Thursday, January 31, 2008

eBay Policy Changes

If you buy or sell used books or anything else on eBay you may want to know about this.

Today I learned of some changes in policy on eBay for both buyers and sellers. You can read Steve Weber’s blog post to learn more. The comments left by readers are good too.

However despite eBay saying they are lowering their listing fees I read one comment on that blog post that did some calculating and in the end the total commission paid to eBay had an increase of 48%. I have not double checked this myself but the very idea of lowering some fees while raising others then having sellers pay more yet touting it as lower fees is not so ethical, is it?

In general I’ll share that I used to buy a lot more used books for our homeschooling on eBay. I have now changed to buying used books at library fundraiser book sales and through local meet-up’s with homeschoolers where we buy and share homeschooling books and curriculum with each other. I also buy used books through Yahoo Groups! for homeschooling curriculum reselling and through homeschooling website bulletin boards.

By the way eBay’s policy to refuse to allow the selling of teacher’s manuals continues to be a problem for we homeschooling parents who use teacher’s manuals to home educate our children with. That eBay policy drove hoards of homeschoolers to other free online sites. I prefer the Sale and Swap boards at The Well Trained Mind while others really like VegSource. There are also YahooGroups! For homeschoolers to buy and sell used homeschooling curriculum on. For the large part, we homeschoolers no longer need to rely only on eBay because we access to all those other free online bookselling resources now.

Here is what I have left for a comment on Steve Weber’s Selling Books blog.

I am primarily an eBay buyer and have sold just a few things on eBay. Recently I contemplated selling 10 boxes of stuff on eBay but the high listing fees dissuaded me and I just gave the stuff away instead.

As a buyer I am happy about the feedback in some respects. I used to buy more from eBay but have cut back on it. I have an excellent buyer feedback rating so am disappointed that feedback over 12 months won't be counted. I feel that years of being a good buyer is good to know.

I have had three really bad experiences with eBay sellers (not much in total) but the sellers did threaten to leave me negative feedback if I didn't give a positive feedback on them which was coercion if you ask me. Out of not wanting my own feedback history ruined I chose to not leave any feedback at all about the seller which is a shame for future buyers of that seller.

This all comes down to the fact that we're dealing with people and people sometimes don't care, don't have integrity, sometimes are not honest and sometimes are outright nasty and bullies. I don't know if a company can fix all these issues by having policies.

Even on Amazon in the Vine community we are finding and suspecting that some people are intentionally giving "not helpful" scores on customer reviews and Vine reviews in order to boost their own review up as having a higher number of "helpful" votes cast. I myself also have some very well written reviews containing both fact and opinion and a summary, that would help a customer decide if the product or book is for them or not yet I'm getting "not helpful" votes. It is very suspicious to me.

Since Amazon Vine is based on inviting customers with review rankings at 500 or higher it would serve the interests of some to try to boost their own rating by slamming their 'competitors'.

Anyhow back to eBay I will have to check out the listing fee changes as I have some stuff that I could list instead of giving it away on Freecycle, on Craig's list, to friend and relatives or trying to sell it to local consignment shops.

Although I accidentially forgot to mention it in my comment I’ll share that I get a lot of books from by swapping my books for other books.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Happy Learners (Photo of the Day)

Homeschoolers at a homeschool science class (my younger son is on the far right). This is a wonderful six hour science,nature, and wilderness skills class held in the outdoors. This is a class my children attend. It is an example of how homeschoolers use the world as their classroom and that learning can take place in the community and alongside other children; not all the learning is done at the kitchen table and taught by mom. (This teacher is a retired science school teacher whose grandson is homeschooled, he is a fantastic teacher and all the kids love him.)

Photo taken and altered digitally by ChristineMM. Photo taken in June 2008 in Connecticut.

Had a Media Mail Inspection

Well in yesterday’s mail (January 29) was a book that had been sent by media mail on December 7th. The package was stamped with “media mail subject to inspection” as some of the media mail packages get stamped by the USPS. It was in a simple bubble wrap mailer that looked like it was new at the time it was sent to me. It contained a book with a cover letter from the sender.

It arrived to me with the package neatly cut open with scissors and then it was all sealed up inside a clear plastic packaging. There was no note from the USPS saying this was inspected but that must have been what it was! Oh, and the package was very dirty and blackened.

I am surprised that the inspection and the mailing took seven and a half weeks!

Well now it is confirmed that the USPS does definitely inspect some of the media mail packages!

If you were wondering what it was, it is a book being sent to me by the author for a review. The title is Sentinel City of Destiny by Landel Bilbrey and it is for readers aged eight and older. It is an allegorical tale. I have not read it yet so I can’t say much about it but there are a total of four customer reviews, all are 5 star, on and you can read what they think of it by clicking the below link.

Here is a summary from the publisher.

Today, as never before, a young boy's life is bombarded by subtle and not so subtle messages of how the world defines the "successful" man. The purpose of Sentinel, City of Destiny is to share with boys, during their formative pre-teen years, some fundamental character traits that define the "Godly" man. The allegorical story is about twin brothers, Jerol and Jarad, their quest through the land of Callow (Childhood) and their search for the city of Sentinel (representing true Manhood).

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I’m Back To Reality

Today I am back to reality. My family and I have spent the last eight days at Disney World. I let myself live both mentally and physically in the land of make believe for a full eight days. (Yes I said “let myself live” because this was an intentional act, to give myself permission to escape from reality.)

It was wonderful.

(Just opening the Disney travel home page and listening to their music is a little escape from reality in fact! If you go to the website you’ll see their promotion for the Year of a Million Dreams sweepstakes where they are giving away one million prizes in this calendar year. In case you doubt that they are really doing it I’ll share that our entire family won a prize one day while at a park, something they call a Dream Fastpass where we could go on all the Fastpass attractions in that park that day using the Fastpass, at the time of our convenience.)

This trip was a celebration. It was a trip we had postponed for nearly five years. (The kids have been very patiently waiting all this time.) This is our first vacation in five years to a ‘vacation place’ that we planned and paid for. So this was a special trip for us, it wasn’t a common thing, and we were grateful for this fun week. And it was very last minute also, booked just ten days prior to our departure date, which was atypical for us to do.

I shed all care for the outside world during that time and it was great. I barely thought of my personal life, of challenges, of problems, and of my relatives. I didn’t think of my volunteer jobs and responsibilities. I didn’t feel guilty for missing a Cub Scout Pack meeting. I forgot all about winter weather and Connecticut and of life in Fairfield County. I didn’t think about anything to do with homeschooling except to be grateful that we could travel without being tied to travel only on ‘school vacation weeks’.

I didn’t ponder anything intellectually challenging or expend mental energy on anything bothersome happening in our culture, in America (like the Presidential race and primaries) or the world. I didn’t ponder much about the marketing giant that Disney is and I didn’t let myself feel that I was a victim of it because last week I was a willing participant in the experience. I didn’t think about the complaints about Disney movies or any of that angry stuff. Rather than being annoyed that nearly every Disney animated movie starts with the mother dying or the child being an orphan I reminded myself that a good story has to start with a challenge and some conflict to resolve, and left it at that. (If you don’t believe me you may want to read about mythic structure in stories by reading either “A Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell or the new third edition of “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers 3rd edition” by Christopher Vogler.

I was so out of touch that while on the plane ride home while channel surfing during a commercial while I was watching a new-to-me show “Make Me a Supermodel”, I found out the State of the Union Address was happening. (I felt ashamed to have been so in the dark.) In my defense, when I found out it was on I did watch some of it. No one in my line of vision was watching the President speak either. The 30 something man next to me was watching “Family Guy” a cartoon rated PG-14, which I watched for a couple of minutes and was shocked at the content of. Others around me were watching the same model show as I was and also "America’s Next Top Model", ESPN (did you know Disney owns ESPN?), "Bret Michael’s Rock of Love II" (a reality show on VH1 in the style "The Bachelor" which has been pornified and pushes boundaries in my opinion). At one point while on the plane ride home, I stood up to stretch my legs and it was a sight to see a dark airplane with every person watching TV on all different channels, plugged in and focused on the little screens, with only one person watching the President. I wished I had my camera handy as I would have loved to take an existing light photo of that as there was something very creepy about the whole thing. But I digress…

Back to the trip itself, I didn’t wonder was emails were coming in (I still haven’t opened my email.) I didn’t feel the urge to peek at my blog or publish a prepared posting for five full days. (That is an amazing thing for me, trust me.) I didn’t write anything nor did I create anything at all (art wise). This trip was about consuming and living only in the moment.

