Monday, December 31, 2007

City of Ember: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Genre: Fiction, Juvenile Fiction ages 9-12

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Why I read this book: A homeschool/public school/private school mom friend of mine highly recommended this book as a read aloud suitable for ages seven through teens. However our taste in children’s literature is quite different so I didn’t know if I should take her word that the book was fantastic.

Based on the praise of the book I attended two lectures of the author at the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature held in October 2007. I really enjoyed heating what the author had to say and decided I should read the book. I read the book to myself and was going to then decide if this was a book for a read-aloud or if I’d have my ten year old read this as part of his reading practice.

The best part about this book was that as soon as the story began I felt immersed in the story. I wanted to know what was going to happen next and the book kept me awake at night as I read long after everyone else in the house was asleep. Also the way the book was written, I felt like I was inside the story and living it along with the characters. I was rooting them on and wishing them the best in their journey.

The book is set in a world in which after destruction of the environment, a safe haven, temporary shelter was made underground for some humans to go inhabit until the world was safe to emerge and to resume living on the surface.

Without giving too much of the story away I will share that the resources underground are depleting and the quality of life is getting pretty poor. A girl and a boy seek a way to get out.

The book is suspenseful in a good way. The pair are uncovering clues and trying to put the pieces together to figure out if there is a world outside what they know and if so, how they might be able to get out.

I was wondering if the book was going to be about how humans are wrecking the Earth and using the book as a bit of propaganda to try to scare children into becoming better stewards of the Earth than some people have been. That was not the case.

After this book was published, a sequel was published called The People of Sparks. The third book in the series is a prequel titled The Prophet of Yonwood. The author told us at the Festival that the fourth and last book will be released in mid-2008 and will feature the original two characters that were in “City of Ember”.

I felt this was a good story to read and I’d give it 3 stars or 3.5 out of 5. It is what I’d call a good book of fiction that fits the bill as being ‘escape reading’. It is not stellar literature (which would be a rating of a 5, which is what I’d put the Chronicles of Narnia into). I didn’t feel there were major lessons to be learned or that the book was ‘lifting children’s hearts up” and that is why I didn’t give it a 4 star rating.

I am sure that many girls and boys would love this story. If this story gets kids reading then that is a great thing and a wonderful reason for a children’s book to exist.

I know my ten year old son will love this story. I think I’ll have him read it to himself.

I now also own the second and third books in the series and plan to read those in the near future to see how the whole story pans out. I have no clue what others are saying about these books as frankly I’ve not spent time reading book reviews and critiques.

I will say that at the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature I heard many compliments and praises being given by school teachers and children’s librarians telling of how much the children they work with have enjoyed and loved DuPrau’s books.

Lastly I will say that there were no issues in the book that I feel are inappropriate for children (unlike so many other books which are filled with what in my opinion is overly mature themes.

The only thing that is a good talking point for some families is how the group of people who believe that a world other than the one they live in exists are called The Believers who act in some ways that today’s Christians behave in relation to practicing their religious beliefs (singing praise, praying, gathering in groups of like-minded people to discuss their beliefs). In the book these people are laughed at a bit but in the end they are right so who is the joke on then?

Book Two

Book Three (a prequel)

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A Must Read

This is an example of why I love the writings at Mental Multivitamin.

Please go read it.

A lifetime of excellence

I love that post!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Short Conversation With a College Professor About Homeschooling

While getting ice cream at a little roadside shop two days after Christmas, in Kittery, Maine, a woman asked my son ten year old if he was out on school vacation.

My son hesitated. Lately he is a bit more shy about questions from strangers about schooling and school attendance. He used to proudly proclaim his homeschooling status.

I nudged my son and told him to answer her.

He said that he was homeschooled so he didn't have school vacation.

The woman then said, "Well even if you homeschool you must get days off".

My son and I smiled and said yes he was having a break from homeschooling.

The woman then said she was a college professor and that she has had several homeschooled children as college students. She said that she felt that homeschooling was a good way to get an education.

I asked if they 'turned out alright'.

She laughed and said yes, they are very prepared. She said she has been very impressed with her formerly homeschooled students. She said they also do very well on standardized tests and have no problem keeping up with the college work and testing process in the college courses.

She then asked how long we've been homeschooling and if I do the teaching. I answered that and then added that we actually live in Connecticut and that down there homeschooling seems to be growing.

It was nice to have a positive conversation about homeschooling with a stranger. It was nice also to hear these positive words from a college professor.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books December 29, 2007 Edition

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books December 29, 2007 Edition has been published today.

Consider submitting your own blog post!

Currently Reading: Art & Fear

I have heard this book recommended and quoted all over the place: Art & Fear by David Bales and Ted Orland.

I finally own a copy. I got it through

I began reading it a few days ago. I absolutely LOVE IT. Since so much of the book concentrates on the process of making art and the challenges and emotions with the process itself, I am really connecting with what the authors have to say.

I am reading this with a pencil in hand. I'm highlighting different passages that speak to me and marking notes in the borders. I don't do that with all books but when I feel the need to do it, for me that means the book is very good.

The book is easy to read and enjoyable. I'm half way through the 120 pages or so and figure I'll finish it in the next 2-3 days.

I can't recommend this book highly enough!

Update: I should have also mentioned that this book is often required reading in art classes at college for art students. So this book is well known in the artists' world and it is a well respected book.

Friday, December 28, 2007

This Makes American Public Schools (or Americans In General) Look Bad

Okay I know this is not 'brand new news'. It is the first time I've had a chance to blog this though!

On YouTube I found this comment written by a resident of Europe (spellings and grammar were kept intact).

"Kellie Pickler thinks Europe is a country. Budapest? Hungary? She's never heard of these.

I wonder what she thinks about the whereabout of Germany, Italy, Spain, Luxemburg, Holland, Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria etc.

The peak of american education. She propably wouldn't be able to pass the 3rd grade here.

Moreover: there's an extra voice in the word Hun-ga-ry (hung'guh ree) contrary to hun-gry (hung'gree).
Learn that!"

All I can say is this is something like the third thing that made me think, "As a homeschooling mother I had better ramp up our study of geography lest I raise a geography-ignorant child".

Actually before I could do anything intentional the kids got out the talking globe and starting playing with the 'find a continent' and 'find a country' games. That will suffice for this week.

On next week's agenda is to revisit how we're studying geography and kick it up a notch, as Emeril would say.

I do love Kellie Pickler but this was painful to watch. My children and I voted for her when she was on American Idol and I am glad she is having success with her published music. But this video killed me, to be honest.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Finished Reading: Crazy For God by Frank Schaeffer

I have finished reading the memoir: “Crazy For God. How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back” by Frank Schaeffer.

Between decompressing from the Christmas holiday and processing the contents of the book I don’t feel I can write a book review on it right now. I feel a bit like I’ve been taken on a journey by reading this book. I don’t quite know what to say about this book other than I enjoyed reading it and could not put it down. I squeezed reading it into every opportunity I had in the midst of Christmas prep and in the course of having three different minor illnesses in the last 16 days.

I did want to share that I enjoyed the book very much. I feel that Schaeffer is an excellent storyteller. I enjoyed his writing. I felt the book was interesting and well-written. I didn’t find any of the 400 pages boring or dry.

Taking many years of living and condensing it or being able to tell a great story that illustrates and summarizes so much into tidy chapters is truly an art. I wish I had this talent. It would be a gift to my children to be able to tell stories like this to share my perspectives and experiences.

And I admire Frank Schaeffer’s honesty.

I would give this book five stars!

I then picked up a book I own which I’d not yet read, “L’Abri” by Edith Schaeffer. I started to read it but felt that compared to what I was reading in Frank’s book, Edith’s book seemed to me to be overly romanticized and quite possibly flat out propaganda. I couldn’t take reading it and shelved it for now. I don’t know if the too-sweet tone of the book bothered me or the worry that it was maybe less than honest or inaccurate was the problem.

I’ll leave my comments at that!

The author's legal name is Francis Schaeffer and he is the son of the famous Christian writer Francis Schaeffer. This book was written under the name of Frank Schaeffer which is the name his uses now most commonly. He had formerly used the name Frankie Shaeffer in some of his documentaries.


Official website of Frank Schaeffer

Article on why Frank Schaeffer wrote this book

Listen to a recording of an interview with Frank Schaeffer

Long article published in The Nation about Frank Schaeffer and Crazy For God

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 104 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 104 was published today at Po Moyemu – In My Opinion.

