that into a half credit or full credit course by studying it longer and deeper than he perhaps envisioned. What I feel when I look at the completed course is pride, as the good memories of those studies floods my mind. My son's high school transcript will be partially non-traditional and that aspect of his home education will show his uniqueness.

I have been thinking about all these hoops we homeschoolers do to jump through to impress college admissions officers and how we worry that we must do the same thing as schools in the same old way and sometimes we do even more (like use the entire science textbook not just selected chapters, or read the whole chapter not just a couple of the sections). My new outlook on the situation is that I think what truly matters in the end is the learning my son has done and the quality of the experiences he has lived. Let's say that he will be guaranteed admission to some college someplace, which is pretty much what we can count on, since it seems everyone who wants to go to college can get in somewhere. In that case it will have done no good for me to worry and to get worked up to anxiety states over trying to copy as closely as possible, what the public schools do.

What do I want my sons to think when he looks back on his home education? I want positive memories not negative ones. I rejected the public school cookie cutter mold for my children and I refuse to replicate that same model inside our homeschool. I'm taking a risk by doing some things differently but I think it is worth taking that chance.



Literature: The Hero's Journey, which started as a homeschool co-op class which my son loved
Literature: Dystopian Literature: novels, short stories, and movies
Fine Art: The History of Comic Books and Graphic Novels
Fine Art: Abstract Painting
Science and History: using living books in addition to a textbook spine to keep things interesting

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Lesser Known Accommodations for College Entrance Exams

Article link: Lesser Known Accommodations for College Entrance Exams at Ruth Brodsky Consulting

Michael Clay Thompson Lectures on Writing and Grammar

A few of my Connecticut homeschool mom friends use the Royal Fireworks Press curriculum by Michael Clay Thompson with their kids. After hearing these videos I can say I agree with his philosophies.

About removing grammar from American public schools and it resulted in kids not being able to write, and "now the College Board is going crazy". The generation of journal writers is struggling in college.

All the good writing curriculum companies agree on the foundational principals when you listen to what they are saying.

You can find more videos of Michael Clay Thompson on YouTube.

IEW in a Nutshell

This new, short marketing video explains the IEW philosophy in a nutshell.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Big Picture Rethinking Dyslexia Documentary Review

Title: The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia (2012)
Director: James Redford
Produced by: HBO Documentary Films

Official website here.

This 52 minute documentary is short, to the point and important. As I began watching the film I did not know where they were going with the title "The Big Picture" because it started off like many dyslexia documentaries talking about kids struggling to learn and failure to diagnose by school staff. The film moved on and soon it was apparent that the goal was not to focus on testing, symptoms, debunking myths, or getting best schooling, but to focus on the big picture of how people with dyslexia have weaknesses decoding text but have other strengths that make their skills superior to other people's, namely, creativity and out of the box problem solving thinking skills. Dyslexic people are not stupid, they are smart, and are more creative with different wonderful thinking skills.

One thing that made the film interesting was the variety of people interviewed. Children were interviewed about their lives and their struggles. A college freshman and some young 20-somethings were interviewed. An adult father, a surgeon, said he never knew he was dyslexic until his daughter was diagnosed and he recognized the same symptoms in himself. Other middle aged people who are successful and wealthy thanks to their careers told what it was like for them and how they used their positive attributes to find happiness in life.

Something interesting was that not everyone in the film was diagnosed early or on time. Those who were not diagnosed found ways to study that worked for them, even if it was much harder for them to learn than their peers. They told of their study methods, how they relied on listening carefully during lectures. One said college was easier than high school because with just midterms and finals there are less deadlines and more time to study and absorb the material.

The film was positive in tone and focused on overcoming the challenges through hard work and determination. Not much time was spent complaining about the ignorance of society or failures by school staff. Although one child was put into a private school after the public school refused to provide instruction for her, the focus was not on finding schooling methods that work. There are other documentaries out there which focus on those topics.