Ignorance is bliss let me tell you. I feel like I willingly went to live in Plato’s cave by buying that Disney resort vacation, and living in that artificial world, but now I have to come back out to the real world. It’s almost too bad that I can’t go back to living my whole life like that, in that land of being just a passive recipient of fun and entertainment, where I’m living in a literal artificially constructed world where fun and entertainment are daily goals which always get fulfilled, then to go to sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. Other than parenting my kids, I had no true responsibilities. It was so easy to live where the only decisions I had to make were about which park to visit, which rides to go on, what to eat for meals and which souvenirs to buy.

“One of the great ironies upon visiting Disney World is the wave of relief that overwhelms you upon entering the place—relief to be free of the nerve-shattering traffic and the endless ugly sprawl. By contrast the Disney resort seems like a verdant sanctuary. That was the plan, of course—Team Rodent left the park buffered with thousands of unspoiled acres, to keep the charmless roadside schlock at bay.”
- Team Rodent by Carl Hiaasen, page 5

In fact as we drove around the resort I observed the careful planning that made it seem like the place was huge and undisturbed. They don’t do that everywhere, I noticed but they do it at intersections and places where you are likely to notice, it seemed to me. Careful observation revealed to me that planning by architects and landscape architects reveals that things are tucked away and hidden carefully to make the place look more pretty and larger than it is. I noticed careful landscaping hiding what would be considered normal wild roadside plants and swampy areas. Just as in Epcot where they make you walk a long time to reach your destinations, the roads and roadside landscaping do make you think you are in a fancy, sprawling resort, when in fact I was surprised to see that we were practically a stone’s throw to Epcot despite its gates being a five minute drive away.

Truth be told, our “moderate level” Disney resort was nothing more than a cheap motel on grounds seen more typically at high-end resorts. But I put these observations and opinions all to the side, as I did also the complaints I had about our room, and let myself believe the image that was being displayed as believing the myth made me happier and happy was what I wanted to be. And so I was happy. And life was good.

This feeling so far removed from the real world was accomplished in part by the fact that my husband accidentally forgot to bring the electrical power cord and battery recharger for his laptop. We didn’t want to pay $10 a day to the Disney resort to get high speed access, so I was online only for about 20 minutes, with a slow dial up connection in those eight days, limited by the low and eventually dead battery. My husband had to drive to a nearby Panera Bread a few times to check his business email on his handheld. He kept in touch with the world more than I did, relying on his cell phone to talk with relatives and business associates. I was intentionally withdrawing from the real world.

We were so busy and having so much fun that we both didn’t even have the time (or much desire) to watch TV news (we just wanted to crash at night as soon as we returned to the hotel room). We were so far removed from real life that my husband didn’t even know that the Fed lowered the interest rate by ¾ of a percent for a day and a half. (As my husband told his friend that is a true measure of what a good time we were having on our vacation, to be so out of touch with the real world as to not know that!) And yippee also, because that is now saving us hundreds a month!

We got home at about one this morning. After sleeping in, the kids and I are reacquainting ourselves with our home. I’m doing a laundry marathon. And still resisting opening my email…

Some other time I may write about our experiences and give tips about visiting Disney World and do a book review on the fantastic travel book that I used to help plot our trip. I have abandoned the Birnbaum Disney guides and converted to “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids” by bob Sehlinger and Liliane J. Opsomer with Len Testa.

Books Referred to in This Post

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 109 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 109 was published today at Life on the Road. Amazingly, the family lives and homeschools in an RV.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

There are over 50 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, 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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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Colorku: Game Review by ChristineMM

Colorku is Sudoku in color. Really. I thought the idea was so cool!

Colorku is made out of wood. The base is a wooden base laid out just like Sudoku. There are wooden balls in nine colors that you use instead of numbers.

There are 104 different games to play. Using a starter card you set up the game. Then you play and complete the grids. If you get stuck you can peek at the answer card to see where you made your error.

I have been playing this alongside my children. We work on it together as a team.

I found this game and purchased it from Timberdoodle, a homeschool supply company, who was selling it for $27.50 at the time I placed my order. I see that Amazon carries the game as well, today its price on Amazon is $26.98. I see its full retail price is $29.95.

You can read more about this game on the Colorku website.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why Sudoku is a Good Thing (For People of All Ages)

Our family plays with this electronic version of Sudoku called the “Illuminated Mega Sudoku” which I actually bought for my husband to play.

I’m looking for a paper version which is super-easy as my seven year old keeps trying to play but our electronic Sudoku is not easy enough. I am sure when he gets the hang of the very easy version he will be able to use the electronic one without relying on the electronic prompts that tell if you have made an error.

Here are some articles about the benefits of playing Sudoku (for children and adults both).

Surprising Benefits Of Becoming A Sudoku Addict

Sudoku – The Hottest Puzzle Craze Since Rubik’s Cube

Why Sudoku Can Be Good For You

Sudoku Mental Skills - Why Sudoku Is Good For Your Kids

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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 108 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 108 was published on January 22, 2008 by Alessandra.

I have an entry in this blog carnival.

There are over 40 entries in this blog carnival, that’s a lot of good reading (and free, 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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Monday, January 21, 2008

My Word of the Year

On the Creative Mom Podcast #81 Amy Cowen discussed people picking a word of the year. This idea was first read by Amy on Ali Edward's blog at the beginning of 2007. Then on the CMP Circle Yahoo Group, some members have been discussing what their word should be and what they will do with the word.

After much thought and thanks to Nicole (who nailed the right word for my definition). I picked my word.

I claim the word "content" as my word of the year.

Content (adjective)
1. satisfied with what one has, not wanting anything else
2. satisfied or showing satisfaction with things as they are
3. the state or feeling of being contented

A little background is this year I want to focus on what I have and the goodness in my life. I want to not want for more when I already have so much goodness around me. I want to use and appreciate and be grateful for what I have and to not long for yet more stuff or different things. I want to just be happy with what I already posess.

This discussion has been so interesting. I’m learning about others in the group by reading what they are sharing about their words and why they chose them.

I plan to go to a nearby pottery place that sells unfinished pottery and buy a coffee mu. I will paint that mug and they will fire it for me. I will also make an artsy sign to hang at my desk where I can see it every day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Give Yourself a Gift

Artist Trading Card created by ChristineMM on 1/16/08. For more information read about it here.

Homeschool Open House Week in Review: Week 20

Homeschool Open House Week in Review
Week 20: January 12-18, 2008

Older son is aged 10 and in 5th grade.
Younger son is aged 7.5 and in 2nd grade.

Themes of the week: Cramming and jamming homeschooling, me as taskmaster (not fun), and getting cabin fever.

In this week I shared publicly that my husband accepted a job offer, it starts soon. This week we found out about our upcoming change in medical insurance and I had to spend time shuffling around medical appointments to find new providers that take the new insurance and to reschedule some appointments due to that situation. These appointments include checks for my older son’s hearing and visual tracking which overlap into the realm of his education.

Sunday we enjoyed sleeping in since my kids have dropped out of the church’s children’s choir. Hype went on all day in the media for a big snowstorm that was to start after dark.

We woke up Monday to snow. My kids slept in due to it being so quiet outside and so dark due to the overcast sky. All the schools were closed. We did almost all of our homeschooling before stopping so that we could play with the neighbor school kids who were off of school. The kids played outdoors then they came inside our home for hot cocoa and to have a playdate. Cub Scouts was also cancelled due to snow.