There are about 20 entries in this blog carnival.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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What I Write and Blog About and Why

I’ve been writing some heavier stuff in the last two weeks most of which has not ended up being published on my blog.

In this busy holiday season when I’ve had more to do than usual, and when I’ve had to do things that I didn’t always feel like doing (like housecleaning and cleaning the kitchen for the umpteenth time due to extra baking and cooking going on), I have been thinking about my time on the computer.

I’ve been thinking about time spent reading emails, time reading blogs, and time writing emails or time writing blog posts. I’ve been thinking about what I actually do when I’m sitting in front of this screen and the answer is I do a whole lot of different things. Some things I do out of necessity. Other things are more convenient and time-saving on the Internet or computer than by doing them in other ways (i.e. looking up a phone number, finding a recipe). Nearly all of my volunteer work requires a certain amount of prep time which is spent at the computer. I also make homeschooling plans and arrange for outside classes or playdates for my children while sitting here.

When I am feeling passionate about a topic or am thinking about something a lot, I have a need to write about it and to get it out of my brain. Some of those pieces of writing I choose to share by publishing them into blog posts.

I do write much more than I blog about. Sometimes I have rough drafts of some thoughts and I don’t take the time or just don’t have the time to re-work those into finished blog posts. Other times by the time I re-read them I am not as passionate about them and have a feeling that others would not care to read that stuff if I did publish it in a blog post. Or I have lost the passion about the topic and then choose to not spend time editing it yet I realize to be more readable it really needs editing.

Sometimes I publish blog pieces because I’ve learned something new or tried a recipe that is delicious and I want to share it with others who might just be looking to do that same thing. In fact many of my blog readers find me through It is the most popular Internet search engine that drives readers to my blog, it probably is search engine that my blog readers us 99% of the time! (If you want to see this, click on my Site Meter icon then click on “referrals” in the left sidebar and you can see how my blog readers came to find my blog posts.)

I have high hit counts on certain blog posts which have nothing to do with parenting or homeschooling which are the two main focuses of my blog. Go figure. Well if someone found those blog posts helpful then that post served its purpose. Actually seeing that some of these blog posts are so popular reinforces to me that it is good and right to blog what I am passionate about even if my regular blog readers who may be mainly more interested in reading about homeschooling have zero interest in that topic!

When I am busy doing stuff, such as all the holiday prep, I don’t always feel a need to actually write about it even for my own purposes let alone to blog it. This is why this Christmas season I have not really published much about what our family did to prepare for Christmas. For example we had a big outing to go buy a Christmas tree at a Christmas tree farm. I even have some lovely photos of that afternoon. However I was never moved to write about it let alone publish a blog post on it.

Regarding the ordinary events in my life, I also wonder if anyone really cares to hear of it as it was a fun yet ordinary experience. If it had no funny story, no cute story, nothing odd or entertaining happened. It was just a very nice family experience that happens to be our annual tradition and so it happened and we enjoyed it yet my blog readers (until now) were not let in on that experience of mine. And I was too busy to sit and write that out anyway, back when those things happened.

Unlike the ‘passionate topics’ which beg (demand) to be written about, the things like that are conscious decisions to write about on my part, I guess it is right brain vs. left brain. And right brain decisions to write are not always a good way for me to spend my time. Writing that comes from the left brain is better writing, for me.

I also didn’t feel that just because it was the Chrsitmas season that I should spent time blogging on Christmas celebration topics. It seems like so many other bloggers spent the month of December blogging on Christmas prep, I am sure if you needed that fix you could have easily found it elsewhere. And anyway doesn’t everyone feel busy and filled up enough with their own Christmas prep or whatever winter timed holiday you celebrate to want to sit and read about what I did?

In fact my almost total lack of discussing Christmas this year was one thing that got me thinking about what I write, what of that I blog and why.

The last thing I will share about my blogging vs. my writing is that lately I’ve been writing some deeper stuff. What you have not read on my blog has crossed various lines that I then decided I’d not publish into blog entries. I do have certain boundaries and limits on myself and my blogging. They are:

Revealing too much personal information about me, my husband, my children (some things should be kept more private)

Revealing too much about a relative or friend (I’d not want them to read it, they may be mad that I published it or maybe they’d be mad that I thought what I did about that topic, or maybe it would even start a fight or maybe I’d lose some friends!)

Revealing information about other people that is inappropriate (issues with children I work with in my volunteer positions I usually never blog about except in very distant or general terms)

Deeper, personal topics which I have rough drafts on which are too hard to edit into something that is a better piece of writing, sometimes because the topic is too emotional or deep for me to even ponder further in order to be able to write about it better. Sometimes more thinking is required than I am willing to do. Some things are draining enough to live with and I just don’t have it in me to focus and analyze them more in order to be able to edit that blog post to something more readable.

In case you wonder what these big topics could be they are: helping a relative that is dying, emotions regarding watching elderly relatives fade away in the dying process, thoughts about nursing homes, medical ethics, problems with American health care delivery, problems with the health care insurance industry yet the worse stuff that may happen if we have socialized medicine in America. Others are frustrations with relatives on various issues, does true educational neglect really happen in the homeschooling community, inconsistencies or problems with Christianity, long-term unemployment, underemployment, and when The American Dream doesn’t work out even when all the right things are done to make it happen.

Some pieces that might be interesting to readers which really need more work to be better written but I later lose interest in the topic and drop it. Sometimes I don’t have the time to finish editing, or I consciously choose to not spend my time re-writing those pieces. In those cases I am glad I used the writing process to hammer out some of my thoughts yet I just don’t have the time or energy to spend polishing the piece into something that I’d call finished.

Topics which are too controversial which to try to write about clearly and concisely take too much effort are sometimes avoided altogether. I probably should write some of these out as maybe someday my kids would like to hear my thoughts on these topics.

This issue is also affected by being too worried about what my blog reader will think, specificially, I want what I write to be clear and to not be mistaken or misinterpreted. I cannot stand it when I hold a certain opinion and write it and I feel I am very clear but later someone reads it yet they read it quickly or skim it and then they take away from it that I said Y when I said X and then they are angry or thinking I hold some opinion which I most certainly do not hold. (On email this has happened a few times in my life but each time it becomes clear somewhere along the line that the person never read my entire piece or they say I said the opposite of something I very clearly had stated.)

So sometimes it is just easier and time-saving to choose not to blog on a certain topic than to try to write about it well.

Blogging is a hobby not a profession for me so there sometimes comes a point when it is just not worth spending time on finishing and publishing some blog posts. I can only spend so much time blogging and writing. I have a whole life to live here and responsibilities to fulfill which don’t involve me writing or blogging!

Some days I wonder how great it would be if I were all alone and I could be free in my schedule to just write and write. And how fantastic would it be if that writing actually made me income enough to allow me to have the freedom to spend so much time writing? And if my writing was published in something that had a price tag on it (like a book), how great would it be to know (by sales of my writing) that people actually are interested enough to pay to read what I had to say? However I have a feeling that I would not only be lonely or bored with just that as my main way to spend time but I’d lack inspiration. My inspiration to write comes from real things that I do in my life so if I do less the pool of ideas, inspiration and passion would dwindle! The living is the primary thing in my life and the writing is secondary.

And all of this stuff is evidence that life is complex and that I am a busy, whole person who only shares glimpses and slices of my life with my blog readers. It just is not possible through a blog to get a complete and total picture of a person. So those of you who know me personally and read my blog may feel that I’m keeping a lot about me and my family off my blog, and you are right.

And those of you who only know me through my blog may think you know me may not really know much about me to form a full picture. (One blog reader expressed disappointment in my appearance when I finally put my photo on my blog as she imagined I had long flowing, straight dark brown hair. In that photo my hair was shoulder length and she said I had ‘short’ hair. Sorry!)

However those of you who read my blog regularly and read long posts through to the end probably know more about my thoughts and emotions and what I think than many of my relatives know. You may also know me more deeply than even some of my closest friends know. Maybe the very things you like about my writing and me are the things that my relatives and friends don’t know a single thing about.

And how odd is that?

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have a lovely day.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some Think a Homeschooling Mother Should Not Help With Public Education

Despite having spent seven years on the state school board, now that Kristin MaGuire has been selected to chair the state school board in South Carolina, she is under fire.

