Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Personal Notes and Thoughts on Autism: The Musical Documentary Movie

I reviewed this movie on my blog, here.

Here are more thoughts of mine and some notes that are not included in my review.

How I came across this movie:

While at the public library I came across this documentary in the non-fiction DVD section and borrowed it immediately. I had never heard of its existence. When I became a parent my curiosity expanded on the issue of health and wellness of babies and children. I first had an interest in Autism because its incidence was growing by leaps and bounds and I became aware of the symptoms to watch for in my own children (and I hoped my own children didn’t have it; they do not). A number of years later my interest became more personal when my brother’s son was finally diagnosed with Autism after years of getting the run around on giving his symptoms an official diagnosis. I love my nephew and am concerned for him, especially because he is non-verbal and is now 8.5 years old. I am curious about treatments and therapies and have concerns for the futures of the Autistics who are still on the lower functioning end in their adult years. I am unclear what will happen to these adults in our country. With the growing number of cases of Autism, being one in 150 children are now diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum, I think everyone in our country needs to be thinking about plans for the future. Our country’s systems are not set up any longer, to provide full services for adults who cannot function as fully independent who are self-sustaining. I wish more Americans had a general, basic understanding of Autism and its challenges and that they also would feel empathy for those with Autism as well as for their struggling families.

I watched the movie alone then decided to watch it with my kids. They struggle with emotions regarding their cousin who has Autism. The cousin seems to pay no attention to my kids, he doesn't play with them or interact with them. In the past, for years, every time we'd see him my nephew would pinch really hard, hit and do other painful things to my kids completely unprovoked (he was doing it to everyone in his life not just my kids). He would scream and screech at the top of his lungs, not making it easy to be around him. He also sometimes will destroy things our kids are making or be too rough with toys and wreck them. It is sad to say but my kids don't have much of a relationship with their cousin. They can be in the same room with him but he just ignores them now. Sometimes my eight year old (the same age as his cousin) says he doesn't like his cousin and the other day he said he hates him. I had a talk about him and Autism in general and asked that they both have empathy and try to find a place in their heart for him and to be tolerant. We watched the show together (me hoping they'd not ask what a Playboy magazine was) and we discussed the movie. I think it helped them see the other kids and their behavior then hear or read the words that the children with Autism said about being bullied or how kids who were pretty much non-verbal or talked mostly with echolalia could communicate eloquently through a typing communication device.

Here are some of the notes I took while I watched it as I wanted to remember these parts:

1. Elaine Hall, founder of The Miracle Project references Stanley Greenspan as giving her the inspiration to “join their world” and “do what they do” in order to connect with them and then bring the child with Autism out from ‘within their world’ into the larger world.

I had never heard of Dr. Greenspan but I just found this information on the Internet:

Stanley Greenspan M.D.’s official website. He uses the DIR Floortime ™ model of therapy

Dr. Greenspan authored a book for parents “Engaging Autism Helping Children Relate, Communicate and Think with the DIR Floortime Approach”

He also has written other parenting books about children with special needs as well as general parenting books, books about helping babies develop well, and books about the social lives of children. Here are some of them:

2. A moving part of the movie was with the mother of Lexi. She asks “what do I do with this information”? She knew something was wrong and went to their pediatrician and didn’t get a diagnosis of Autism or any other answers. Numerous health care professionals could not help them. Finally she got a referral to a center that would evaluate her daughter and after just five minutes was told “yes, your child has Autism”. This touched me because so many times doctors are not making a correct diagnosis.

Watch a video of Lexi singing eloquently. It is touching when you hear her speak using echolalia (repeating back what the other person says) or speaking with less intonation than she uses in her singing.

3. Lexi’s mother also said that her husband “always said it’s not up to use to judge the quality of her life but I find that a challenge”. She was discussing our society’s apathy and what appears to be that our society is not addressing the real issues with Autism. She worries about the quality of life of her child when she is an adult if she is not functioning at a certain level. She made reference to maybe the only job she could do was to push a brook at McDonald’s. This was quite emotional.

4. The boy Adam was called ‘obsessed’ with girls, especially one girl with long hair. His aide at school set a timer and limited him to play with her for just ten minutes at recess, as if that obsession was unhealthy. At the end of the ten minutes the boy stood alone in the busy play area with his hands on his ears, over stimulated and not socializing with anyone. I asked myself why do neuro-typical kids get to be ‘obsessed’ with their best friends in school and can choose to socialize only with them but a child labeled with Autism is not allowed to play freely with who he wants? If the goal was to have Adam play with a different child or a different group, well, that was not happening, so is not playing with the girl and the other girls better than standing alone among a sea of children ignoring him? I found this quite sad.

5. The boy Wyatt discusses bullying numerous times in the movie. I hate bullying of all kinds and to think of kids with Autism getting bullied really ticks me off. Wyatt seems to me to be highly functional with his verbal ability. He expresses his emotions well. What he says about bullies is correct. He wants to move into a mainstream classroom but fears bullies as he already is bullied in school by non-special needs kids such as when in the bathroom at school.

Here is a video of Wyatt speaking to his mother about his dissatisfaction with school and about the bullies.

Wyatt Part One---

6. Adam’s father Richard calls the mothers of kids with Autism “crazed mom of a disabled child” and "monomaniacal” and “self-involved with kids” and that his wife’s life ‘revolves around getting information and help” for their son. This man also had an affair for 16 months and his wife said she was the last to know, that everyone else around her knew. My impression was that he justified the affair because she was overly-focused on their child’s care and education. My reaction to this is what choice does a mother have? Our society has changed the way we treat children with different developmental issues. It used to be that at an early age, a child with symptoms of developmental delay would be put in an institution for life, leaving the family free to live a separate life. Now these children are living at home, they need someone to care for them, so mom can’t always keep working full time outside the home. The kids are expected to attend regular public school and many times are forced into mainstream classrooms also. The parents are the only ones orchestrating the multi-leveled health care services. It is a full-time job to manage the life of a child with Autism, seeking therapies and specialist consults, advocating for their education and so forth.