We worked hard at homeschooling this week, doing all of the lessons all of the other days. I was now in the role of the taskmaster. I want to get stuff done and to catch up with what I feel we are behind on due to the crazy fall we had. I am happy we are doing less outside classes as of this month but to be honest by late Wednesday afternoon the kids and I had cabin fever and I was wondering if doing homeschooling lessons five days a week and not doing many outside classes was a good idea after all.

My older son is adapting to his increased workload but he finally did realize that he is doing a lot more work than his younger brother. When asked for an explanation I said, “You are in fifth grade and he is in second grade, you have to do more work, that is how it goes”. I have no other explanation, that is the truth.

This week the kids started giving me a little flack here and there about them not wanting to do all of their lessons. I got some eye rolls and some dirty looks. After a warning if they kept it up, they received negative consequences for their actions. The one who pushes the envelope the most is my younger son who refuses to keep up the bad attitude, dirty looks and disrespectful comments. He is stubborn and likes to hold onto his negativity so he lost some television viewing and some video game playing this week as he would not stop when asked to. My older son usually will stop the bad behavior when I give the verbal warning knowing full well that I do enforce my consequences. That doesn’t stop my younger son though, and then later my younger son tries to manipulate me into reneging the consequence. I don’t give in. That doesn’t stop him from trying through. Ah, parenting challenges!

I treat my children with respect and they have limits and parameters. I feel they should also treat me with respect as well. I feel strongly that if I don’t nip the defiance toward authority issue in the bud now I’ll end up with bad attitude kids as some other kids their age already are that I know, or worse, they’ll end up as out of control, rude teenagers. It is easier to deal with this at a young age than to let it go on now and then end up with raging, rude teenage boys on my hands.

(This was also shown on Dr. Phil this week with a mother who admitted to never having limits or rules with her son and now he is 17 and verbally and physically abusing her and she him. She admitted he has never had limits or rules for right behavior, but she is mad that he does not naturally and on his own govern himself and act good or right. The teens problems extend outside the home, into to the classroom and to jobs; he’s already been fired from three jobs. I don’t want to be in that boat someday.)

My kids really miss taking a once weekly class for homeschoolers as the winter session was split to two days for each of their age ranges. I could not afford the gas nor did I want to spend the time and mileage on my car to take them to that class twice a week, one day for one child and one day for the other child (180 miles of driving per day). I was thrilled to get a call that they are changing the winter session to combine age ranges and have both on one day. I enrolled my children. They are ecstatic. It starts in two weeks.

I have shared that my older son was stuck on learning some multiplication facts, on memorizing them. We are having a technical problem with the computer software for Timez Attack so he couldn’t use it this week. I am not good about troubleshooting software problems with the computer so I didn’t even try to deal with it. I will delegate that to my husband to fix this weekend.

I decided to move on and start the next level of Math-U-See anyway (Delta), with my older son. Well my older son is flying through it. He went so fast that he went ahead and did the work on the page before I could teach him the information. Now he is proud to say he taught himself division and says he likes it more than multiplication. I tried explaining that why he likes it is because it is multiplication in reverse and the ones he is doing right now are multiplication facts he has memorized so they are simple and fast to do. I know he won’t like the division so much when he gets to problems that he has not yet memorized. So he needs to definitely get those multiplication facts memorized.

Oddly suddenly my younger son has forgotten how to add with carrying. I find it so weird how suddenly my children can totally forget how to do something that they’ve been doing for two years or more. By the end of the week about half of the time he was doing the carrying operations incorrectly. Instead of carrying the number on the left side up to the next column he was just writing both digits down below then moving on to the next column. So adding a column of three numbers like 73 + 19 + 68 he was writing the solution as 1420 instead of carrying then coming up with 160 as the answer. I tried showing him how illogical it is to take three numbers under 100 and have them add up to over 1000, and he agrees but doesn’t think about it when he sees his solution come out above 1000 for a number that should be below 300. To remediate this I am going to have him do about two sheets a day of just addition with carrying review and that should snap him out of it. We’ll continue on with his regular math lessons also.

My older son started a second Jane Langton book. I am now on the lookout for Jane Langton books and I’d like to have access to, if not own, all eight in the Hall Family Chronicle series. Some are out of print so I can’t even buy them new. We visited my local library and they don’t even own all of them. Sigh.

For teaching grammar to my older son I have been researching options. I have decided for now to use First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind Level 3 which covers grades 3 and 4. We are going through it quickly doing one lesson per day. He completely gets all of it and feels the work is too easy. I think I’ll just cram through this. When I go to the big homeschooling conference in April I will evaluate in person, other Language Arts programs that teach grammar.
We watched a documentary about Helen Keller this week. We borrowed it from the library. I blogged a review of it. This is a follow-up to a biography my younger son finished reading.

I placed and received an order from Timberdoodle this week. I primarily was ordering to get belated Christmas gifts for my nephews and a birthday gift for one nephew. (We have not yet seen them to exchange Christmas gifts.) We played the new Colorku game (I will blog on that soon.) I bought some spelling practice software which I thought might be fun and helpful as a supplement to the normal spelling lessons we do with Spelling Power.

My older son is doing better with spelling all of a sudden. I have been really trying to get through to him that the spelling is based on rules and that if he stops to think about the rules rather than jotting down in a rush, the way he sounds it out phonetically, he’ll get it right. This is proving to work. For example he was phonetically spelling words in plural instead of following the rules. This resulted in added e’s, missing i’s and all kinds of nonsense.

I have been reading little by little, the writings of Marva Collins. What I do with my kids is I am raising expectations. I am not being mean to them. I just have certain expectations of them. We also do have (an easy, loose) state law for education in Connecticut but it does say we must teach certain subjects (even if there is really no government oversight of homeschooling). My husband and I feel that there are certain skills we want for our children that we are unwilling to compromise on. They must be able to read and comprehend what they read. They must be able to write (compose) well and communicate clearly. Less important but important nonetheless is they have to have decent penmanship. I don’t care that most communication is done on the computer with keyboarding. They do need to write with their hand too.

I have taken note that since the kids are playing the video game for an hour each day on the weekday they are not playing the table soccer game or the air hockey game. The kids are also sick of dueling each other with Yu-Gi-Oh! and instead want more time playing with other kids. They are trying to teach themelves their new HeroScape game that they got for Christmas. They are playing with LEGO often again.

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, January 19, 2008

About Cacao and My Homemade Cocoa Recipe

If you have read the studies about Cancer prevention and chocolate what they are talking about is the base of chocolate, cacao. The Cancer prevention is not from eating milk chocolate or from the candy.

Cacao is the source of the chocolate, the chocolate bean which is the base of all things chocolate.

What is great about chocolate is not a commercially processed chocolate bar laden with sugar, added chemicals such as preservatives, or chemicals used to grow the chocolate. To get the best part of what chocolate has to offer we need to try to get closer to the root of the goodness, and to get rid of as much of the bad stuff as possible (the stuff added by man and inserted in the processing process).

Usually medical doctors will tell people to eat chocolate candy that is 70% or more chocolate. In other words they are trying to get you to eat semi-sweet or bittersweet or dark chocolate that has the higher concentration of the cacao. They want you to avoid the milk chocolate which has less cacao. Also some cheap chocolates have less real cacao in them and use artificial flavors for some of the chocolate taste! You can read what Dagoba says about types of chocolate here.

The first order of business is to eat ORGANIC cacao products. It makes no sense to try to prevent Cancer by eating cacao then to intentionally eat chemicals used to grow the cacao. I’m sorry but I don’t see any sense there.

The second order of business is to take it up a notch and eat cacao.

I personally use Dagoba organic cacao.

Some who eat cacao claim it keeps serotonin levels high, thereby keeping a person happy feeling, a natural anti-depressant, you could say. Some say that the cacao acts as an aphrodisiac. They do have natural caffeine in them so you get the caffeine also. I’m not making any direct health claims, for more information about the health benefits of cacao, you can read this and this.

The Story of Dagoba Chocolate is there for your reading pleasure as well.

One form of cacao is cacao nibs. These are partially ground cacao beans. They are little nuggets, basically. To be clear, these are unsweetened and unprocessed. They are just ground up a little bit and called ‘nibs’.