Some are complaining that because she homeschools her own children she should nto be in charge of anything to do or say about public education!

Here are some articles:

Misplaced fire at new school head
Friday, December 21, 2007

Then an op-ed piece takes it a step further asking why even bother to have a state school board?

Why do we even have a state board?
December 21, 2007

And in case you’re wondering what her stance on the various issues is, and what her goals are, you can read her articulate responses to questions in this December 14 article.

Maguire explains her goals
She will 'focus on improving public education' in S.C.
December 14, 2007

It bothers me that some people feel that someone who uses educational methods other than public school would not have the best interest of the public schooled students in mind. If this were the case in general then how would one explain the politicians who make decisions about public education yet send their own children to private schools?

A fresh perspective and experience dealing with education outside of public school is a good thing when trying to improve or to fix what is broken in the system!

(I found these stories through the Google News Alert for keyword 'homeschooling'.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Contest Answers: Getting To Know You: The 12 Blogs of Christmas

I answered these questions as part of joining a blog contest called "Getting To Know You--The 12 Blogs of Christmas" which is being sponsored by Just Some Stuff. You can read more about this contest in this blog entry. The contest closes on 12/21/07.

Getting To Know You Questions and Answers

1. How many children do you have / homeschool?

I have two children, both boys, one is seven and the other is ten years old.

2. How long have you been homeschooling?

We homeschooled ‘from birth’, you could say.

3. Have they always been homeschooled, or did they ever go to public/private school?

Always were homeschooled. They didn’t go to preschool or daycare either.

4. Do you plan on homeschooling until graduation?

I am open to this if it is right for each of my children and me.

5. Do you belong to a co-op?

No, not right now.

Presently, we do some organized classes run by homeschooling parents sometimes and other times my husband or I runs classes (for no pay) for homeschoolers. Technically those are not co-op's.

This fall I did put my name on a waiting list for a co-op that sounds like it may be a good fit for our family.

6. Do you school all year long, or use some other schedule?

We take summers off plus take breaks throughout the year that are not necessarily the same as the public school system.

7. Do you use textbooks only, or do you like to supplement with other materials?

We don’t use textbooks. We use a math curriculum. We use some different curriculums by subject. We use many “living books” (real books) to learn about subjects. I design our own curriculum.

I am influenced by the classical method and Charlotte Mason's methods. I put together our own curriculum. I guess that means I'm eclectic plus classical plus Charlotte Mason??

8. Are field trips included in your school plans, or are they just family time?

Sometimes the field trips line up perfectly with our studies.

To be honest we take the opportunity to do things as they come up (if we are out of state we’ll do things that are available there even if they are not in alignment with our studies right now).

Most of our field trips are done just with our family because I find that when we go with another family or worse, large groups, my children spend more time socializing and less time being interested in the great stuff they should be paying attention to while at that special place! So if we go as a group I lower my expectations for what they'll learn! And I try to do the important field trips just with our family for that reason as I don't want to waste our time or money on big group field trips which they will not get much out of.

Also we do group field trips with Cub Scouts when they are required to achieve their rank.

9. Do you and your kids do crafty stuff together for school time?

No my boys now ask that we not do crafts related to the studies, such as craft projects related to a history topic. We do arts and crafts not related to our studies.

We do a good amount of art exploring and creating but I never say it is a lesson. It is self-designed not following an art curriculum.

10. Would you consider everyday household life stuff ‘home ec’?

I guess so. Well I consider stuff like learning to cook where my sons are doing most of the work and I am teaching them to be ‘home ec’. The things they are learning that I would ‘count’ are actually things that kids their age are usually not doing or learning and it seems to me they would legitimately ‘count’ toward ‘homeschooling lessons’.

11. Do you have any advice for new homeschoolers?

I would tell new homeschoolers to really know why you are beginning to homeschool. Knowing why and reminding yourself of it will help you when and if you doubt your decision and it will help you answer questions that people ask. Second learn some basic information about methods and options by reading books or websites. Third make sure to form local connections in your homeschooling network rather than homeschool in total isolation or to only have cyber-friends. Real face to face friends are important for the homeschooling mothers. Your children also should know some homeschoolers so they do not feel like they are the only children who are homeschooling (so they don’t feel like outcasts in society). Lastly ask for information and encouragement whenever you need it, whether it is from local homeschool support groups, a support group leader or cyber-friends on homeschool discussion groups.

12. Do you have advice for homeschoolers with little ones under foot?

Remember that your littlest children do need you and become familiar with the developmental stages for their age. Please do not think a little baby or toddler is evil or ‘bad’ for being a normal child of that age just because they do something that is inconvenient for you. All the children in your family deserve to be parented well. Please do not focus only on the oldest child in the family and center everything around the education of the oldest one. Don’t neglect the younger child(ren) when trying to give your older child(ren) a great homeschooling experience. The older child(ren) should not be made to feel superior to the younger child(ren). Everyone should feel as they are part of a team and they should know that everyone in the family is important. The older child(ren) and the homeschooling parent should be flexible and find creative solutions to ‘get it all done’.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Parenting Worries About the Teen Years

As I write this my oldest child is ten.

As a new parent I dreamed that our home would be the place where all the neighborhood kids or my kids’ friends would want to hang out. I wanted to be the mom that everyone liked and wished was their mom. I wanted all the kids to like coming to my home and wanted them to feel comfortable here. I hoped too that we’d have some neighbors that we were close to, that we liked and so on, and that the kids would drift from one house to the other to hang out.

Due to a bad thing that happened to me when I was 14 I would not have the home that let’s the young teens drink alcohol, have big parties, smoke cigarettes, smoke pot or use illegal drugs like popping pills. I want to make that clear. I won’t be ‘that type of parent’.

Now that my oldest son is 10 and we are homeschooling this is all a little different than I first imagined that parenthood would be. Due to the nature of this lifestyle we parents have a bit more control over who our children socialize with and which kids we choose to spend more time with and which we intentionally stay away from. With that said some of my children’s closest friends attend public or private school! We are not living in a little isolated bubble and networking socially with only homeschoolers. In fact the homeschoolers are actually busier than the schooled kids sometimes, so getting together with them is not so easy.

A few years ago a center was built in my little town that originally was supposed to be a place for the teens to hang out and be safe to socialize in. In reality it is more like a community center for the entire community (all ages) but they do have a teen area and teen nights.

Things are not as perfect, I don’t think, as the original elderly couple who thought up this idea and benefacted something like a million dollars to help build. One way the center makes money is off of after-school care for children living in dual income families.

I heard some pretty bad stories two years ago about the middle school students. Apparently in the after-school program the kids were going to the woods to smoke cigarettes, to smoke pot and/or to drink alcohol. Others were said to be having various forms of sex in the woods. They would then come back into the center where the care was supervised. This was finally addressed and the rule was made that once someone leaves the door they cannot come back in. I don’t know how this is working out or how they can prevent middle school aged children from leaving the building and just going outside to hang out until the parents show up after they are out of work.

My friend said she didn’t even like going there for the arts and sports classes after school as the middle school kids were cursing so much right at the doors and it was offensive to her. She didn’t want her young children learning new swear words from those kids.

Needless to say I have been thinking, “What kind of socialization will my kids have in their teen years?”

A couple of weeks ago, two families (whose kids are in the public middle school here) were telling me the big thing to do in town is for kids to hang out in a finished basement or in a bonus room of a family’s house. They sit on big couches and watch movies together. However they are drinking vodka in their water bottles, unbeknownst to some parents. Oops. Not so good, eh?

One parent said she is thinking of renovating a room in her house as she wants the kids in HER house for those gathering and she plans to not allow any alcohol drinking. She did also say that now that her daughter is in sixth grade that she is worrying already about making sure her daughter is hanging around with ‘the right’ kids.

More than one article has appeared in our town newspaper in which the police urge parents to not sponsor parties where alcohol is served. As a matter of fact the parents can now get arrested for allowing underage drinking to go on in their house.

My friend said at a PTA sponsored talk about children and drugs and alcohol a psychologist said that a family in town went so far as to grow their own pot for their teen to use. “They said they wanted their children to have a clean source.” The psychologist was not supporting that type of behavior. It was an example of the way some parents look at what their teens are doing and how they feel that using drugs or alcohol is not a problem.