7. Henry (a talkative child with Asperger’s who has a passion for dinosaurs, reptiles and certain other creatures) is discussing sharks and why they attack surfers at the Project Miracle session. Coach E is trying to teach him to look people in the eye when he speaks. Coach E then asks Wyatt to tell Henry what Wyatt thinks about Henry. Wyatt said that Henry knows a lot about reptiles and he likes reptiles too. He likes hearing what Henry has to say about them because he is ‘smart’ and he thinks “Henry is smart”. Henry said “Thanks, I always wanted to hear that.” (This made me tear up instantly.)

8. The father of Henry is Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Steven says that the only difference between him and his son is that he puts his guitar between him and the world. This was a short quote. I wanted to hear more of what he was thinking. If he thinks he might also qualify for a diagnosis of Autism how can it be that he has no label and is a successful musician looked up to by people, yet today children are getting identified with Autism and it is seen as something to cure? Can some people who are on the Autism Spectrum be ‘cured out of’ their gift or made to think they are worthless so they never develop their talent or are dissuaded from seeing their passion?

9. Wyatt gives a great talk about children with Autism who ‘go into their own world’. He hates to see kids going into their own world. He doesn’t like trying to connect with them to be their friend when they are lost in their inner world. He asks why kids go into their own world? Then he answers to say he knows he does it too. He asks if a child is always in their inner world, how can they make friends? He talks about Henry “going into his own world of blizzards and dinosaurs”. Wyatt says he likes to be with a friend, have sleep-over’s, and doesn’t like to be alone, so sometimes “instead of being alone” he goes into his own world in order to have someone with him. He then says he’d rather be with a friend, one that is not mean, rude and not a bully. "It makes me feel happy inside to have a friend."

Here is a video clip of Wyatt talking about kids going into their own world.

Title: "Wyatt Part Two"

10. In one part the mothers are together and talking about being a part of ‘a tribe’. Adam’s mom says that when one person in the tribe is doing something bad, it makes the whole tribe look bad, or if one in the tribe is not being helped the tribe should help them. Lexi’s mom then says that our society today does not welcome ‘autistic people in the world’ and says they are not valued. She says we can’t even get doctors to follow the law and schools to follow the law how can we make society value them as people? She said “they think she is weirdo. I can try to enlighten people who think she is weirdo but I can’t make them VALUE her”. I found the entire discussion of being valued as a person in our world interesting. This is something that has been addressed in the video by Amanda Bagg, a woman with Autism, in her video “Being an Unperson” which I had blogged in April 2008.

Amanda Bagg blogged on November 27, 2008 on the topic of ‘existing’ which is about this topic also. Here is a quote from the beginning:

It is not arrogant, stupid, foolish, bad, meaningless, or wrong to say that you exist.

There can be a lot of very strange patterns in the rest of the world, some of them involving people, some of them not, some of them seeming to come from inside of you, all of them basically boiling down to the message, “You do not exist,” in one form or another.

The post is profound and I hope you take the time to read it. People with Autism that are different than others do exist and we need to start addressing that fact.

In Conclusion:

I really enjoyed watching Autism: The Musical. I really think every person should watch it.

I think our society needs to be more honest about the situation at hand and start thinking of more solutions, to think about other ways of getting a best education for the kids at various areas on the Autism Spectrum and to think about what their role in society will be and who will help take care of them if they are incapable of fully caring for and financially supporting themselves.

Here is a video tribute someone made showing the five kids with Autism featured in Autism: The Musical. This shows the kids at different ages and doing different things, showing their strengths and interests.

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Autism The Musical Documentary Movie Review by ChristineMM

Title: Autism: The Musical
Starring: Elaine Hall
Movie Release Date: 2007
DVD Releae Date: May 13, 2008
Rating: Not Rated

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: Informative, Empathetic, Tearful, Hopeful, Worrisome, Joyful, Honest: A Must-Watch for Everyone!

Filmed in 2005-2006, this documentary documents the work of The Miracle Project in its first year. The goal was to bring children on the Autism Spectrum together to prepare for a stage production, a musical performance. The participants would learn, grow, and have positive experiences through the months of preparing for the show, the process was educational and a therapy of sorts, with the actual performance being the culmination of their work.

The creator of The Miracle Project is Elaine Hall, a mother of a boy with Autism. The show opens with her telling her story of her marriage and hopes to be a mother, of her infertility struggle and their dream of parenting was fulfilled when they adopted a toddler from a Russian orphanage. Only after coming home and experiencing numerous problems, was the boy finally diagnosed with Autism. After trying many therapies she credits Stanley Greenspan with giving her the idea to go into the child’s world in order to connect with them and to draw them out and to be a part of the rest of the world. Her son responded well to alternative therapies with actors and dancers who were able to connect to her son more than the mainstream therapists did. She had this idea and she did create and run a structured program, a nonprofit organization called The Miracle Project, that would invite children on the Autism Spectrum and their typically-developing siblings perform a stage production together.

The film focuses on the entire process from conception to planning, rehearsing, and culminating with seeing parts of the final production. There is a large cast of children in the musical but this film focuses on the lives of five children who are at different areas of the Autism Spectrum. We meet the parents of the featured children and hear their stories from birth through noticing something was wrong, how they were diagnosed, some of the therapies they tried and of the child’s current strengths and weaknesses. We see how the child appears on the outside and to us as strangers and we hear from the parents what the children are ‘really like’. We learn what types of education they are getting and of some struggles with the educational system. We learn also that some marriages were strained and how some of the couples separated or divorced and as a nice balance, see Elaine Hall begin dating a new man which we find out at the end, culminates in marriage. Other examples of how Autism changed the parent’s lives is one mother suffered badly with depression and another gave up an acting and modeling career to dedicate her time to full-time mothering. How Autism affects Autism affects the entire family, even sometimes extended family, was clearly shown. The dedication of the parents to find the best care and education for their children is clearly seen. Different methods of education are being used by the children with varying degrees of satisfaction and progress. We also hear the parent’s concerns about what their children will be like as adults and what their lives might be like as adults. The parents speak with brutal honesty from the heart.