Some eat the nibs directly. I’ve read that eating one ounce a day is recommended.

Alright now I’ll admit that I can’t handle eating the nibs. As you open the bag of cacao nibs the most awesome aroma of chocolate comes out. It is unbelievable. You have never smelled a more concentrated, deep chocolate smell. But then you taste it and, it tastes nothing like chocolate because the sugar is missing. I can’t take the taste of it.

Some people use the cacao nibs in cooking. I have not found recipes that work for me.

I had leftover cacao nibs and tried to make them into powder using my VitaMixer blender and my food processor. It did not work. Do not try it.

Hot Cocoa Recipe using Cacao Powder
So I buy cacao powder and use that. I mainly make a hot chocolate, a cocoa, with it. The recipe is simple. You use the milk of your choice. You heat it up. You add one part sugar or a healthier sweetner alternative to one part cacao powder. The amount will vary. Start with 2 teaspoons cacao and 2 teaspoons sugar to 8 ounces of milk. Then taste it and alter as you see fit. I have found that over time I have acquired a taste for it with more cacao and less sugar.

This will be the best cocoa you’ve ever tasted. Trust me.

Note 1: Those of you who choose to eat a "raw diet" have taken issue with the fact that I heat my  milk. I am not on a raw diet. Also in March 2011 I received an email from Dagoba responding to my inquiry, they say their cacao nibs and powder are not "raw" as they are roasted.

Note 2: I usually only have 1% milk in the house. I have tried this with 2% and even with whole milk (4%). The more fat is in the milk, the better this is, believe me. The cocoa made with whole milk is simply the best tasting!

Downside: The only complaint and issue with using the straight cacao powder is that since no manmade agents have been added to make the cacao suspend itself through the milk and stay there, it tends to settle over time. If you are not going to drink this quickly, keep your spoon and give it a stir if you need to. It also might clump a little and leave little balls of powder on the surface. Just stir this a bit more than usual and enjoy. The taste and quality of this drink is worth the little extra stirring.

Note: If the clumping of the cacao powder bothers you, you can buy Dagoba’s organic hot chocolate powder. It is too pricey for me, with a price today of $8.80 for 8 ounces of hot cocoa powder.

Where to buy Cacao Nibs and Cacao Powder (and more)

I buy our organic cacao powder from Dagoba, directly from Dagoba through the Internet.

Dagoba’s online store

Other Dagoba FAQ including some health questions

Recipes to use Dagoba: to find more recipes to try with cacao nibs, just do a Google search for keywords “cacao nibs recipe”

And if you must read a book about chocolate as well why not try this book? It is on my bookshelf!

I own this cookbook, too.

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Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books January 19, 2008 Edition

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books January 19, 2008 Edition has been published today.

Consider submitting!

Helen Keller In Her Story: Documentary Review by ChristineMM

"Helen Keller In Her Story" is a documentary which was produced and directed by Nancy Hamilton and was originally released in 1955. It is in black and white and was distributed by Hearst in 1992 in VHS format.

This documentary takes the story of Helen Keller as written in her autobiography, "The Story of My Life" and sets parts of it to video. It is narrated by actress Katherine Cornell. It won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1955.

The narration is done over original footage of Helen Keller and some older material are still shots of photographs. While hearing about the life of Helen Keller it is fascinating to see her in motion in the video images.

We see Helen Keller traveling all over the world. We see how she can communicate using sign language. We see Keller reading Braille including reading her Braille Bible which she says she reads each morning and each evening. We see her typing using a regular typewriter as well as a Braille typewriter. Later we see her trying a device which people type words into and it converts them to Braille immediately.

Footage includes her original teacher and companion Anne Sullivan. We hear Helen Keller’s voice and we learn that the thing that bothered her most was she wished she had a better speaking voice. Later footage includes her second companion and assistant Polly Thompson.

There is a segment which tries to show a day in the life of Helen Keller. This includes footage of Polly and Helen at Keller’s estate named Arcan Ridge in Easton, Connecticut. We see everything from beginning the day with breakfast to her opening mail and corresponding with people to reading and learning to doing household tasks. We see exterior and interior shots of the home including seeing Keller take a walk outdoors by herself by following along a trail with a handrail.

(Note: Arcan Ridge is in the town of Easton Connecticut not in the town Westport as some sources mistakenly state. Helen Keller got her mail at a post office box in Westport and so there is confusion about where Arcan Ridge was. When we see letters addressed to Keller at Arcan Ridge in Westport that is just a mailing address. Also on the documentary’s cover it states the footage shows her on her Vermont estate which is also not accurate. Arcan Ridge is where Helen Keller lived from 1936 until her death in 1968.)

I recall watching the movie "The Miracle Worker" when I was a child or young teen and that focused on how wonderful a teacher Annie Sullivan was in order to be innovative and to get through to Keller and how she taught her.

This docmentary barely touches on life before Keller began communicating and working with Sullivan. This video shows how Keller was schooled and obtained a college degree, how well read she was and focused on dedicating her life to fighting for causes she believed in. Keller's role with getting people to treat those with disabilities better and helping instill hope in other blind and/or deaf children was shown also.

This documentary is a bit slow paced and formal compared to the new documentaries being produced today, but still this is an excellent documentary. If you are looking for more of a dramatic telling of portions of her life, perhaps one of the movies "The Miracle Worker" (there are a few different ones) would be of more interest to you. If you are looking to view original video footage and photographs and to see Helen Keller in motion and even talking, this is an excellent documentary to watch.

Check your library for copies of this video if you're interested in watching it. Libraries who keep Academy Award winning shows in circulation may have this.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Problems With Preschoolers and Kindergarten Students On The Rise (Social Problems)

Okay I just read this and my mind is reeling.

Article Title: What's Gotten Into
Kids These Days?

By: Sue Shellenbarger
Published on: January 17, 2008; Page D1
Published in: The Wall Street Journal

I have so much to say but I don’t have the time to put my thoughts down.

For now I’ll just refer you to read this and ponder it on your own.

Okay I can’t resist a couple of quick comments:

1. The problem is a “social problem” and some are labeling this as a “mental health” issue and suggesting that preschool teachers have access to mental health professionals as consultants to deal with the problems they are having in the classroom.

2. Brian C. Robertson’s book “Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn't Telling Us” analyzed thirty years of researched that clearly showed that an increase in the use of day care providers instead of children being raised at home in the early years with their own mothers was a known problem that was rising. Yet some right now as I write this are seeking to take children away from their mothers in order to force them into structured learning environments in public school preschool classes. Where is the logic?

3. David Elkind has outlined the reasons why formal preschool is not good for kids, and why kids need more time in those early years to be at home with their loving mothers being little kids. Why is no one listening to his information? You can read it in his book "Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk".

4. What is this world coming to?

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Art From Migrant’s Trash

I enjoyed this article from the first page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

Article title: Desert Castaways Get Second Life In Art Exhibition
Ms. James Finds Material In Items Left by Immigrants;
Cactus Needles in a Mitten

Published in: The Wall Street Journal
Date: January 17, 2008; Page A1

Artist Valerie James collects interesting (to her) trash left behind by migrant workers. She has two exhibits. One is a display in a building she owns. The other one consists of assemblages in an art exhibit in Tucson Arizona isn’t doing so well:

“Many people react strongly -- and not all positively -- to the assemblage of "junk" art. Gallery owner Randy Ford says the exhibit hasn't been as well attended as he had expected. He believes area residents are tired of the immigration issue.”

My reaction to that is that I think the show would be of more interest in places not near the border. I think the show would be of interest in New York City, for example. I would attend this exhibit if it were near me.

I am interested in trying to construct the story behind some of the left behind items. That is just how my mind works.

And I really like the idea of making art from trash. In my own art explorations I have challenged myself to do things such as use only junk mail or recycled items in order to try to give new life and meaning to something that was destined for the trash or for the recycling bin.

Free Phonics Curriculum Online

I have had a link to this site in my sidebar for a long time. Today I thought I’d blog about it. I was prompted to do this when I read an email on a homeschooling chat list from a mother who said they are out of the country and have no access to buy a reading curriculum which was recommended to them called “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”.