I have no clue if our house will be the house that the kids want to hang out in. What I do know is that for now I am very happy that both of my children are very interested in Cub Scouts and looking forward to being in Boy Scouts. I would be overjoyed if they both spent at least one weekend a month camping with the Boy Scouts instead of partying in other teens’ basements. Go ahead; say my kids will be nerds. You know what? Having nerd or geek kids is actually sounding better than having my kids getting drunk or high with their friends on weekends.

I don’t think that the fact that we homeschool will be enough of a reason that my kids will not encounter any of this typical teen stuff. I can’t imagine how they could avoid all of it unless I carve out some tiny niche of ‘good kids’ for them to hang around with. I have doubts that it would work out entirely that way because the major problem right now even, is that all the kids are so busy with all of their different activities, sports and such and it is hard to just get them together in the first place.

Sometimes I think that parenting is difficult, at the stage we’re in right now. However when I think of the upcoming teen years I actually get a bit nervous and I think things will be even harder then.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Five Nights Until Christmas Eve?

Wow this is really coming up fast!

I can’t believe that in five nights we’ll be in full swing with the Christmas Eve celebrations at our home.

Due to being down to the wire, I spent the morning making Christmas cookies. Some of these are for gifts for friends and relatives. The children and I made:

Sugar cookies, 2 batches of dough (need to finish tomorrow)
Thumbprint Cookies with jam
Pignoli Cookies, 2 batches
Anginette’s (need to do the frosting tomorrow)

I also took the kids to a birthday party.

I did some shopping for gifts on behalf of my mother-in-law, at two stores (alone). I tanked up on gas. The kids and I went to the grocery store to buy candy to make the gingerbread house with.

Tomorrow morning I’ll hopefully make the gingerbread house pieces (bake them off). I will hopefully frost the Anginette’s and set them to harden up a bit. And I am going to try to make some sugar cookies (the kids want to do the cutting and the decorating).

A schooled boy is coming over for a playdate (they are having a half-day.) Then he and my kids and I will be off to a Christmas party for some homeschooling families. Then home for an easy dinner then off to Youth Group at church (I volunteer there) for their Christmas party. The friend is coming as a guest. And now my husband is going to a wake so I'll take my younger son along to Youth Group as well. Then I'll drop that boy off on my way home. I should roll in at about 9:15 p.m.

I guess that last minute cleaning and tidying up the house will be crammed into this weekend? The major work will be to clean up after all this Christmas cooking and baking work and do a big cleaning to make everything shine and sparkle. I hate being criticized or feeling judged regarding my home by my husband's family. I try to not give them anything they could possibly pick on. We will have 18 guests for Christmas Eve dinner this year!

And right now I’m off to fold five loads of laundry.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 103 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 103 was published today at The Common Room and is titled “The Abecedarian Version”.

There are about 40 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, too). I have an entry in this weeks carnival, too.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this weekly blog Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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It Is True, the Key to Learning Is Held by the Learner

Here is a wonderful post in which a blogger named Willa quotes different authors who lived at all different times, who were all saying the same basic thing.

The Teacher Is Like A Midwife

One quote is from Charlotte Mason, who influences the home education philosophy of both Willa and I. These quotes are also very much in line with the unschooling philosophy if you read them carefully.

In my role as a Cub Scout Leader and being the observer of other formal classes taught to children, I know that teachers can have a goal, work hard on their lesson planning, present the information to the children (even in a stimulating and exciting way) yet the actual learning and the retention of the information lies in the mind of the child. No one, not a teacher, not a parent, nor any other external being can force a child to learn something or to master a skill. It is all up to the child. Period.

I am not saying that a teacher or a parent in charge of their own child’s education should neglect the child or not teach them things. I am not saying that goals should not exist. I am not saying that a child should not take a class nor do a lesson in a certain topic area. I am not saying to ‘do nothing’. The adults in the child’s life should provide a meaningful and enriching home atmosphere and access to good experiences and exposure to a variety of things, at least some of which should be of high quality (music, art, literature). But how the child reacts to it, what they understand, what they retain over the long term, and how it impresses itself on their minds is all within the control of the child (whether we as a society like to admit this or not).

I think school teachers on the one hand take too much credit for what children know when the students are learning, yet on the other hand the ones I know very easily can say the learner holds the key, when the learner is not learning. How convenient. Actually maybe both things are true. Children who are forced to go to school are at the mercy of the teacher and to what extend the teacher (or ‘the system’) does ‘well’ or provides an interesting or effective experience for the children does very much affect what the schooled child will take away from their schooling experience. Yet it is very true that even with the best teaching and the best materials, if the student doesn’t pay attention, do the work, or whatever else they need to do, then they will not learn, and how could you blame the teacher for that situation?

Schools and governments who try to force learning, at the very core, do have a child’s best interest in mind (I still try to tell myself) but the reality is that no matter what is done in the name of giving a child an education, it is the child who is in control. This is why even when different books (reading textbooks vs. ‘real’ children’s books), different curriculum (math vs. new math vs. new-new math), different teachers, different ‘learning experiences’ (individual vs. group activity learning), different teaching methods (being lectured vs. ‘self-discovery’), newer school buildings, more technology (computers in the classroom), and different student to teacher ratios (more and more teacher’s aides too) really don’t impact learning. Oh, and revised educational goals and standards, NCLB and standardized tests to measure learning don’t matter much either.

This is also why numerous attempts at ‘education reform’ have failed. A book I own from 1905 talks of the bad state of affairs in American public schools and how education reform is needed. I had not realized that things were so bad back then; I had assumed those were the ‘good old days’ with high-quality schools. Also I had thought my own public school education was decent but learned that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a huge education reform movement afoot brought on by teachers and school administrators themselves! I read in numerous books how what I had experienced was judged by some to be atrocious and in need of a huge overhaul!

All attempts at coerced learning will not result in all children learning. Period. Parents and taxpayers would like children to absorb 100% of what they learn in school but that is unrealistic. Getting an “A” in every subject, being an expert in every area is unrealistic (yet children are pushed toward that goal). Just as factory owners want as close to 100% efficiency as possible, adults in society want as close to 100% learning as a return on investment toward public schooling. The parents want their children to be smart, educated, and on a path toward success and financial independence when the child is an adult. Taxpayers want the highest and best education for the least amount of money. Teachers want the highest salary and best benefits for the least amount of work. In Connecticut the union allows them to work only five periods a day and that is probably why in my town the recess is overseen by two teacher’s aides. When I was in school our teachers, all of our teachers, watched over us while at recess. Public education is big business and sadly some of what goes on is directed not toward getting the learner to learn but about managing and growing the business that we call “public schooling”.

Children’s minds cannot be controlled and learning cannot be forced (coerced). It just boils down to that fact.

And I’m opting out of that system for my children. I want my children to learn and to experience life as well as to have time to just ‘be a kid’. So I choose to homeschool my children. I don’t want them to be part of a big machine, to be a cog in the wheel of the tangled mess that our public schools are in. And in our homeschool I teach and the children teach themselves and they learn and grow. Our family life encompasses a wide variety of experiences and that is the best I can do, and so far, it is working well for us.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Fattening of America: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It
Authors: Eric A. Finkelstein & Laurie Zuckerman
Publication: Wiley
Publication Date: January 2008
Format: Hardcover book
Full Retail Price: $26.95

My rating: 4 stars

Review Summary Statement: A Book for Thinkers and Analyzers; You Are Sure To Learn Something New or To Hear Reinforcment of What You Suspected

How I Came To Read This Book: This book was offered as an Amazon Vine program item. I chose to receive an Advanced Reading Copy with the intention of reading it and reviewing it for Amazon Vine. I received no pay for doing that but get to keep the ARC (and I am bound to not resell it).

I was curious about what an economist would say about obesity in America and what the authors had to say about the economy helping to make us fatter.

I liked this book very much because this is a book for THINKERS. I’m a thinker, an analyzer. I’m a curious person who likes to take in information, as well then finding the truth and weeding out the falsehoods. I am interested in debunking myths and learning the truth or falsity of our assumptions.

Finkelstein and Zuckerman looked at many areas in our culture that affect our health and wellness. They relate these to how they may or may not really impact our nutrition, our general health and our weight. He discusses the trends and history of the weight in children, women and men and across various races and income levels. The main passion and concern of Finkelstein is the rising rate of childhood obesity yet the book covers a wide range of issues and influences in American’s lives.