I feel the film was a good mix of optimism and feeling happy for the children’s growth and development that occurred as a direct result of their participation in the musical while also showing the negative side: the challenges and struggles of the children themselves as well as their family’s problems. I shed both tears of joy and tears of pity for the children and the families as I watched it. I wanted to reach out and hug the children and praise them, as well as give their parents encouragement and kudos for their hard work.

Some of the best parts were the interviews with the children where they explain what life is like for them and what bothers them and what makes them happy. Discussions of the problems of and why children with Autism choose to retreat into their own world and bullying issues at school touched me deeply. Bullying is an issue for one child and bullying is one of the bigger topics discussed as a challenge to chidlren's socialization and as a problem in public school. When the least verbal child is shown how to use a device to type his thoughts out, I was surprised (based on his outside appearance and actions) how eloquent he was and what he had to say.

As of today people are still debating the exact cause of Autism or if it is a combination of many things. This film doesn’t concentrate on that topic. This film doesn’t discuss all the different therapies and how to treat Autism. Instead the film gives just enough background information on the families to learn some things about their journey. It is clear that all the parents are working hard to find the best care and services for their child. Some things these children and their parents say may help parents of children on the Autism Spectrum, inspiring them to action, help sustain their dedication, or at least that they are not alone.

I feel this movie may help other people understand Autism more and may raise the concern about what our society needs to be thinking about and doing about Autism. This Autism problem doesn’t seem to be going away, there is still no easy or miracle cures yet. We need to think about things such as getting a correct diagnosis and not giving misdiagnoses, about getting an early diagnosis, about right and best therapies and services at the earliest age possible, about better options in the public education system and lastly, how our society can help adults with Autism survive and thrive if they are unable to fully care for themselves.

I felt the movie was very well balanced between the general information and challenges that Autism presents, with the hopeful and uplifting parts and seeing things that elicit a smile, and the story of the musical production itself. For me this was first and foremost about Autism and the real people living with it, and secondarily about the musical and The Miracle Project.

This documentary was filmed in 2005-2006 and was released in 2007. It has won multiple awards including two Emmy’s in 2008. It aired on HBO in 2008 and was released on DVD on May 13, 2008.

Check your public library to see if they have a copy in circulation. If not, consider suggesting your library purchase a copy for their holdings. Most libraries have a special fund set aside to purchase media requested by its citizens. If you have HBO check their schedule for airtimes. Or consider purchasing a copy. Currently, sells it at a discount. It should go without saying that this belongs in the lending libraries of all Autism support groups.

In some of my reviews I mention issues for parents who are considering having their children consume the media I’m reviewing. My note to parents who are considering having their children watch this, (as I did with my own children) is: this film contains a few uses of the profanity word f--. It also discusses one parent who formerly was a Playboy centerfold and shows two of the photos from the magazine, one a backlit but darkened body silhouette that clearly indicated she was nude and another where she was scantily clad in a tasteful yet erotic presentation. This film has a rating of “not rated”. After viewing this once I decided to watch it with my children as they are struggling to accept and tolerate the different behaviors of their cousin. Many topics are serious such as mentioning an affair, marital separation and divorce, and clinical depression. One parent mentions the option of killing herself and then says she hopes her child dies before she does (because she worries of who will be caring for her in adulthood). If you are considering showing this to your children I suggest you view it first and make your own choice. I don’t believe this movie was ever intended for young children to watch but I felt in our family’s case that it had some good things that I wanted my children to see and then we discussed it.

External Links

My blog post: My Personal Notes and Thoughts on Autism: The Musical Documentary Movie

Wikipedia article Autism: The Musical

Official website: The Miracle Project

Official website: Autism: The Musical

News story about Wyatt Isaacs’ Bar Mitzva, has wonderful quotables statements from Wyatt and his mother

See listing of current news topics on The Miracle Project website

Check for current offerings of film trailers, clips and interviews by doing a keyword search “Autism The Musical” or “The Miracle Project”

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 157 Has Been Published

Today the Carnival of Homeschooling issue #157 was published today at Practical Homeschooling.

I have an entry in this blog carnival. This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

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 Blog Carnival #96 Has Been Published

The Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival #96 was published at Make It From Scratch on December 30, 2008. Check it out and get inspired to make something from scratch.

Consider submitting to this blog carnival if you make things from scratch. It can be anything from cooking and baking to sewing and crafts.

Thoughts on a Family Getting a Fish Tank

Question from a homeschooler whose child is gifted:

My four year old is interested in fish, it is developing into a real passion. What would be a good first fish tank, and type of fish that she could learn to care for. Any advice would be appreciated.

My Answer:

We have African Cichlids in our freshwater tank. They are highly colored and look brilliant colors like saltwater fish but the freshwater tank is much easier to care for and less expensive than maintaining a saltwater tank.

African Cichlids must be in a tank only with that breed and an algae eater as they are a bit aggressive. The cool thing about them is they are a lot of fun to watch. They dig caves out of the little rocks (they don't like colored gravel but small rocks). They also go in caves and have territories stakes out. When you approach the tank they come to see you and beg for food.

I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to discover our pair had another batch of baby fish so now we have 4 tiny fry we are watching over as well (in the same tank).

This breed is easy to care for. One thing about mixing breeds (referred to as having a 'community tank') is that some have different water temperature and ph requirements so it is sometimes hard to get breeds that go well together with conditions in tank plus get along with the other fish. In my opinion some of the non-aggressive fish that get along well in a 'community tank' are boring and not much to want to look at, meaning they have no interesting behaviors to watch.