This site run by Don Potter has free downloadable phonics programs on it.

The free curriculum called “Word Mastery” is actually an antique textbook whose copyright has expired (it is in the public domain now) and it is allowed to be downloaded without breaking any copyright laws. This old program is also considered a “systematic intensive phonics method” of teaching reading and it was used in grades 1-3 back when it was published in 1913 at which time it was being used in schools.

It is actually the same system/theory/method as the Alpha Phonics curriculum (which I used to teach my children to read).

I actually own this book “Word Mastery” which I found in a used book store!

It is also just like the same basic method as “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” except that in “100 Easy” they have red lettering around the word, arrows below the word and some letters have symbols over them. This free curriculum called “Word Mastery” is reading of words and word parts without symbols and just has black writing (it has no red color). To substitute for the lack of arrows you would just put your finger under these words and sound them out and move your finger across to the end of the word.

Scroll down on this page of Don Potter's site and look for “Download Free Phonics Programs (Programs from Don Potter)”

There are other free reading curriculums on this page too.

This site also has very interesting information about teaching reading, methods of teaching reading which have been successful and about some that have failed, tells about studies, illiteracy, so on and so forth. It is a no frills site rich in content.

And if you find any of this useful maybe you can drop Don Potter an email to thank him. He runs this site free of charge and I’m sure he’d like to know that his time and effort is appreciated by someone. I’ve sent him emails in the past and he has written back and he is very nice.


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BlogThing: My Briggs Meyers Rarity

Your Personality is the Most Common (ISTJ)

Your personality type is disciplined, realistic, predictable, and honest.

About 14% of all people have your personality, including 9% of all women and 17% of all men
You are Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging.

Hat Tip: Mental Multivitamin

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What's Being Sung In My House

Since seeing this last night my boys won't stop singing this. They love this.

They want me to move the recording from the TiVo to their MP3 players or to a CD so they can listen to it all the time.

I'll go insane if I have to keep hearing this.

(I like it because the guy really loves Simon and the spirit of the song is for his admiration of Simon.)

Staring at the Sun: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death
Author: Irvin D. Yalom
Publication Date: February 2008
Publisher: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780787996680
Genre: Psychology/Self-Help
Full retail price: $24.95

Rating: 4 stars

Summary: Interesting Ideas; From a Secular Humanist Viewpoint

How and Why I read this book: This was an offering in the Amazon Vine program which I am a participant in. I received a free advanced reading copy of this book in order to read and review it for I received no payment for doing that but if you buy this book (or any other item) through the Amazon links on my blog I do receive a small commission.

I am a layperson interested in how our society confronts their fear of death, how people react and adjust to their dying friends and relatives, and how after the passing of loved ones, people are affected. In this last year I have had numerous life experiences that qualified as ‘awakening’ experiences and I was curious to read about this topic of death and how we react to it, including fear and terror of death.

I feel that our American culture is lacking information and support about how people are to react to the dying. Little is written of what life is like for a frail, elderly person, our society is ignorant about the dying process. Not much is said about how the healthy people can and should act or help those who are dying and how to handle mourning. I have seen all different reactions amongst family and friends regarding how they react and live around the dying and how they act and think after the loved one does pass on.

Dr. Yalom, a psychiatrist, has written a book about overcoming the terror of death. I’m not afraid of death itself. I read the book because I hoped it would be of some benefit or use to me. Some of it was useful and some of it was not. How his book affects the reader will vary depending on the uniqueness of each person and probably also will depend on their religious beliefs or lack thereof and how they jive with what Dr. Yalom’s belief system.

Using the philosophies of famous philosophers and their ideas of creation and what happens to our body and soul after death, Yalom has constructed a way that he thinks is right and best for us to think about our eventual death and how we react to the death of loved ones. He provides us with a foundation of having a certain idea about how we should go about living while we are alive and well. One glitch is that in order to accept and use these ideas we have to agree on some foundational beliefs which Yalom explains in the book.

Mixed in with all of this are discussions of how today’s therapists usually counsel their patients versus his method, which combines an existential philosophy. We learn of how Sigmund Freud’s teachings have shaped and influenced today’s therapists. Dr. Yalom feels that many of the problems in people’s lives are actually based in having a fear of death; some people know that and others don’t realize that a death terror is the basis of problems in their lives.

Dr. Yalom wrote this book in language that a layperson can understand in the hopes that laypeople will read it as a self-help book and that they can use his ideas to go about living a better life and to rid themselves of some or all of their fear of death.

Dr. Yalom wishes more therapists and doctors would be more aware of the existence of death terror and he hopes they will read this book also. There is one chapter addressed specifically to therapists about how they might include these ideas in their practice. That chapter includes detailed information about how dreams can be the way a person’s mind expresses death terror. He feels that therapists can use dream interpretation in their practice as a clue to revealing a hidden death terror, then they can begin work on addressing their death terror to solve the root cause of the patient’s problem which then resolves the more obvious day to day problems happening in their lives, which are probably the reason the person came to therapy in the first place. I loved the idea of solving the root of the problem.

I didn’t expect this book to include so many references to the ideas of famous philosophers. I found it very interesting to the point where I would like more information and I plan to follow-up by reading some of the writings of these philosophers. (Previously I was not only afraid to read what philosophers said as I thought they may be too complex or not-understandable, but didn’t know why I should bother.) I appreciated the encouragement to read the original writings of Schopenhauer, in fact, one thing that disappointed me was that Dr. Yalom didn’t explore in more detail (such as an devoting an entire chapter to) Schopenhauer’s triplet of essays. Much was written about Nietzsche and I am intrigued and plan to read his original writings also.

A problem that some readers will have with the advice in the book will be if a reader’s spiritual and religious beliefs are different, then the basic model of how to use the advice in the book will not apply 100%. Some readers, if they knew these things in advance, would never buy or read the book, especially those who seek to avoid the secular humanist view.

To be specific, Yalom makes it clear that he has never believed in a God, ever. Raised in a home where his parents practiced Judaism, he says he never believed in any kind of God, even in his childhood. He lays out a way of thinking that to me is in line only with secular humanism. His belief system includes the idea that we come from nothing, are born with a soul and a physical body and when we die, both our soul and body dies completely and we return to a black hole of nothingness, permanently. The idea is that if we feel nothing after death and are completely gone and dead then we should not fear that death, nor will we even be able to feel regret for having not done everything we had hoped we do in our living days.

While he is not too insulting about people’s beliefs in other things he makes it clear on page 245 is that His “bete noir is bizarre belief: aura therapy, semi-defied gurus; hands-on healers; prophets; untested healing claims of various nutritionalists; aroma therapy, homeopathy, and zany ideas about such things as astral traveling, healing powers of crystals, religious miracles, angels, feng shui, channeling, remote viewing, meditational levitation, psychokinesis, poltergeists, past lives therapy and UFOs and extrerrestrials who inspired early civilizations, designed patterns in wheat fields, and built the Egyptian pyramids.” He continues, “Still I’ve always believed that I could put all prejudices aside and work with anyone regardless of his or her belief systems.” An issue is that some who believe in the aforementioned things, even Catholics who believe in miracles, may take such an affront to his outlook that they will close their minds to what Dr. Yalom has to say or they may choose to not read a single word of the book.

My feeling is that while some of Yalom’s ideas can be worked into belief systems such as the various types of Christianity, not all of them will completely jive, especially the idea that there is no Heaven and that the soul dies after birth. Other religions are also incompatible, anything that encompasses reincarnation or the idea that the soul continues to live on after the body perishes, such as the religions of Buddhism or Hinduism

This book will be the best fit as a self-help book for agnostics or Atheists. It may also be accepted easily by those who have not developed any spiritual beliefs yet who would not have any conflicts (and in fact, if while reading this book if they liked what it said they would be accepting a secular humanist belief without possibly even realizing it).