I appreciated that the authors have done the research and have boiled it down for us, with references and sources cited, into understandable terms (something I have no time to do for myself). I also liked that they including letting us know when some studies were done poorly or where more research really needs to be done to get more solid findings in some areas. Another thing I appreciated was solid information about how our government sometimes does things because they look on the surface to be doing ‘the right thing for the right reasons’ even when they are told in advance that the action will not produce the intended result!

Finkelstein has done his research; this is not just a book of essays and opinions. There are 26 pages of references of studies and sources to back up what he says. Throughout the book, he presents assumptions then either affirms or debunks them using citations.

Finkelstein adds in personal stories to illustrate statistics and to lend a bit of ‘real life’ examples to what otherwise would be an analysis of dull statistics. I am surprised to see that some Vine reviewers did not like those realistic illustrating examples. If you are looking for only facts about studies removed from real life examples from our culture for laypeople perhaps you should read the professional journal articles published which are usually read by health care professionals and by some government workers. I myself have even more examples of real life situations which do impact who eats what and how much.

I feel that it is valuable to include some real examples rather than to only focus on abstract concepts. An example is that rather than just criticizing public schools for the poor quality lunches, Finkelstein tells a real story of a school board who wanted healthier foods. Yet when their food service company offered a more nutritious and fresh foods menu it was then rejected by the school board out of the desire to keep the food budget lower. So you can see that the original goal of increasing nutrition for the school children was in the end, not realized out of a direct and informed choice by the school board. This is also is important to know because that every day real people are making choices that are not always good, and it is not always the consumer who is the one who chooses. We can’t keep just saying, “If only the school board would look into a better menu”. The fact is some have and some chose to reject it. These decisions are all about choices…

One area which I felt was lacking was the female perspective (and I feel a bit let down by the fact that the book was co-authored by a woman, where was her voice?). Finkelstein gave plenty of opinions from the male/father point of view but I could share even more from the female/mother point of view (in addition the fact that I agreed with his real-life examples). For example one thing not addressed was the affect of hormones and menopause on women, how hormone levels and how they affect muscles and strength, and how they impact weight loss efforts and how hard it is to maintain muscle strength even while exercising vigorously, which begins once women hit their 30s. This is well-known by personal trainers who work with men and women as well as dieting and exercise book writers.

My book is underlined and has my thoughts jotted in the margins. For me it was a book that stimulated more thought and brought forward my own perspectives.

I learned some new things as well as seeing some of my personal theories and ideas proven by data in studies. Other topics that I knew a little about, I learned even more about. For me anytime that numerous new things are learned, or when myths are dispelled, that makes for a useful book, a book worthy of one’s time and energy.

Sometimes I did feel some areas were skimmed over or the blame placed too squarely on one party. To say that McDonald’s does its customers a service by printing nutritional information on the food wrapper is good is a bit overstating it. After all, we can’t read that wrapper until after we bought that burger and unwrapped it! A larger and more serious issue is that of health care insurance coverage in the USA. On page 135 in a discussion of a downside to employer-based health insurance, he says people change jobs so often that they end up changing health insurance plans which gives them short-term care with each health care plan. (He places all the blame on the employees/health care insurance members and leaves the discussion at that.) However why does he not mention the more common fact that even employees who continue working for the same company are often forced by their employers to switch health insurance companies, sometimes every single year! (This is due to the employers constantly trying to find cheaper health care plans to save themselves money.) In the past with me and my husband this has caused us to completely change our health care providers including our primary care physician, who the HMOs say is to be our one doctor who coordinates all of our care over the long term! Lastly we insured members have the hassle of dealing with doctors leaving our health care plans at will at any point that they want, sometimes right when we’re in the middle of receiving care from them, and at times when we are not allowed by our employers to switch coverage to another carrier. Another thing our family has had to do (at insurance renewal time) is to change health insurance companies in an attempt to stay with our PCP (sometimes at a greater personal out of pocket expense to us).

I also found the book to vary in its readability. In parts of Chapter Two specifically, and in some other parts of other chapters, the analysis of the statistics got a bit too dry and at some points the statistics bogged me down (despite me being a former health care professional who is pretty well versed and interested in the topic of health and wellness). Sometimes my interest waned or my mind wandered (but I forced myself through those parts.) At other parts the reading was easy and fast and/or more interesting.

Finkelstein addressed many areas in our culture. He looks at everything from reward snacks served at Little League games to how a shift to living in suburbs has ruined our ability to be have a ‘walking community’. And even in new communities designed for walking to encourage that lifestyle, he points out that some (many) of the residents use golf carts in lieu of walking or still drive the half mile to drop children at school is what is happening in real life.

In the end it comes down to what you and I already knew. There are many external factors that put us where we are today, what foods are sold in the stores, what foods are in the restaurants, and generally not living in a society that truly embraces eating healthy food and living an active lifestyle. In the end it is all up to us and we can rely only on ourselves. We are in direct control of the amount of physical activity and intentional exercise we partake in. We control what we eat and drink. It is up to us to take personal responsibility for our own bodies and we then live with our choices (good or bad), even if it seems that so many people, corporations, employers, and the government are doing negative things that steer us off the right course.

As I said, if you are a person who likes to think and ponder you will like this book. Even if all the content is not perfect or if you think it doesn’t go deeply enough in some areas the book will get you thinking.

If you are looking for yet another diet book or a book of what and how to eat for good health, this is not the book to read. And for the record, it never pretended to be that kind of a book anyway!

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Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books: December 15, 2007 Edition

Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books was published on December 15th. Please consider joining in this weekly posting of book reviews. All you need to do is read a book, or start reading one, make a blog post about it then post the link on the site on Saturday.

Make It From Scratch Carnival December 18, 2007 Edition Was Published

The weekly blog carnival called Make It From Scratch was published today. This blog carnival covers everything from sewing to crafts to cooking and baking.

Check it out!

Make It From Scratch #43

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hilarous Homeschool Family Video

A parody of “The Adams Family” television show theme song done by and about a homeschooling family: Our Homeschool Family.

I found it hilarious.

Don't get uptight if you feel this doesn't represent your family. Lighten up. Hey, even if your family is different maybe you can think about what lyrics and visuals you’d use to describe your family.

My favorite line is when they say they “never go to Hooters”. Ditto for our family, I have a rule against it!

Hat Tip: Cause of Our Joy

Suckered By Stuff

I’ve said it before and I’ll mention it again. Before each of my children’s birthdays and before Christmas I go through their toys and possessions to get rid of stuff, to make room for the new stuff.

And in the last few years I have tried to buy less and less stuff for my children for Christmas.

This year as I am sorting out stuff, getting rid of what is not being used, what was not liked, what was not worthy of their time, or what they have outgrown, I have a new thought.

I feel that our family has been suckered. I've been suckered. (And many in this country have been suckered.)

I feel like in the past I fell into the trap of consumerism, especially regarding stuff for my children: toys, books, and games. I am more practical and frugal about stuff I buy for myself.

There is a lure, that feeling that yes, “they” might be right. Maybe that game is really fun. Maybe that game is educational. Maybe that toy would be fantastic to play with. The want sometimes turns into a feeling of being a need.

The reality is that we only have so much time in our lives to do so many things. If we already own great stuff, we don’t need yet more of it. If we own books or have access to books, and if we know we want to read certain things but haven’t taken the time, why bother to buy more to add to out ‘to be read’ pile?

If we have not played with those board games yet (or much) do we need a new board game? I know. Some of you are thinking, "Here she goes again, she's saying all this again." In the past my focus of this issue was on homeschooling curriculum, books and products that we use to educate our children with. Today I'm ranting about more general kid-stuff.

That toy that looked fun, well, it broke right away. That other toy was of a poor design. That other item said it would do a certain thing but it didn’t perform as the manufacturer stated it would. In fact, I'll make a little list here of some things that have been going through my head as I've gone through yet more toys.

That toy was stupid.
That toy had limited playing ‘power’.
That toy was boring.
That toy broke right away.
That toy can’t work if one little thing on it is broken (and it takes up space).
That toy’s battery pack lasts mere minutes and makes it ‘not worth bothering with’.
That toy had a great commercial but it wasn’t fun to play with after all.
That toy seemed like fun but was not.
That toy was a fad back then but the kids never did like it.
That toy was expensive and didn’t get enough play out of it for that money.
That toy was too fragile and broke even when handled with care.
That toy is a waste of our space.