I rate the movie 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Teen vs. Mom: Life Priorities

I had a short talk with my son recently which revealed this. I double checked on the order today and figured this may make an insightful blog post.

The 15 year old's priorities at mid-year 10th grade 2012-2013:

1) girlfriend

2) friends

3) participation with varsity sport team (his main social outlet)

4) academic learning (homeschooling)

5) FIRST robotics competition team (a secondary social outlet)

6) Boy Scouts (this Troop is not a good fit for a social outlet)

Health is not on the list as he takes good health for granted and thinks he will live forever no matter what he eats, drinks, or doesn't eat or drink.

Mom's priorities for the 15 year old:

1) physical and mental wellness

2) academic learning (homeschooling)

3) robotics team (engineering or STEM is his desired career field and it's a social outlet)

4) participation with varsity sport team (fitness and a social outlet)

5) Boy Scouts (leadership, good clean fun, and is supposed to be a good social outlet)

6) friends (anything left over after doing all the other social outlets)

7) girlfriend (Note: she is a really good person and I like her a lot - so this is not personal - I'm thinking of my son's life as a long range plan and if any girlfriend now or in the future gets in the way of academics, I have a problem with that.)

This discrepancy between my son's list and my list surprised me but then I remembered that most teens, including my former teen self put friends and boyfriends above schoolwork and extra-curriculars. I thought maybe homeschooling and having a love of learning would put academics closer to the top but I am incorrect. I formerly thought that my hatred of school when I was a student was the cause of me putting friends first. According to psychologists putting friends first is a normal stage in development that is about separating from the parents to make one's own identity and part of the growing up process in the teen years. As to my son not loving all academic subjects or formal school learning methods: this kid has struggled with some aspects of learning and it is hard work for him, it's not easy and it's not fun and games. Who can blame him for enjoying doing things that are more fun which he achieves success at more easily?

Not yet on the list is a job. My son wants a job right now but can't figure out where he'd have time to do fit it in the schedule, so it is absent from his list at the moment.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Cape Cod Museum of Art

In July 2012 our whole family visited the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, Massachusetts.

I was inspired to make our first visit there by a special exhibit coordinated with the New Britian Museum of American Art to make the largest exhibit of fine art by artists who painted at Provincetown, Cape Cod, which has been known as an artist colony. It was called "The Tides of Provincetown: Two Hundred Years of Cape Cod Art". Most impressive were the long descriptions with each painting that explained about the artist and the history, they were much longer than traditionally used by museums.

After snapping some photos with my iPhone I spotted the sign that said photography was banned so I don't have much that I can legally show here, to show what I have would be copyright infringement, so, they are absent.

I wound up purchasing the coffee table book to go along with the temporary exhibit because I realized there is a lot to learn and just not enough time to do it in that one visit. I was surprised at the artists who visited Provincetown and who made art while there, this display was not just about locals, it was also about famous artists who visited P-town.

If my kids learned one thing while there the trip will have been worthwhile. I personally loved the exhibit and could have spent much more time there really looking at each painting. Since the art spanned many styles of art it was a bit like viewing art along a timeline with everything from portraits, impressionism, modern, pop art, and abstract art.

Outside is a sculpture garden and an English cottage style garden which featured, of course, blue hydrangeas that are so popular on Cape Cod.

The one below, Wash-a-shore, actually is oriented incorrectly, it needs to turn 45 degrees to the right to make it vertical. I apologize but Blogger is not cooperating with me.


Sunday, February 03, 2013

Five Screens, Three People

Here is a photo I took in March 2012 of my husband and two sons (aged 14 and 11) when we were living in the rental house. The scene horrified me. I had been sitting at my computer a few feet away doing my own thing. At the time this was taken my husband had just purchased his first Apple product, an iPad2 (which he uses mainly for work and has by his side 24/7). My sons were playing with their Kindle Fires, which were Christmas gifts. And my husband has his blackberry right there in case a text or email or a call came in. You can see they were sitting there supposedly watching a TV show together which I thought was a great idea. When I looked up from my PC I realized they were by each other's side but were doing their own things on all different screns and ignoring the television.