I will say that when I got our tank, I was misled to think setting up a tank was inexpensive because the $10 tank cost for a 10 gallon tank made me think it was a low cost to set the tank up. By the time we bought all the rest of the necessary gear I'd spent $160 (hood, light, a GOOD filter, filter cartridges, a thermometer that works, rocks, an air bubbler, tank heater, a couple of cave structures and a few plastic plants). If I were to buy fancier and larger caves I could easily invest another $75 on caves alone! I learned that the tank is the cheapest part! Some pet shops also lure you in with 'a free 10 gallon tank if you buy all the gear setup from us".

On where to buy the tank set-up, I also went to a small store with 'discount' in its name and found out later they were charging above full retail for the items I bought! I was trying to avoid big chain stores to patronize small local business but later found out that store is actually a chain. I should have gone to Wal Mart. As an example, one day I ran out of food and went to a different small business pet shop and had to pay $20 for the food which I thought was high but I was desperate, and on my next trip to Wal Mart I saw the same product and size sells for just $11. I thought I was getting ripped off but that type of mark-up really surprised me. Some people buy online the stuff like food and filter cartridges.

My children aged 8 and 11 really can't care for the tank, the cleaning and stuff, you have to be careful with it and do things just a certain way. I don't think a four year old could do much more than feed the fish, the rest would be done by an adult. And the kids are grossed out by the water change when the fecal matter is seen (that was settled into the rocks), so even getting them to help a little like hold the pail while I siphon out some tank water is something they complain about and one wretches and gags saying the water 'has a bad smell'. So it is me doing all the work. My husband wants no part of our fish tank, so it is 'all me'. The tank was my idea and it is 'my problem'.

When a tank emergency happens you have to deal with it. Twice my filter clogged and caused a mini-flood. A few other things happened that meant I literally had to drop my plans for the afternoon and spend time on emergency tank maintenance. In those times I was thinking, "What did I get myself into, I have to run a Cub Scout meeting in a few hours and now I need to do an urgent run to the store to get a new filter".

Be careful about what tank size you pick. Know what the fish breed will grow into and don't overbuy fish. If your tank is too small and the fish get too large you will face a decision to upgrade your tank or get rid of the too-large fish. If you change tank size you need a new hood, new light sometimes, maybe a larger filter, maybe a larger heater. So that tank upgrade for the bigger would run me at least $160 if not over $200. Make your choices wisely. (I was misled by an individual pet shop owner that these fish were perfect for my 10 gallon tank. In reality they grow big and he sold me too many so we did wind up having to upgrade the tank and spend even more money in the end.)

Actually you might try to get free tank supplies from or check Craigslist to see what used stuff you might get free or at a discount.

We also had to deal with fish dying, especially it happens on the first set of fish in the tank that has no 'good bacteria' in it yet. Two other times one aggressive fish (a certain variety that is very aggressive that I didn't know before I bought it) bit into other fish and killed it in a gory way. My kids saw the injury and gore and were affected emotionally. My boys also picked out who owned each fish and felt bad when their fish died or was being bullied around.

These are other things to consider when getting fish, dealing with kids seeing sickness, injury, and death. One more thing is that when the meanest fish was alive my kids asked to get rid of it and wanted me to just flush it down the toilet so we had moral issues on our hands, what is better, kill the bully fish or let the bully murder the other fish? I tried twice to give the fish away for free but it failed, on local homeschooling chat lists and on Craigs List. It finally died on its own after 3.5 years since I refused to kill it.

With gifted kids sometimes the easiest and typical things in life can affect them emotionally due to their various sensitivities and the ones who have a strong sense of justice. Feeling sadness for a killed fish or one who just died on its own, or wanting revenge on the fish that murders other fish for justice, it can make something like having pet fish yet another thing to manage with parenting not just this being about fish tank maintenance. We are rolling with it and it is a learning experience but I am just sharing this as it will be yet something else to have to deal with as a project (the tank and fish) and emotionally with the kids.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rest in Peace Nanny

Christine and Nanny, July 2007

When we visited her in September I knew it would be the last time I'd see my grandmother alive, or perhaps by a long shot, if she went on to live in a nursing home and I went to visit her, it would be the last time I'd be staying in her home with her still living there.

I had recognized the signs that she was dying, the slow death of a person who has no acute medical problems but is 'elderly and frail' and whose body was slowing letting go. I saw the symptoms that her systems were shutting down. I felt she needed hospice care or even a nursing home admission in order to give her the supervision, nutrition, and pain relief I felt she needed. That was my opinion and I was not her caregiver nor was it a role I was able to take on, especially given the fact that we live 500 miles away from each other and that she wanted to die in her own home, not in mine.

On that last trip, in addition to journaling my strong emotions that week on paper I took lots of photgraphs of her home and her yard and fields, the sights, big ones like Mount Kathadin and small things like lichen growing on spruce trees, tiny wildflowers in the grass, and a spider spinning a web.

She said she never thought she'd make it to her 98th birthday, which she did reach in July of this year. She said she was ready to go and that living in her body was painful and that it was 'no way to live'. She wasn't one of those elderly people who say for years that they just want to die, she wasn't like that. She was truly ready to go, it seemed to me.

It hurt her for me to see her in that condition in September. I know she saw the surprise on my face when I saw how hard it was for her to struggle to move, even with my assistance. For the first time ever, during that trip she never asked when we'd come back to visit. She always used to say things like the trip went by fast and how she wished we wouldn't leave. That time she didn't say it, she just said the part about the trip going by quickly. After I was home, on the phone, she never said, "When are you coming again?" or "I wish you had time to come up". The truth is, that I never told her, was I didn't think I could bear seeing her in that state again. I was in a self-preservation mode. Actually I could have, but I felt it was too much for my boys. The only way I could go visit was if they were with me, and she was in such poor health in September that I felt it was really hard on them. From a dignity standpoint, I felt that she was not comfortable with having my kids see her in that condition. And the icing on the cake was when my uncle, her main caretaker went away for five or six weeks in November, she never once asked that I come up and help her, like I did the last time he and my aunt went overseas. I don't think she wanted me there helping her.