And that toy it seems is always being picked up or organized or moved around yet never played with.

As I go through this stuff to assess it and to decide what to get rid of, I realize we have too much, too much stuff.

And I remind myself yet again that this year we’re not doing a 1:1 replacement.

This is going to be the skimpiest year for ‘new stuff’ at Christmas for my children.

And that is okay because our lives are full and abundant already. The truth is we are not getting full use out of everything we already own.

And the bottom line is that what our children want most is the attention and nurturing of their parents. They like playing games with us, even if it is the same few favorite family games over and over. And I enjoy spending time with my children and to do that I don’t need a zillion toys and games to keep us busy.

There is something very fulfilling about realizing I’d fallen into an over-consumption trap. I don’t feel angry about my mistakes or my errors in judgment in the past. I now
know that I had fallen for the ploy and lure of feeling we ‘need’ all that stuff.

It is true we have a tight budget, but that budget is not the main reason why I’m making the decision to buy less this year. It is true that if our budget was unlimited I’d probably be buying a lot of stuff just for the ‘fun of it’, just because we could. Why not? What would it hurt to over-spend if we had the money?

Now that I realize I’ve been wrong, I’m actually happy. I don’t feel constricted or restricted. I don’t feel like we’re missing out on anything even though we are not buying all the latest trends and fads. I don’t care that those trends and fads are because we don’t need them. And we are doing fine without most of them.

I feel light and airy. I feel free.

What a great feeling!

Note: I feel the need to underscore that my opinions and feelings are based on internal thoughts I have. These thoughts and decisions are mine and mine alone. My choice to spend less this year and to consume less is not at all influenced by various media or organizations who are pushing the ‘consume less’ this holiday season ‘thing’. I have not been influenced by guilt or any type of persuasion by outside forces.

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A Conversation With My Younger Son About Him Believing in Santa

The other day while rushing to get out the door to choir practice on time when I was alone with my younger son:

Younger son (age 7): Mom, do you think it is possible for Santa to get to ALL the houses in one night?

Me: What do you think?

It seems hard. How can he do it?

Me: I think he uses magic. What do you think?

YS: Yes, I think he has special powers that only Santa has.

(Now getting into the car…)

Me: Why do you ask?

YS: Well there is this rumor going around that Santa doesn’t bring the presents, that the parents buy all the gifts.

Me: A rumor? Where did you hear that?

At church. A boy told me that.

(Now driving to church…)

Me: So do you believe it is the parents or that it is Santa:

YS: I believe it is Santa.

Me: Well, you know what they say, “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.”

YS: Oh, I like that. It rhymes.

You know some people don’t believe in God. Well some people don’t believe in Santa Claus just like others don’t believe in God. But what you believe and what I believe is what is important to us and our family.

YS: Yes and I believe in Santa.

Me: I believe in Santa, too. And that boy who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus doesn’t get gifts from Santa Claus, but he gets gifts from his parents. You get some gifts from me and Daddy and you get some from Santa Claus. And Santa stops bringing gifts to kids sometimes when they are teenagers. Adults don’t get gifts from Santa. So really Santa just goes to some kids houses, to those houses where people believe in him.

Oh. I think Santa uses his magic to get to all the houses where the kids believe in him.

I think that too.

YS: Can you turn on the country music now?

Me: Okay.

Thoughts on This Issue

So I think I have covered that topic for this year. Since my younger son clearly still does believe in Santa Claus and wants to believe, I am letting the fun continue.

My friend told me that recently her ten year old confronted her in this same way and she handled it first by brushing it off then later came out and just told her the truth. The girl was crushed and said, “Mom, I wanted to believe and you ruined it.” My friend said after she realized she should have said, “What do you think about it, what do you believe?”. So with that story fresh in my mind, I chose to handle this situation in the way that I did.

Some of my Christian friends and other parishioners of the church I attend think that telling a child about Santa is a lie and is a bad thing to do to one’s children. Some don’t allow any elements of magic in their home, everything from children’s stories with fairies to the Tooth Fairy to the Easter Bunny.

Some that I know who are other religions or atheists feel the same way. Ironically FINISH Some have confronted me about our decision to ‘allow’ Santa in our family.

The fun of Christmas and the belief in Santa Claus is a wonderful memory I have from my own childhood. I want my children to have that very good experience as well. My husband feels the same exact way.

There are many unpleasant and serious issues that my children do face now and that they will have to face in their lives in the future. Their innocence in other matters has already been corrupted by our sick society; they know some nasty things at their young ages that I never knew about until I was in my teen years, things like the fact that there are child sex molesters in this world and what they have to do to protect themselves from becoming a victim. Our children are already living with much more honesty and real sad and scary facts that I wish they did not have to live with. Those corrupt things were not things that my husband and I had to know and deal with from such a young age. And in the future they will learn more and more about the evils and dangers and problems in our society, as well as carrying the burdens that adulthood will give them. For now, I’m letting them ‘be kids’ as much as I can.

I believe in giving my children some fun in their childhood years, and that participating in this cultural tradition is something special for children. I don’t believe this is harmful at all.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bins Are Not The Answer

(I wrote this earlier this week.)

I’m decluttering toys and games and children’s play stuff before Christmas.

Today I got a little overwhelmed and caught myself thinking, “If I only had more plastic bins!”.

I quickly corrected myself to say, “Bins are not the answer!”

Then told myself: “Get rid of it instead!”

Yesterday while finishing a top to bottom decluttering and cleaning of the family room I ended up with four full boxes of stuff to get rid of. This is primarily board games and jigsaw puzzles, some VHS and DVD movies and TV shows and a few toys.

Today I banished the last of the LEGOs to the playroom, out of the family room and up to the playroom. My older son was distraught. An end to an era. Since he began playing with LEGOs five years ago I’ve let them be housed in the family room. No more. The kids were unable to keep them picked up decently so they are now moved up to the playroom. The room is almost an adult only room! Actually on the surface it is, as the toys and puzzles are in a nice looking toy box or within closed cabinets, hidden from view.

In order to make room in the playroom for the LEGOs, we had to get rid of some of what was up there.

Presently I have the loveseat stacked completely up with toys, a K’Nex pinball game kit, a plastic train set, four sets of 1970s vintage “Big Jim”, some card games, and a bunch of small vehicle toys and other random toys.

I am so proud of myself for allowing us to let go of this stuff that I may photograph it before it moves out the door, just to remember that I was actually able to let go of this stuff. (I am battling my inner pack rat.)

And I am happy to report that I feel no sense of loss. I feel elated, lightened, and happy.

Note to self: moving, sorting, organizing and reorganizing this stuff takes up time and energy that I could or should or want to be using to do other, better things. That in and of itself is one very good reason to rid oneself of extra stuff.

I am reminding myself that this Christmas season we are having the lowest spending budget ever. And this stuff is NOT getting replaced on a one to one ratio basis. Even better is the fact that some of the presents are very small (Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards) and they take up very little room.

And the family room looks fantastic, very empty with bare horizontal surfaces.


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Homeschool Open House Week in Review: Week 15

Homeschool Open House Week in Review
Week 15: December 9-15, 2007

Older son is aged 10 and in 5th grade.
Younger son is aged 7 and in 2nd grade.

The plan for the week was to immerse ourselves in Christmas prep, get into the Christmas spirit, and do a light load of homeschooling work. However sickness interrupted all of that.

Rather than bore you with all the minutae I will try to just summarize.

Sunday I felt low energy and like I was “fighting something”. We didn’t put the tree up as planned nor did we do the Santa at the Trolley Museum thing as I just didn’t feel well enough. Sunday I did my usual Bible Study class and church and my kids did choir practice and religious ed class.

A friend of my kids’ ended up coming over for a playdate for a few hours.

All of Monday and part of Tuesday I was out of commission with a stomach bug. I had no energy and felt terrible and spent that time resting. My husband happened to be home on Monday and I was grateful as he then was in charge of tending to the kids.

My older son continued to have sickness symptoms, upper respiratory tract stuff. Later in the week, my younger son got the sniffles and post nasal drip this week too.

We did a day of errand running and a visit to the orthodontist’s office. I deep cleaned the family room and rearranged all the furniture to make room for the Christmas tree.