One last thing I’ll share about what I learned is that I am surprised to learn that modern therapists including psychiatrists (medical doctors) are, according to Dr. Yalom, in denial about the reality that in their daily life people are affected by a fear of death or have been affected by experiencing the death of people they care about. I don’t know a lot about the field of psychotherapy (I’ve never been in counseling or been through psychotherapy) but after reading this book, the field has lost some credibility with me. Basing so many theories on Freud and his denial of the reality of people being affected by death is scary.

I also hadn’t realized that the professional care and medical treatment given by psychiatrists would overlap into religious realms. I have a new concern that medical insurance companies are paying for treatments and therapies of what really is counseling that overlaps with religion especially if the therapists are pushing an Atheist worldview on their patients. I now can see why religious people would avoid these types of counselors and seek instead, counseling and advice from their pastors, preachers and priests.

I found the book interesting and food for thought. I am glad I read it as it addresses topics that I feel are not written about much today. Additionally, the book had me thinking and pondering and any book that covers seldom written about topics and makes me think automatically earns 4 stars from me.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Homeschool Success Story in the Media

This positive media story about a homeschooler came through my Google News Alert for keyword “homeschooling” today.

Here is a story of a well-rounded homeschooled student from Florida named Andrew Stoeve who graduated with an Associates Degree at age 14 from Pasco-Hernando Community College “with a dual associate's degree in networking technology and IT security”.

“For most of his life, Andrew has been homeschooled. Sure, there was that stint in preschool.”

(Homeschooling) “worked pretty well for a while. But when Andrew turned 12, he told his mom that he had been coasting academically and that it was time to get on with his life”.

In addition to having been homeschooled and doing sports like snowboarding, he has been doing volunteer work on missions trips to France and El Salvador.

Now aged 15, he is “working toward his bachelor's degree in communication at St. Petersburg College and contemplating another missionary trip in the fall”.

About his transition to college at age 12 this is what is said,

“While Andrew excelled academically, the transition from homeschooling to formal education was at times a bit bumpy. He wasn't used to deadlines, said his mom. Like many teens his age, he had to work on organization, time management and study skills.

Then there was the stigma that went along with attending college at such a young age. People expected more of him than other kids his age and that often frustrated him.

"One of the things that made him successful was the understanding he had of his weaknesses and his willingness to seek help," said Karen Lederer, associate professor of Information Technology.

But, she added, "He has a lot on the ball and I wouldn't be surprised if some day he's my boss or a famous entrepreneur," Lederer said. "He certainly has a lot of opportunities ahead of him."

If the above reference to learning time management skills is the worst thing that can be said about this teenageer then I'd consider this a success story. Also, being able to even identify one's weaknesses is a thing that not all adults can even do. If a 15 year old can identify their weaknesses then they actively work to address those then that is a great thing!

Great job, Andrew! You are an inspiration to homeschooling parents such as myself!

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Good News

I have mentioned on here on my blog previously that my husband was looking for new employment. The good news is he has accepted a job offer.

The good things about the job are that we don’t have to relocate. In fact he will have the shortest commute he’s ever had in his life, just twenty minutes on back roads.

Not having to not go into New York City (90-120 minutes each way depending on where the office is in the city) will be a blessing. Not taking the train will save us money. And he won’t be working in a city that has been and continues to be a target for terrorists. (He was in NYC on 9/11, a scary story I’ve shared here on my blog in the past.)

Being able to avoid the jammed highways of I-95 and the Merritt Parkway will be fan-tas-tic. Not only will that reduce stress but his chance of getting in an accident is less (even though the likelihood of a deer strike is higher on the back roads).

And his hours are not long either.

We are happy for all these good things.

A Reading Content Leap for My Younger Son

I’ve said it before. I want to avoid twaddle in reading material for my children but sometimes it is allowed, mostly when it serves a purpose.

One purpose has been to use what I consider twaddle as material to practice reading on, for beginning readers as an agent toward building reading fluency. It seems that the bridge from the leveled short reader books with lots of pictures over to the easy chapter books leads to the twaddle zone. It is hard to find twaddle-free first chapter books for children which are stellar literature. I guess the fact that complex and difficult words are hard to read has something to do with it. Yet so many of the “juvenile fiction” books for children aged 9-12 are wonderful and twaddle-free. So for a time, readers have so few options for reading material that twaddle is nearly unavoidable. Rather than dwell on this and get angry about it, I cave in, use the twaddle (we don’t let it use us) and then we move on to the next (better) phase.

I do still have my limits. Twaddle to help build reading fluency is fine so long as it is not harmful twaddle or outright junk. Harmful might be a strong word but what I mean for example is the books not teaching my children bad behaviors (sarcasm or back-talk, disrespect for adults, or putting down education) or celebrating distasteful things like potty language. Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones are not allowed in our home. Magic Tree House, The Secrets of Droon (contains fantasy and magic content) and The Boxcar Children are allowed.

My younger son has been reading the Tony Abbott series “The Secrets of Droon” for what seems like forever. He just finished reading book #22. No offense to Mr. Abbott but I’m ready for him to move on to something else.

The other day when he finished up book #22 he asked for book #23. (We own it and I have it at the ready for when he was going to read it.) However I looked to the other books I had selected that I felt were at about the same reading level and said in a pleading voice, “How about trying something different?”

We had been discussing Helen Keller a bit because we had driven by her former home, Arcan Ridge located near us in Easton, Connecticut, which is the home she lived in for over thirty years and was her death place. I reminded him of that and how the book was about a wonderful woman and her life story. I offered up the Dell Yearling book by Polly Ann and Stewart Graff “Helen Keller”. He agreed to read it.

The first thing he said was, ‘This book is good!” Later he exclaimed, “I never knew a person could be both blind AND deaf!”.

After his official reading practice time was up he came to me and said the book was really, really good. He even read it more before going to bed! Each day he tells me something new about her life. He is in awe of Helen Keller.

(Now you can just imagine me doing a little jig. This is exactly what I’d wanted for my children.)

Yesterday I needed a hair cut and the only appointment I could get in to was a weekday, so I had to take the kids with me. I suggested they bring their books and do their reading time while sitting in the salon’s reception area. My younger son brought along the Helen Keller book. I noticed that for the first time ever, while in the car on the way home he was ignoring the music on the radio and not singing along but instead he was reading the book!

(Side note: the hair stylists keep saying they can’t believe how well behaved my children are. They all know we homeschool and they keep telling me my kids are so different from schooled kids. When in the salon they sit quietly in the waiting area and read, or on other days have occupied themselves with a quiet toy they brought along such as a LEGO creation or a Bionicle. They don't bother me with nagging or anything as beforehand they had something to eat and drink and they've used the bathroom. I expect them to be able to sit there for about 25 minutes while I get my hair cut without bugging me, they are 7.5 and 10 now, after all, and I don't think that is a large expectation to have of them. They don’t destroy property. They don’t bicker. They don’t run around in hyperactive states. Whenever the stylists or the owner addresses them in conversation they look them in the eye and speak to them as much as the adult will continue to engage them.)

We stopped at the library and I borrowed a documentary about Helen Keller, “Helen Keller In Her Story” (1955). I was looking for the old movie I recalled watching when I was a child or teenager but they didn’t have it, it is called “The Miracle Worker”.

I also shared my joy about my son loving the Helen Keller book with the librarian and she completely “got it”. It is nice sometimes to dialogue with someone who appreciates the same things that I do.

Then again in the car on the way home from the library, he was reading it.

I just have to share that I am so thrilled that my seven year old is enjoying a biography and that he truly is interested in reading this book. (And that maybe his reading practice will go beyond Droon.)

Thank you Tony Abbott for your Droon series but I’m ready for my son to move on. (I’ll not deny him the pleasure of reading the rest of the Droon books in his free time, though, if he wants to read more.)

My next plan is to take out the books we own from the Childhood of Famous Americans and have him read those for reading practice instead of only offering him fiction for reading practice.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 107 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 107 was published today at Consent of the Governed.

Blog carnivals are a great way to find blog articles on specific topics of interest. This Carnival of Homeschooling is an inclusive carnival, accepting submissions from homeschoolers regardless of their choice of teaching method, educational philosophy, religion and any other defining trait. The Carnival has a range of voices, each blogging on whatever topic is on their heart and mind.