She wanted to die in her own home, preferably in her sleep. However a blizzard in her area last week necessitated that she move into my uncle's home, 'just for one week until the weather got better'. The bad driving conditions would not be right to leave her alone in her home, since they didn't have paid caregivers for her 24 hours a day, just for some parts of the day.

Even as I tried keeping close contact by the phone with her I could feel her pulling away. I have some writings that I did on that topic which have been too raw to re-read or to consider actually publishing as a blog post, or were just too personal.

Last night she had the burst of energy that is typical of people in the dying process have. She asked to get up from her rocking chair and to sit at the kitchen table and eat a big meal with my aunt and uncle. She did sit in that chair and shared a meal, eating a really big meal which was not typical for her. She had a good night's sleep and didn't wake up in the night at all as she normally does. When my uncle awoke he offered her her morning coffee and she declined. Her breathing was different. Less than five minutes later she passed away with a paid caregiver at her side, not my uncle or aunt.

My maternal grandmother was a big part of my life. We were very close when I was a child, a teenager and even in my adult years. We shared a relationship that was more of a typical mother figure to me than my own mother has ever been. What she was to me was different than who she was to the other people in her life.

Nanny and my boys, September 2008

Having endured the loss of her first-born son, when he was 18 or 19, due to some accident of a ship he was on, then just a couple of years later losing her husband to an auto accident (while one of her other son's was driving), she hated funerals. She asked to not have any type of memorial service or gathering. I am waiting to hear from my uncle if this will be the case or if something will be held this week that will require me traveling to nothern Maine.

My husband is on his way home from work now. We will break the news to our sons together after he gets home. I've known now for over two hours but have not told them. They are busy playing together in the other room and I have just let them continue on with their happy, peaceful playing. I know this will be hard for them, the third grandparent to die in thirteen month's time. They really loved their "Nanny-up-in-Maine". So for this moment I'm alone in my grief, having spoken to a few relatives to break the news to them.

Soon I'll have to shift gears to be the mother of two boys will will be very upset. They will snap out of the post-Christmas-joy having been doing nothing much more than playing with new toys and games since Christmas day. Now they will be brought back to real life with this terrible news. Welcome to reality boys. The chapter is turning from the one about celebrating Christmas and having fun being boys to a new chapter of boys who lost a great-grandmother who they have many memories of, all positive ones, and again reminded of death and dying.

A hospice nurse told me earlier this year that every time we suffer a loss, no matter who it is, we grieve not just them but all the other emotions of all the past deaths we've ever mourned come flooding back, and we are faced with processing all the grief of all the deaths over again. This explains why people who are not even close to a person who dies often get very upset over the new death--they are processing their own emotions regarding their past experiences too.

(Whoever says that homeschooled children are isolated and sheltered from reality can use this as an example of how they are very much in the real world and do deal with serious emotions and 'life issues'.)

My blogging will either slow down as I mourn or travel, or it may stay the same or increase if I wind up using it as a diversion.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Kim Said About Prepping Engineering Hopeful's

I asked Kim at Kim's Play Place blog for her opinion on what an ideal homeschooling plan would be for a child who expresses an interest to become an engineer.

She answered it in her blog post today:

Becoming An Engineer Just the Facts

I actually also asked her is there a point to me pushing my child who expresses a career and college degree in engineering to do a classical home education? Should I be fretting if we have not yet done Latin, if we are lagging behind in my plans for world history and if other things are going by the wayside? She didn't give her two cents on that yet.

I just read Kim's post to my eleven year old son who wants to be an engineer. He is excited just thinking about it.

And right now I'm not so worried about behing 'behind' in world history and that our composer study and poetry appreciation has slipped either.

Currently Reading: The Motivation Breakthrough by Richard Lavoie

I have been reading the paperback nonfiction book "The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Tuning in the Tuned Out Child" by Richard Lavoie. I requested it through the Amazon Vine reviewer program that I am a member of.

This book is about ALL children and it is also about children with learning disabilities.

There are parts of the book that specifically deal with children who have learning disabilities. It is the first book I have read which is a guide for PARENTS to generally living with and helping their children deal with and progress forward in their lives and in their education (schooling). (Repeat, this is the first book I have read on this topic, I have no clue how many general parenting books that were previously published for parents of kids with learning disabilities.)

This book is not a book about specific learning disorders.

The book is a perfect fit for parents of children in school (after all 99% or 98% of American kids do attend school of some kind). I can see plainly that a number of the issues that parents deal with are 'school issues' and that the same child in a different class, with a different teacher, or getting some different education program may have the majority of their challenges instantly eradicated.

I am finding a number of useful insights as a parent of a homeschooled child. There are things I'm learning that are already helping me be just a parent to my child and there are things that are making sense that I can use when I homeschool my child.

If you are a parent of a child with a learning disability there is something here to help you.

The book, as I said, is for parents. So it does not have information about directly teaching the kids, well it does have some tips but so far I'd say it is not for teachers. I believe there are plenty of other books on the market for teachers working in schools.

A major gap we have is that there are no books for homeschooling parents about homeschooling a child with a learning disability, the topic in general like this book does. If you know of a book that you think fits what I am describing that I must not know about please do leave me a comment and share the title and author.

The first chapter hit me hard as it had a fantastic explantion of why the notion that kids must deal with garbage and negativity because 'it is a dog eat dog world out there' and the notion of 'kids need to be competitive in school to learn to get along well as an adult in the workplace'.

I also was touched deeply by the section on learned helplessness and Lavoie really explains why kids lose their interal drive to do well in school (and in learning), especially due to the things they deal with if they have a learning disability.