On another day, we had a snowstorm that forced all plans for that day to be cancelled. The public schools were closed all day too. In addition to sledding on our hill with the neighbor kids and having good conversation with my mom-friends, and then having an indoor playdate for a couple of hours, our family still got a few things done. We put up the tree (not decorated though). I made a batch of homemade bread and I made one batch of gingerbread dough (for a future gingerbread house) (with older son doing most of the work). I also cleaned the house more.

Then the next day, I got sick with a head cold and fever. I had (have) very low energy. I’ve been trying to rest.

This also was a year of a problem putting up the Christmas tree. During the light putting on stage the thing kept falling over. We ended up hacking off some of the trunk and chiseling it down so it fit better into the tree stand. That project ended at 9:30pm one night. Then the next day, we realized that half of the lights weren’t working (maybe due to the fact that when the tree fell water went over and into some of them). That necessitated a trip to the store to buy more lights. Then the all-tangled-up lights had to be removed (that took two hours). Then the lights were put back on. Phew. For the record this was done by my husband and kids while I rested in bed with a fever.

Then the last day of the week consisted of me and the kids decorating the tree with ornaments. I then quickly tidied up the place to make room for guests. My sons then had their first singing with the church’s children’s choir, of Christmas songs, at the Saturday night service. My parents and my mother-in-law came to see them sing. Then they came to our house to have a big pasta dinner, made by my husband.

As we went to bed a snow and ice storm was predicted. We were unsure how that would affect our children’s planned performances with the chidlren’s choir in two Sunday worship services.

The week was altered greatly by the fact that me and both of my children were sick and needed to rest and recuperate.

Miscellaneous Notes:
We are still having technical problems with our ISP and getting email accounts for our children. This has delayed the whole kids blogging project.

My older son continues to be very interested in cooking. This week he made the bread with me and the gingerbread dough. He also asked for a special treat of frozen mozzarella sticks and he was baking them himself. He is gaining confidence in cooking. In case you are wondering he has been making his own breakfast for years, maybe three years, and helps himself to non-cooking snacks since he was a toddler.

Thoughts on Our Homeschooling Method and Style:
Thinking and analyzing the homeschooling method and style are not really on my mind when I am sick with different viruses! This week was about survival and getting healthy again, riding out snowstorms and just plain living life.

My Children's Self-Initiated Stuff

Here are some of the things my children do in their spare time regarding play and reading which is self-initiated.

Older Son, alone:

Reading Yu-Gi-Oh! manga
Reading back issues of Shonen Jump manga
Working by snail mail letter coorepondence with another homeschooled (local) boy to write the second installment in their comic book series (spent about two hours on this one night).
Reading Calvin and Hobbes
Looked through robot books in library stacks but found nothing of interest

Younger Son, alone:

checking and re-checking progress of the crystals we're growing
Reading Yu-Gi-Oh! manga

Both children alone or together:

Played Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game with each other
Fooz ball (tabletop soccer game), with each other, with friends or with my husband (a lot)
Playing with LEGOs A LOT (making spaceships, working on the command center, a project that is taking over a year)
Playing Timez Attack
Playing card games with regular playing cards
Playing with wooden unit blocks (hadn't used those in a long time)

General Information:
Homeschool Open House’s Weekly Reporter blog post project is a concept devised by Jessica of Trivium Academy. For more information, see the Trivium Academy blog entry dated 9/04/07.

Graphics which I am using in my Homeschool Open House and Weekly Reporter were designed by Jessica and are available on her blog, again in the same blog post dated 9/04/07.

For information about how you can become a Weekly Reporter or to view a list of other Weekly Reporters, read the information at Trivium Academy in the 9/04/07 blog post or see the information in her right sidebar.

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Homeschool Open House Week in Review: Week 14

Homeschool Open House Week in Review
Week 14: December 2-8, 2007

Older son is aged 10 and in 5th grade.
Younger son is aged 7 and in 2nd grade.

The major focus of this week was tending to my older son who was sick.

As I said in last week’s report that week ended with a visit to the Infectious Disease doctor for my older son with fevers and three Lyme Disease symptoms. However in this week 14, after a couple of days of the antibiotics, the three Lyme symptoms disappeared and what appeared were new symptoms a sore throat, runny nose and a cough (and fever that lingered). I was relieved to think maybe he doesn’t have Lyme Disease? He is already on a 21 day course of antibiotics so he was set for treatment. We are still waiting for the blood test results. The start of this week included my son spending entire days in bed resting and not feeling well. Since he progressively got better the week ended with me not worrying about his health.

The week was so slowed down due to my son needing to rest and the fact that we didn’t want to infect other people (just in case this is a virus). We also didn’t really do any “Christmas decorating” or any Christmas-related ‘activities’.

Due to the sickness we didn’t jam at our homeschooling as planned. What the week felt like to me was what ‘the old days’ were like when my oldest was in Kindergarten. Or it felt like unschooling without any worry or guilt feelings for doing unschooling. It was fantastic! We relaxed, had a laid-back attitude, had fun and enjoyed each other’s company.

Also the FIRST LEGO League competition is over and there are no more classes for that so we are relaxing and winding down from having our Sunday evenings taken up with that event.

Here is how the week went, day by day:

Sunday: Older son sick in bed with fever and could not go to choir or religious education. Younger son went to choir practice and I was asked to help out. I got to see what goes on in there. I was asked to do “crowd control” and basically was the disciplinarian to the kids who were naughty and the one who took the little girls to the bathroom (one about age six just wanted to primp!). The rest of the day was spent at home relaxing.

Monday: It was a very lazy day at home except for getting some housecleaning done. I also read aloud from “Over Sea, Under Stone” for over two hours, to my older son (broken up into chunks as my throat is hoarse after 60 solid minutes of reading aloud now!). My older son was too sick to go to Cub Scouts so that meant I stayed home with him instead of me going to lead my meeting.

Older son skimmed six cookbooks to pick out every recipe he wants to make. He is asking to learn to cook and bake from scratch. I think this is partly motivated by seeing kids on the show Kid Nation not being able to cook and suffering with awful food. Both of my kids continue to beg to audition to be on the next season of Kid Nation.

Tuesday: In an attempt to cull picture books, I decided to read some aloud to my kids. My older son for the first time ever declared that he was too old for picture books. My younger son wanted me to read them. I did read them and in the end they were both engrossed. I read from two short books and one long book. I asked which we should keep.
A: short, featured musical instruments and a child prodigy: older son: yes; younger son: no; I thought this would be good for a picture book unit study of orchestras. I was willing to let it go.
B: short, geared really toward preschoolers but a bit scary; older son: no; younger son: yes (he loved it); me: let it go.
C: long text: both kids wanted to keep it; I hesitate to let it go. It is a keeper for now.

I spent hours working to set up three blogs for my older son and an email account for him. I set up the email for my younger son. The emails were not working due to a glitch between SBC and Yahoo. This took up chunks of my time (and it was not fun).

My older son made a batch of cinnamon rolls which was a “Top Secret Recipe” of the Cinnabon Cinnamon Bun. They were fantastic! This took a few hours.

He plans to blog this when the email issue is fixed.

Wednesday: A relaxing morning was had. Older son felt better and wanted to get out of the house. We went to a museum to see a temporary exhibit. It was deserted as a school field trip group was just leaving, and it was still during the public school day hours. During our time there two different families of grandparents came in with kids about three years old children. Around here more and more retired grandparents are babysitting for their grandchildren so both the mother and father can go off to work during the day. The kids did a woodworking project, constructing wooden model trains and decorating them.

Since the museum was near my mother-in-law’s house, and since my husband was there helping her out, we went for a visit and ended up staying all afternoon and evening.

I spent over two hours on the phone with reps from our ISP trying to fix the problem we’re having with creating a new email on our account. What a ridiculous waste of time. Talk about spinning our wheels.

Thursday: The furnace was supposed to be cleaned between 8am and noon. I was still sleeping at 8:15 a.m. when I heard the oil delivery truck in the driveway. I ran out of bed to get dressed and make myself look presentable and just then the truck left. The actual furnace cleaning guy didn’t come until one o’clock (note that was an hour later than the end of the time window). Therefore our whole morning we were trapped at home waiting for the guy to come. Good news, the furnace is working at 83% efficiency.