Check it out!

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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Make It From Scratch #47 Published

Today at Walkabout the Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #47 was published.


Great Video Story of a Homeschooled Teen

The Hartford Courant’s website does a weekly feature called “I am…” which features a video and text segment of a teenager or young adult telling about their lives in their own words.

Yesterday’s feature is “I am…Home Schooled” (sic). It features a 16 year old homeschooled girl from the town of Cheshire, Connecticut named Erin O'Luanaigh. The video was produced well and is narrated by the homeschooled girl. She is articulate and represents the Connecticut homeschooling community well.

I’ve been hearing for years that the town of Cheshire is “friendly” to homeschoolers, which means two things. First, the school staff does not harass them or make it hard for families to homeschool, and secondly that the schools even allows homeschoolers to partake in some classes part-time at the public schools if the family so chooses. Note that this is not the norm in Connecticut, this is the only town I know of that is so welcoming and kind to homeschoolers, other towns refuse to even dialogue about allowing homeschooled kids to take classes or to do school sports or extra-curricular activities like drama or band.

The story includes information that Erin is that she is the oldest child in the family and used to attend public school. On the first day of seventh grade she landed in the Emergency Room with a new medical condition. Her homeschooling journey began because of being unable to attend classes due to her new medical condition. She loves homeschooling and now does some activities at the public school (singing and music).

Note that as of this moment, I can’t get the video to replay for me correctly. I think there is some problem on the site right at this moment that hopefully will be corrected. However by using this link you can still read the text of the article. If the wrong video begins playing you can stop the video and just read the text article.

I am… Home Schooled
Date published: 1/14/08

One of the last things that Erin said on the video was something like this: "Homeschooling is not just college preparation, it is preparation for life."

Viewer and Readers' Reactions
At the time I’m blogging this, there were 72 comments on the story left by those who read it or watched the video. Unfortunately the comments started off with the same old, same old myths and ‘worries’ about homeschooling written by a person who knows nothing of homeschooling. If you’re a homeschooling parent, you know what the first one was, it was the concern that homeschoolers may not be socialized based on the assumption that the children are locked inside the house and are never let out.

I decided to leave a comment. I rarely comment on news sites, bug when I do, I choose to ignore the ridiculous or mean comments and just speak in a positive manner stating my experience. I try to not get emotional and stick to some facts and say something to try to enlighten someone. I don’t get on the defensive about what some other commenter has said, I just ignore the ridiculous comments. I also give them some information where people who truly want to learn more can do so on their own.

If you are a regular blog reading of mine you will know it is hard for me to keep my comments short and succinct. Here is the comment that I left on the site today.

"What a great piece this was!!

I love that this feature allows the person themselves tell the story, because so many other articles in newspapers and short segments on television carry more of the journalists' opinion or bias and often contains erroneous information, sometimes even mistelling the state laws or other very clear factual information.

I noted in the story that this teen was publically schooled through the end of 6th grade. She takes some classes in high school with groups of teens (singing and music related that are hard to duplicate at home). She is active in other outside activities. She goes to worship services at her church. She is a well-socialized person and articulate and smart to boot.

I am a lifelong CT resident as is my husband. I homeschool our two children, now aged 10 and 7--they have never been to daycare, preschool or public school.

My children are not isolated by any means. I'm saying this to those commenters who have some weird notion that homeschooled kids are trapped inside their houses. My children are with other homeschooled kids on a regular basis as well as having friends who are public and private school educated. They do activities in the community such as Cub Scouts and religious ed at church,and they are mixed in with the schooled kids. They also are with cousins and extended family on a regular basis and those kids are schooled.

Teaching kids one on one takes less time to teach the same amount of information than it takes in a class. And we have no homework. And for these two reasons my kids have more free time than schooled kids in their grades. This allows them to play more (alone or with other kids on scheduled play dates or at the weekly outdoor homeschool park day). They also have more time to do classes with other homeschoolers and also to do competitive team events like FIRST LEGO League. They have more time for Scouts and sports, too. And they have alone time and time for relaxation so they are not rushing around all the time.

Connecticut has a growing homeschooling community. Some do it from day one as they want a different educational method than the public and private schools offer. Some do it because they want a more challenging academic experience than public school and they can't afford private school tuition for all of their children. I'm seeing more and more doing it because of ongoing problems at school with bullying or learning issues and even special ed kids coming out of the system after the parent feels the system failed them. Some do it becuase they want their children's education to reflect their religious worldview.

Homeschooling one's children is hard work and it takes time, money and patience. We are sacrificing as a family financially as I have lost the imcome I would be earning if I were working full time. This is something I want to do, something my husband wants and something my kids want, too. It works for us so far!

If anyone wants more information on homeschooling in CT you can start by reading the website of the statewide all inclusive network called Connecticut Homeschool Network. Christians who want to connect with Christians can connect through

If anyone wants some statistics regarding homeschooling you can check out the annually updated book published by Brian Ray PhD of the National Home Education Research Institute."

This is the most current edition of the book from what I can tell on the NHERI website (2005-2006 edition).


National Home Education Research Institute home page (NHERI)

NHERI Research Link Page for parents and researchers

Connecticut Homeschool Network (all-inclusive organization)

CHN's page about legal matters with homeschooling in Connecticut

The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers (TEACH-CT)

National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD)

Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The NIV Adventure Bible: Book Review by ChristineMM

I've been on the lookout for good Bibles (NIV) for my boys. I wanted something with not very tiny font. I wanted something that was lightweight and portable, paperback if possible. I was also considering buying a Bible cover so it would not get wrecked, torn or dog-eared from carrying it to and from church and Sunday School and Youth Group.

My friend recommended this one to me and I did buy it this week. It is "The NIV Adventure Bible". Our church uses the NIV Bible and that is why I'm looking for an NIV version. This one has a soft cover which is partially blue suede and partially a silky fabric. It has a toggle closure and a bungee cord so it is its own built in book cover and Bible protector all-in-one. (The ISBN is 9780310711704.) Full retail is listed as $34.99 but today Amazon sells it for just over $23 which is 34% off the retail price.

There are some additional pages with notes and lists and some sidebar information that is helpful when learning about the Bible.

My friend said she found hers at and she paid an extra $5 to have their names embossed on the front cover. I went for the cheaper base price on and we went without the embossing (not available on Amazon). And to be honest I did start looking around on the CBD site and started getting tempted to buy more and more so just ended up flipping over to Amazon and ordering the two Bibles and finalizing the Amazon order and getting the whole thing over with quickly before I spent more than I had intended!

The publisher (Zonderkids) says this Bible is for kids aged 8-12.

My boys are thrilled with their new Bibles and were proud to take them to church yesterday. They were happy to have the same Bibles as two of their friends.

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Haiku Monday, About Today's Snowstorm

The much-hyped snowstorm began last night at 11pm. Depending on where one lives in Connecticut, 3-15 inches will fall. They called for a dangerous commute this morning, that must have caused the town to agree to plow before the last flake fell (my town's usual policy). So the plow woke me up at five in the morning and I've been up ever since.

I used the time to read more of the book "Staring at the Sun". I'm nearly finished with it.

I just decided to take a look outside now that it is getting light out, and so stood on my front steps in my pajamas and robe, snapping photos and taking mental notes to use for Haiku Monday. So here they are.

Snow falls silently
Slow dripping sound in gutter
No man-made sounds though

Every branch coated
The forest a wall of white
Tinted grayish blue

The trees silhouette
All so different, unique
The snow changes them

It is so quiet
Are the creatures all sleeping?
No, squirrels at play.

Nothing is moving
Except two squirrels chasing
Up the great oak tree

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Silly Little Thing

You Are a Turkey Sandwich

Conservative and a bit shy, you tend to stick with what you know and trust.
You are very introverted, and you prefer to blend in whenever possible.
Though you may be hard to know well, anyone who does know you considers you a true friend.