The book underscored for me why it is good that my child with a learning disability IS at home getting a customized education that is free of some of the things that LD kids struggle severely with at school, testing, timed testing, homework, dealing with inconsistent performance, including being tested on 'bad days', and so forth. Another sad fact is that public schools don't directly teach to children's learning styles while homeschoolers can do that to a certain extent especially in the elementary and middle grades, and see big changes in performance and ease of learning when doing so.

I am skipping around chapters. Today I finished four chapters, when I woke up early and the rest of the family was still sleeping I chose to read instead of turning on the computer, checking email or going on the Internet.

I plan to do a full book review when I am finished.

I wanted to tell you about this today because the hardcover book is normally full retail $24.95 but Amazon has some bargain books available in hardcover for $6.99, which is (drumroll please) 72% off! The book is also out in paperback for full retail $16.00 and today Amazon has that paperback for $10.88.

I myself have not read anything else by Richard Lavoie but two parents of learning disabled kids told me that anything he writes or says is golden in their eyes.

Bargain book link:

Paperback book link:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday Review of Books December 27, 2008 Edition Has Been Published

The Saturday Review of Books December 27, 2008 edition has been published at Semicolon. Take a look at what bloggers are saying about the books they are reading.

Consider posting a review!

Posy Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Posy
Author: Linda Newbery
Illustrator: Catherine Rayner
Publication: Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008
Genre: Children’s Picture book
Format: Hardcover book
Full retail price: $16.99
ISBN: 9781416971122

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: Simple and Cute Antics of an Adorable Kitten with Fantastic Illustrations

Posy is a kitten, living with one kitten sibling and their mother in their owner’s house. The book focuses on the kitten’s life both indoors and outdoors, without ever showing its human owners, just their possessions and their home and yard. These cats are realistic (not talking or acting like humans).

The text is simple and rhymes, often with just two words per page, making this perfect for reading aloud to toddlers and preschool aged children.

We are taken through Posy’s day showing the typical, cute antics of a playful kitten. Cat owners will recognize each of these funny activities, trying to catch a spider, stretching out against the couch, inspecting and trying to raid an unattended sandwich and wrecking board games in progress to name a few.

The illustrations are hand drawn with India ink and colored with water soluble crayons and water soluble pencils. Accents of the cat’s stripes were done with acrylic paints, and the glimmering metallic paints in many different colors add a lovely shimmer. Posy is a multicolored tabby, the sibling kitten is a grey and black tabby and the mother is an orange tabby.

Being a lifelong cat lover and an experienced cat observer, I enjoyed the illustrations (as did my children) because they are so realistic and so accurate. The varied positions are great, ranging from aggressive back arching to stalking outside to rubbing chins and rolling about while playing.

This cute, rhyming text picture book is perfect for reading aloud to the youngest of children and will be enjoyed by all who love cats, especially the children who have pet cats in their home. It’s also a perfect book for a cat-loving grandparent to buy and read aloud to their visiting grandchildren.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for the Amazon Vine reviewer program which I am currently a member of.

A Small Example of Freedom of Choice in Homeschooling

Mandatory: Do one page of the penmanship workbook per day.

Optional: Having the cat join you.

No detention is given for cuddling with a pet during 'class'.

Homeschooling = freedom.

I think the sum total of all the little freedoms adds up to big things in the eyes of our children.

Is This the Latest Blog Comment Spam?

I am getting two or more comments a day on my blog that say this:

I came across your blog and have been reading along. I don't know what to say except I am enjoying reading your blog.

Then there is a link inside the comment to a website that has nothing to do with anything about my blog such as insurance, car loans, and so forth.

Since the comment text seems to be exactly the same and comes from all different website owners I'm wondering if this is some new spam computer program. I can't imagine a human sitting and inputting these one by one.

I do have the blogger comment moderation on and I do have a word verfification option.

I am rejecting all of these now, the first one or two squeaked by me.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Accused of Being Delusional and Out of Touch with Reality

There has been a lot of buzz over at in the different discussion boards about the changes made recently regarding reviewing, ranking the reviewers and a new thing called 'fans'.

I don't post in the general discussion boards and barely even lurk there either due to time constraints.

However I've been peeking in and reading official announcements and such from Amazon because many are upset with Amazon for the recent changes. I am trying to understand the new system. I know the old system had its flaws including alleged cheating by some reviewers.

Amazon changed their secret formula for arriving at a ranking for the customer reviewers. The old system is now called the 'classic' and we all can still see that number. Then there is the 'new' rank and we can see that. Some people have jumped up or down hundreds or thousands of positions. Today my old rank is 435 and my new rank is 269. Some reviewers think the old system is more accurate and is the number to believe.

My ranking puts me in the 'top 500' in both ranking systems. As of right now if a reviewer is in the top 500 in one category they get the label of being in the 'top 500'. Some people really want to be in the 'top 500'. I have been there for years. I don't want to sound unappreciative but I don't monitor my rank, I've gone over a year without even checking what it is, and I don't write my reviews in a way to seek positive votes to try to boost my rank.

Two speculations held by other people: some think that the 'helpful' votes carry more weight than the 'not helpful' votes. So going around and voting 'not helpful' doesn't bring a rank way down but the more 'helpful' votes that are made do help the reviewer. Another speculation is that if a reviewer gets comments, the increased activity helps their ranking go up.

One really bad thing I'll share is that some people who seek revenge on other reviewers do 'negative campaigns' by going to the person's account and voting 'not helpful' on many or all of their reviews, even going back years. Some call those people trolls or 'negginators'. It has been said that Amazon staff is trying to address that and perhaps once one reviewer gives another a certain number of 'not helpful' votes (ten is the number thrown around) then the votes over the tenth one are made null and void.