(Open question: how do families with both adults working outside the home get household maintenance things like this accomplished? Do they really use vacation days for stuff like this?)

Older son wanted another cooking project and about three hours was spent with him making and me overseeing making potato skins from scratch. These are from Top Secret Recipes “T.G.I. Friday’s Potato Skins”. He will write this into a blog post soon. They were better than the TGI Friday brand ones that they sell in the store or that you can buy frozen at the grocery store. We also discussed the differences in the products, which we liked better and stuff like that. I am trying to get him to use ‘critical thinking skills’ and to get better at verbal communication of his thoughts.

In between steps of the potato skin making, we did three crystal growing science experiments (got them started). That was easy despite the zillion safety ‘warnings’.

In the evening we had Youth Group which I volunteer at, for fifth and sixth graders. The temperatures were in the 20s and a good night to just stay at home and not go anywhere. Maybe that is why only half the kids were there that are normally there. It was fun for the kids, they all seem to like going and they hear a good message about God, Jesus and the Bible while there, stuff really on their level so that they can apply Jesus’ teachings to their lives right now.

Friday: We got what I’ll call the first real snow of the year. In the end it was only a couple of inches. The kids played outside a little bit (as much as possible). There wasn’t enough to need shoveling or driveway plowing.

Saturday: We took the family photo for our Christmas card (in our yard using the self-timer on our digital camera).

We went to the Christmas Tree farm to get our tree. It was 42 degrees out and sunny. It was a very nice day and atypical of our experience (for some reason each year we usually go when the temps are in the 20s and there is a biting wind).

Then we went to visit my mother-in-law and she took us out to dinner at a small Italian restaurant. The food was very good and the restaurant was nice and they had great customer service and a wonderful wait staff. Hooray for independent restaurants.

The week was very laid back and the holiday busy-ness has not yet begun. I really had fun with my children this week. I did a lot of reading aloud stretched out through the week, stopping only when my throat got hoarse.

Homeschooling Method and Style
I feel a bit shy to admit that the less formal lessons we do for our homeschooling the more joyful and happy our entire family is. I don’t know how to rectify this situation exactly as we’re not comfortable shifting entirely to unschooling. I think we’ll continue having bouts of unstructured ‘unschooling’ with times of more intense formal homeschooling lessons. This is what Melissa Wiley has begun calling “Tidal Homeschooling”. (I wonder how many other families end up doing this, intentionally or unintentionally?)

My Children's Self-Initiated Stuff

Here are some of the things my children do in their spare time regarding play and reading which is self-initiated.

Older Son, alone:

Reading Yu-Gi-Oh! manga
Reading back issues of Shonen Jump manga
Reading Dr. Slump manga
Skimmed 6 “Top Secret Recipes” cookbooks
Skimmed “Teens Cook” cookbook
Working by snail mail letter coorepondence with another homeschooled (local) boy to write the second installment in their comic book series

Younger Son, alone:

Reading Yu-Gi-Oh! manga
checking and re-checking progress of the crystals we're growing

Both children alone or together:

Played Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game with each other
Fooz ball (tabletop soccer game), with each other, with friends or with my husband (a lot)
Playing with LEGOs (making spaceships, working on the command center, a project that is taking over a year)
Playing Timez Attack
Playing card games with regular playing cards

General Information:
Homeschool Open House’s Weekly Reporter blog post project is a concept devised by Jessica of Trivium Academy. For more information, see the Trivium Academy blog entry dated 9/04/07.

Graphics which I am using in my Homeschool Open House and Weekly Reporter were designed by Jessica and are available on her blog, again in the same blog post dated 9/04/07.

For information about how you can become a Weekly Reporter or to view a list of other Weekly Reporters, read the information at Trivium Academy in the 9/04/07 blog post or see the information in her right sidebar.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Last Day To Vote

Today is the last day to vote in the 2007 Homeschool Blog Awards. You have until 11:59 p.m.

Vote here.

I've been nominated in "Best Homeschool Mom Blog".

Dealing With Naysayers About Your Decision To Homeschool

This question was asked on an online homeschool support discussion group.

The question, from a mother whose children were formerly in school who is just starting out with homeschooling:

"I'm so nervous to get this done right. Like I'm under a microscope. And all the criticism I've gotten from my family and husbands family is taking a toll on
me. It's causing me to second guess myself. I thought I was pretty
tough but man, this has me running in circles. I know I'm making the
right choice, I'm just worn out trying to answer peoples questions and
defend my reasons against people with such a warped world view. I'm
sure you know where I'm coming from. How long did it take you to get
used to it? You know, how long before you get to a point where it
just doesn't bother you?"

My reply:

Welcome to our subculture!

My advice is to:

1. Submerge yourself in information and 'goodness' about homeschooling; my primary source was books and homeschooling magazines at first as I didn't know a lot of local people.

2. Really solidify why you are homeschooling and constantly remind yourself you are doing what is right for YOUR family.

3. Get to know some local homeschoolers that you like and admire to know you are not alone. Be around those people and spend time with them. At least then you are not 100% of the time around others with a totally different view or opinion. If you have problems finding good friends or a 'right fit' for a HS support group locally keep looking around.

4. Get even more 'good vibes' from other homeschoolers from online sources. In my opinion, online support and information does not replace knowing people in real life. One way I've used online resources is to get support for specific things like using certain homeschooling methods when there were a lot of people talking about it online yet I didn't have a lot of local contacts that were doing that method. I like Yahoo Groups as the emails sit and wait for me to catch up in reading them and I can read them when I need and want to and ignore them when I am too busy to read them.

Regarding what you said about feeling like you are running in circles. Your first priority and allegiance is to do your homeschooling and do right by your family. Dealing with the critics and defending yourself or trying to make others realize the wonderful thing you are doing is not your primary job. I suggest that you put dealing with those naysayers in second place (or lower even). Your good energy needs to go to homeschooling your child(ren).

Don't let the naysayers poison you so that just living your homeschooling lifestyle ends up not being joyful.

Whatever energy is left over after homeschooling and having fun with your family can then be spend in dealing with the naysayers (if you want). You can also choose to not engage people, you can change the subject or flat out tell them you are not going to discuss the issue of homeschooling today (such as if a relative brings it up in conversation when you are on the phone or seeing them in person). Fending them off by cutting off the conversation can be thought of as an act of self-preservation which is 'good for your health or emotional well-being'.

Additionally I would suggest that discussions with naysayers about their concerns with homeschooling should not be done in front of your children. The last thing you need is for your children to feel that others are being critical of your decision.

At times over the years, I have struggled with the issue of wanting validation from others that what we're doing is good, and always someone reminds me that others living with different lifestyles will seldom give accolades to what people do if the other is doing something different than they are doing in their own life. It is a mistake to look for validation from people living with a different viewpoint or worldview or idea of what is ideal or best. This goes across many areas of life not just homeschooling.

Even those of us who are happily homeschooling sometimes feel different or odd for our choices. At those times I have to remind myself to not look for validation from those not living the homeschooling lifestyle.

Here are a few examples.

I complained to a friend that I was stressed due to over-scheduling our family and she said, "my schedule is worse and that is the way everyone lives now". I should not have looked to her to tell me that lightening up our schedule would bring more harmony to our home.

I won't get validation for keeping a low clothing budget from a friend who buys all the latest trends in clothing.

I won't get a compliment on making my own natural soap when a friend thinks the best products are full of chemicals and made in factories.

Regarding the question:
"How long before you get to a point where it just doesn't bother you"

My answer:
When I was so convinced that what we were doing was right and best for my child and our family that what others did was not important to US is when the negative things that others said didn’t bother me as much. In other words that our family has priorities and goals and ideals and that those are right for US. I focused on us as a family and tried not to do too much comparing.

Also then later on, when I began seeing good results and noticing (in my opinion) bad results going on with other families taking a different path it was further validation that what we were doing is right for US.

Sometimes 'bad stuff' was told to me by the parents themselves so it was not like I was sitting here making my own observations or judgments, I was just listening to what THEY were saying about THEIR feelings and their experiences. For example a parent might complain of the ridiculous way that reading is being taught in their child’s school and saying their child is struggling due to that wacky method.

Often other moms will tell me stories of what goes on in with their kids in school or on the bus, things that upset those moms and it upsets me too! So their strife helps me realize what we are doing is good as we’re avoiding those issues by homeschooling.

I hope this helps you in some way.

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