Your best friend: The Ham Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Tuna Fish Sandwich

Homeschool Open House Week in Review: Week 19

Homeschool Open House Week in Review
Week 19: January 6-12, 2008

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

This is our first week home from vacation and going back to homeschooling after the Christmas break.

The week started out with me hearing results from testing done on my older son. The testing mainly was about reading and reading comprehension but in that testing he was checked also for various components of language arts such as phonics, grammar, vocabulary words, word roots, writing composition, spelling, visual memory recall, math, verbal communication skills and general knowledge. I’m feeling a bit paranoid about seeing not every single thing on or above grade level. I have decided to do some remedial, review work of things already taught and that I felt were mastered, as well as making sure we do all that I had planned out and even adding in more work in some other areas.

Additionally I spent time finding providers and working out insurance issues for that son to be tested for vision, vision tracking and hearing based on the test results.

And I spent mental energy and time thinking about the purpose of academic testing and the validity of it.

We have a new video game console in the household for the first time ever in our parenting journey. I worried how this would affect homeschooling. I told the kids they can play it for one hour on a weekday only if ALL of their schooling was done. This has turned out to be the best motivator and if I had any clue that it would work out so great I’d have bought one years ago.

Due to me slowing down out outside activities and feeling so pressured to focus on homeschooling we hit the books pretty hard this week. The kids did every lesson that I told them to do, and for a number of days there was not one single complaint, whine and even no eye-rolling. Hooray!

A short-term goal in math for my older son is to finish mastering memorization of all of the math facts. This child has always had a hard time memorizing math facts. He spent time this week using the math fact practice games on the computer: Timez Attack and Math Blaster ages 8-9 (that covers multiplication). He also began the next level of Math-U-See. I also made him do some flash card work which he hates. Older son complains that the boy whose voice is on that computer game Math Blaster ages 8-9 is nasty and mean. He said at one point he had not answered the question in time and the boy made fun of him for being too slow and did a horrid snarky laugh. What are the educational computer game companies thinking by putting that in the game??

For Language Arts my older son began a new book to read which I stumbled upon at a library book sale, The Time Bike by Jane Langton (Lexile score 810). He loved it so much he finished it in less than three days. He went above and beyond his quota of 45 minutes of reading practice each day to get that finished.

I added to his vocabulary and word root lessons, the playing of Rummy Roots. I taught myself and the kids to play it. If you have not played it yet here is a tip. Rummy Roots II version of the game (in the directions) is easier than Rummy Roots I, and I’d advise to start off with that. Frankly the game was harder and boring with that first game.

I began using a book that I’d found at a used curriculum sale for reading comprehension: Reading Detective level A1 (for grades 5-6), published by Critical Thinking Press, with my older son. I can see right off the bat how he did not fare well on all the reading comprehension tests as he is not very cooperative with that type of reading comprehension work (read the passage and answer questions). I think he is doesn’t care and is being lazy. I’m not using that as an excuse, but am stating a fact. I think that it is about time he learns that sometimes you just have to do certain academic work that society demands of you and learn to do it and just do it. I can see I am going to have my work cut out with him if I am to teach him how to read and take tests in this manner. Well, he will need it for the SAT and for college one day so I guess we’re going to start the ‘training’ now.

I am now questioning my past theory and practice of teaching grammar. I am researchign options to teach grammar to my older son. This week I am testing out using First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind level 3 (which covers grades 3 and 4). I like it so far. He doesn't like it. Then again who cares what he thinks of it, because I can already see that he doesn't want to learn any of this so no matter what I do I will be met with resistance. Well, I'm the parent and I say he has to learn it so he has to just do it. I could drive myself nuts tying to find some one, perfect, fun curriculum but to be honest I don't think one exists. These lessons are short and so even if he doesn't 'have fun' doing them, it is not torture, he has to 'just do it' which is what he'd face if he were attending a school!!

Regarding our use of Spelling Power for spelling, I am patiently working with my older son (the spelling challenged one) to show him that some simple grammar rules or forgotten phonics rules are the cause of some of his mistakes. He focused on remembering those and suddenly he is doing much better! He is not rushing through spelling the word to get it over with but instead is taking his time to think about what he is writing and then is getting the words correct. I hope this continues. For the record this sone says he hates Spelling Power because he doesn't like being told what words he does not know. I also feel this is being lazy because he'd rather practice learning words from a set list, some of which he's already mastered therefore he'd be doing easy busy work. Well that to me is not learning, that is just doing busy work. So we're staying with Spelling Power.

By the way my younger son LOVES Spelling Power and he finds the daily pretesting fun. He is very competitive and wants to achieve 100% every day. He is also a natural speller and learns quickly when he makes an error, usually mastering it after one practice session. (It is so nice to have a child who learns quickly, easily, and enjoys testing.)

Younger son finished up yet another Droon book (#22, is he not yet bored by this series?) for his reading practice. I talked him into reading a biography of Helen Keller which he at first resisted (it is an older Dell Yearling version that I’m guessing is at about grade three reading level). He actually is enjoying the book and declared that he’d never known a person could be both deaf and blind! What interested him the most was to learn more about her because I explained that she was a famous person with an incredible story and that she lived and died in a home near where we live.

My younger son continues with Math-U-See Gamma and is flying through that. I let him also spend time playing Reader Rabbit ages 6-9 computer game which oddly I just found in a very odd place; it had been misplaced for about two years! So he is happy to be playing it again.

Next week I will resume with my younger son, First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind Level 1-2. Now more than ever I want him to learn grammar and I'd rather have him learn it early and keep practicing it. This is a change from my prior philosophy.

I bought the Story of the World Volume 2 and 3 audio books, read by Jim Weiss. We began listening to Volume 2, even the parts that I’d already read. Next week we will restart reading the living books aloud, doing coloring pages and mapwork.

Penmanship continues with Getty-Dubay’s Italic handwriting curriculum for both kids.

Next week we will jump back into writing composition using Institutes for Excellence in Writing with both kids.

This week was our county’s homeschoolers Geography Bee. I ran the Bee and was the scorekeeper. I had hoped my older son would participate but he has zero interest. We also didn’t prepare for it. I obviously didn’t force him into doing it. I do wish I had kids who did Bees and succeeded at them.

It is impressive to see what the Bee participants know and to see them do well in the Bee. I did note one general thing about the students. They were in grades 4-8 and one thing was consistent between all the kids regardless of their age/grade. For the multiple choice questions they fared better. Then all didn’t do as well at all with the open-ended questions. My interpretation of this is that there is a 25% chance of guessing the right answer. Plus if they listened to the multiple clues in each question it would be easy to do process of elimination to get the right answer or at least to narrow it down to two possible answers, even if some guesswork was involved. Yet to answer an open-ended question accurately, they really, really have to know the right answer and to ‘know their stuff’.

I was hoping my older son would watch the Bee and get interested. My main concern was that since I was scorekeeper and had a job to do that he be quiet. So he read a book the entire time. It is a non-fiction book about facts and ways to improve playing a video game that we got for Christmas. So there is a perfect example of how he reads on his own for information that is relevant to his life and that he puts into immediate use and demonstrates that indeed he did comprehend what he read.

The kids keep playing with the Talking Globe, this week also.

They are also staying up later than usual reading in bed, on their own. They are reading chapter books of fiction, magazines, and the book on how to play the video game better. The boys are talking together to make strategies to play that video game better. My older son is going to use the video game in a way to customize and make his own lands and layouts.

We had two playdates this week with homeschooling families. I tried to set up playdates with some schooled kids but their mothers said they were over-scheduled and they were not available. (That’s interesting to me.)

It was a good week for doing the homeschooling and keeping the house tidy and clean. The kids and I sorted through some of their toys and games to weed them out further and to get some packed up and ready to give away. I’m caught up with laundry post-trip. The rest of the Christmas decorations were put away by me and the kids. I’m finding that I can cook and clean and do the homeschooling just fine and well if I don’t have a lot of outside commitments. I’m still trying to find that nice balance of all that I want to do versus what is actually do-able.

Something very good happened this week that I cannot yet share on my blog. Stay tuned.

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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