One thing that has happened in the past regarding some reviewers trying to boost themselves UP in rank rather than focusing on bringing other reviewers DOWN is that I guess some reviewers use multiple accounts or friends and family and have them vote 'helpful' so their rank can go up. There are accusations of this as being fraud. The new system has something called 'fans' which is when one person has voted 'helpful' three times for one reviewer's reviews. I think that is a little crazy. For example in my sidebar I have a link to my reviews. This is there so you can see what I am reviewing if you so desire. If you like my views you can go read what I've reviewed on Amazon by clicking it. But if you are, say, a homeschooling mom and you learned of a bunch of good homeschooling books that I reviewed and you were 'helped' by them and voted 'helpful' then now you are a fan voter and all your votes are stripped away! In the last week my fans have grown by at least 2 new fans a day. Now mind you I don't even have a way of knowing who those people are. This is not like some kind of 'friends' area at MySpace or something.

So anyhow today I peeked at what was up about the rank and the policies (there is chatter that the formula may change soon). I then saw there is a way to read all the most recent comments that people left me on my reviews.

So I peeked at a few comments (which is a bit scary let me tell you). Well today one Amazon reviewer named Professor Brizz, an Amazon customer said he thinks I'm delusional and out of touch with reality and compared me to actions of a paranoid schizophrenic. Nice, really nice.

So here is my review which I published in 2000 when my older son was three. This is a movie adaptation that I hated, of a WONDERFUL children's picture book which was marketed to children aged 4-8, actually, the book is fine for children from babyhood through age eight if you ask me. The movie was released directly to DVD, not shown in theatres, it was on TV too. It has a "not rated" rating.

Today that review is one of my most hated reviews, with just 20 people saying the review is helpful, while 37 others said that review is "not helpful".

So take a peek at my review and feel free to decide if you are a parent of a three year old if you think that information is 'helpful' or 'not helpful'. And also you can tell me if you think I'm delusional. And also, you can leave your own customer comment on the review if you wish to share with all the customers who view my review as well as with Professor Brizz what you think.

ChristineMM's review of Olive the Other Reindeer movie on

Oh and as of right now here are the rankings of this movie by others.

Olive the Other Reindeer movie, released in 2000

5 star reviews: 43 (means "I love it")
4 star reviews: 5 (means "I like it")
3 star reviews: 3 (means "it's okay")
2 star reviews: 3 (means "I don't like it")
1 star reviews: 5 (means "I hate it")

For the record I absolutely love the picture book "Olive the Other Reindeer" which is for children aged 4-8.

My Road

Here are some images of house-less sections of the road I live on. Well, I live on a corner and this is one of the roads I live on...

I wanted to move to exactly this place, this town and this section of town, so I could be surrounded by woods. We left a more typical suburb with lots divided up into exactly one acre parcels, lawn to lawn, on and on for a home in this quieter place. More woods and less people is a wonderful thing. I'm not a city person by any means. This is where I feel at home.

A pine grove...

Hardwood forest...

Photos taken in Fairfield County, Connecticut by ChristineMM on 12/12/08.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Old Fashioned Greeting...

Spotted at a Salvation Army Thrift Shop in October...

Photo taken by ChristineMM.

A Modern Greeting...

This image caught my eye while I was cleaning up after a Cub Scout Christmas craft project.

Photo taken by ChristineMM.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fix-It Duck Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Fix-It Duck
Author: Jez Alborough
Publication: Kane Miller Book Publishers, 2007
Genre: Picture book, board book, toddler-preschool aged children
Format: Board book (available in other formats also)
ISBN: 9781933605302
Full Retail Price: $7.99

Summary Statement: Cute and Funny Story About an Accident Prone Duck

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5

This is a really silly book about a well-meaning and kind-hearted but incompetent and accident prone duck who is just trying to be generous and helpful to his friends but winds up making more problems for himself and them.

In “Fix-It Duck”, Duck tries to help by fixing mechanical things with his tools but he always winds up making more of a problem than the original thing he was trying to help correct. In the end we find out it was all started by a mistake anyway, so none of the disasters ever had to happen!

It’s the type of story where the animals are acting like humans and living in a world like humans, with different types of animals interacting with each other. This book has the white duck, a goat, a sheep, and a frog.

The text rhymes and has a good rhythm and pace. It’s the type that young children want to hear over and over again just for the wonderful sound patterns and rhymes.

The illustrations are hand drawn and in full color with lots of detail.

The book was originally published in Great Britian in 2001 and was brought to the American market in 2007 by Kane Miller Book Publishers.

This is one book in a series about the duck. Other titles are “Duck in the Truck”, “Hit the Ball Duck” and “Duck’s Key – Where Can It Be?”.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog.

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Freight Train: Two Book Reviews by ChristineMM

I bought a copy of this book to give to a child for Christmas in 2008. I also own a copy and read it aloud to both of my boys when they were babies and toddlers.

Tonight I re-read the book and wrote a review. I just tried to publish it on Amazon as a customer review, and they rejected it as apparently I had already reviewed this same book and had published my review on Amazon in December 2000! That was back when the word count of book reviews was short, either 200 or 300 words. So here is my book review penned tonight followed by the one I penned in 2000 when my oldest child was just three years old.

Freight Train Book Review by ChristineMM written 12/23/08

Title: Freight Train
Author/Illustrator: Donald Crews
Genre: Fiction, picture book, board book
Publisher: HarperFestival
ISBN: 9780688149000
Full Retail Price: $6.99
Awards: Caldecott Honor Book, 1979

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Statement: Simple, Fun, Much Adored (and Not Annoying to Read Aloud a Million Times)

I’m revisiting this book in phase two. Phase two is when you own a children’s book and enjoyed it and your kids loved it, then your kids too old for it, and years after, you go on to buy new copies of the same book for the new babies and toddlers that come into your life.

This book is fantastic. It is just so simple and perhaps also perfect!