This was a weeknight.

At the time I'm writing this my sons still do not have use of their Kindle Fires but each has their own laptop which is used in a fixed place (in the kitchen/family room - connected rooms). My boys do not have smart phones or Internet on any portable device. My husband has upgraded to an iPhone5 after loving the iPad2 and suddenly realizing how inferior the Blackberry was. He was jealous of my iPhone4 and what I could do with it while we were on the road, using the map, using Urban Spoon and other useful apps while away from our home computers.

My concern now about Internet and my kids is not safety or that they will be stalked by pedophiles: it is that it is all consuming and they have trouble getting their academic work done. I also want quality family time not all solitary screen time happening on four or more screens at the same time with each of us. I want my kids to do things not just screen related, like read real books, read a paper magazine, play the guitar for fun, sketch, doodle and anything creative.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Boy Scout Museum Trip (2012)

In February 2012 our family visited the Boy Scouts of America's National Headquarters and Museum in Dallas, Texas.

The BSA owns a large collection of original Norman Rockwell art, a portion of which is on exhibit at any one time. This for me was the highlight of the trip. These images may seem sentimental and sappy but in person they seemed more real and less cheesy than when seen in cheap reproductions. I was impressed at the variety of the images and how Rockwell was creative enough to keep coming up with material so that something fresh could be made.

The museum contained general Scouting historical pieces.

Special displays addressed an appreciate for Native American (Indians) and the controversial issue of race in Scouting (African Americans used to be banned from mixing with whites in Troops and they were forced to have separate Troops). What the Order of the Arrow is, was explained. My older son is a member; it is like a National Honor Society for Boy Scouts and Scouts must be elected into it by their peers.

Council Patch display:

Our former Connecticut Council path is in the center display, second row down, in the middle. We liked being able to find it in this huge display. After being involved with that Council for eight years with two sons which equalled eleven years of different Scouting experiences, it is still near and dear to all of our hearts.
What an Eagle Scout is was explained in a way that was impressive. I could imagine the goal being to entice younger Scouts to respect the rank and to desire to one day become an Eagle Scout.

My sons were aged 14 and 11 at the time of this visit. I'm glad we took the time for this visit.

If you attended the Boy Scout National Jamboree in 2010 and saw the museum there, to be honest, it seemed to have more information on a wider scope of historical documents than this museum did, with the exception of the fantastic art display of Rockwells.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Les Miserables Movie

In January we finally went to see Les Miserables (2012) in the movie theatre. Our whole family went. This was my kid's first time seeing it, but they'd heard the Broadway soundtrack years prior.

I was a Les Mis freak, having seen the show once while traveling and once on Broadway. I bought three of the audio CDs, London, New York, then the complete musical. Later I bought the VHS video of the anniversary show and the audio CD for that. I have the whole musical memorized, every single word. I used to blast it in the car while commuting to work and college and played it when my kids were young when I got sick of Raffi.

I enjoyed the movie and it seemed more gritty and real since the visuals were so realistic and more in-depth than the fairly simple stage production could have ever showed. However, I felt the movie was a bit more removed emotionally than the stage production. Seeing the live actors and hearing them sing on stage was more real and emotional to me, the sad scenes more gut wrenching and tear producing, and the group scenes were more powerful and bold. Therefore the movie was odd to me, a strange combination of superior visuals with richer sights yet a bit less emotional than the musical. Don't get me wrong, I loved the movie, and rate it five stars. I wish there were more fantastic movies and stories like this for Americans young and old to see.

But I left the movie craving a chance to see the musical live again, and hoping that I could share that with my kids, hopefully soon. It's too bad that I didn't realize the show was in production again and was traveling and was right here in Houston in mid-November 2012. I need to get hooked into the theatre scene so I at least know what shows are coming next.

I have never read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and should. I just got the e-book but see it's over 1000 pages so that is daunting given the fact that I'm busy reading other books for homeschooling, and am gardening again and have a knitting project on the needles...