I bought this when my oldest was just a baby. He loved to have me read it over and over and over. And that is okay because it is short and not annoying in the least. That son of mine went on at age two to love trains, so this was his first book about trains. I then went on to read it to my second son.

In the book children hear about different railroad cars. The cars are in the colors of the rainbow, then a black tender and steam engine, so this helps children learn colors too.

There is a good pace to the book and the toddlers and preschool aged kids like to keep the pages turning quickly to get to the next part. The interplay between the text and the illustrations keeps things moving along at a good pace and it has a fun ending that might not be expected.

This book was a Caldecott Honor book in 1979.

This book is now on my list of books to buy for all the baby and toddler boys who I buy gifts for. I also buy it for girls when I know one of their parents enjoys trains.


Freight Train Book Review by ChristineMM written 12/28/2000:

My Rating:
5 stars out of 5

Simple text describes 4 different types of freight cars, the caboose, the tender and the steam engine. The six basic colors plus black are used for each car and therefore this is an ideal way to teach colors to the little train-lover. Very fast read and my son pleads me to read it again. I don't mind, as this is not aggravating in any way (as some of the board books are). Sturdy board book construction. Great book!

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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 156 Has Been Published

Earlier this week, the Carnival of Homeschooling #156 was published today at Janice Campbell’s blog.

I have an entry in this blog carnival. This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!

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 Blog Carnival Has Been Published

The Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival was published at 11th Heaven’s Homemaking Heaven on December 15th. Check it out and get inspired to make something from scratch.

Consider submitting to this blog carnival if you make things from scratch. It can be anything from cooking and baking to sewing and crafts.

Yesterday and Today

Sunday afternoon I packed up a big tin of biscotti for my mother-in-law. At that point I had made eight batches of biscotti. We were to hand it off to my brother-in-law who would drop it off to his mother's house that night. We packed up a small tin of biscotti for him as we suspected he'd be tempted to eat it.

Well come to find out he and his family ate both tins, all of them, on Sunday, and my mother-in-law got none. While I didn't receive a compliment directly, their eating all of them says something, and they asked for the recipes, so I'll have to settle for that as the compliment.

Monday morning I had a bad dream (actually quite a funny dream but it had disturbing emotions and there is probably some meaning in it but I am not in the mood to analyze the dream now). The dream woke me up earlier than the kids. I got up and started baking. You see, I needed more biscotti for my mother-in-law! Also the batch of anginettes I made on Saturday was completely eaten by my husband, kids, and their friends who were here for a playdate.

So Monday morning I made one batch of biscotti, two batches of anginettes and a batch of a new cookie with almonds and chocolate.

As I went to use my much loved "Sweet Maria's Italian Cookie Tray" cookbook (paperback) the binding broke. My cookbook has food stains on it and notes in the margins about who liked it and who didn't, which was my (now deceased) paternal grandmother's favorite and so on.

The kids and I delivered biscotti and two kinds of cookies to my mother-in-law. I helped her with her Christmas cards as she had not yet sent them out.

Later I had to go pick up the photo Christmas cards at Costco and it was a zoo. This was 11:30am on a Monday! The traffic was backed up a half mile up the road just trying to get in to the parking lot. There were no parking places in the entire lot (including in the back of the building). I got what I needed and got the heck out of there.

Oh the good news about Costco was that I discovered that Maria Bruscino Sanchez who wrote "Sweet Maria's Italian Cookie Tray" cookbook apparently also published three others, one on Italian desserts, one on cakes, and one on other coookies. The four cookbooks (formerly out in paperback only) have been bundled up into a hardcover cookbook called "Sweet Maria's Big Baking Bible: 300 classic cookies, cakes, and desserts from an Italian-American bakery". The full retail is $27.95 and Costo was selling it for $16.99. I picked up a copy for me and a copy for my friend who wanted one. I didn't know this cookbook existed. I hope to review it one day in the future when I'm done reading it and using more of the recipes.

The nearby mall's parking lot was full and there was a double line of bumper to bumper traffic trying to get into the parking lot.

Later in another town I tried going to a strip mall. I picked up something quickly at Toys R Us (not a Christmas gift) to use up a coupon I had that was going to expire. The woman in front of me had $380 in toys overflowing out of her cart. Three credit cards were declined then her debit card was declined. She had paid $300 in cash and was just trying to put that last $80 on a card. Finally she wrote a check. I wonder if it will bounce?

It took me ten minutes to get out of the parking lot due to gridlock.

Bad drivers were on the road and not following traffic laws. It was insane.

Then as we approached the Trumbull mall exit the traffic on the highway came to a stop. We were stopped due to the gridlocked traffic at the mall exit which was backed up down the off ramp onto the parkway and clogging up the right lane. We in the left lane who were just trying to get past it were also at a dead stop. It was ridiculous.

I needed a few things at the grocery store that I had just run out of and would have liked to have on hand if we needed it before Christmas. However I was disgusted with the too busy stores, too busy parkway, too busy streets and too busy parking lots. I skipped going to the grocery store.

I have said it before and will say it again. There appears to be no recession in Fairfield County and New Haven county. Relatives who live in New Haven County seem to be spending more this year than ever before, so it is not just a Fairfield County thing. I swear you would not know a recession was happening here.

Oh, and gas was $1.60 a gallon! Hooray!

Last night we prepared the Christmas cards, me and the kids.

I'm feeling very calm this Christmas. Maybe I am forgetting something?

We scaled back gift giving this year and it was not out of financial necessity, it was just out of a disgust for excess and feeling quite content with what we already have. I increased gift giving to people not close to us, gifts of home baked goods, out of a genuine desire and gratitude.

Today I was sound asleep until the phone woke me up at 7:15am. I was very groggy. It was the biscotti-eating brother-in-law. He wanted to know where my husband was. I said, "Driving to work!" He said, "What, are you sleeping?" I said "YES!". Then, get this, he said, "Aren't you all up there for the kids to go to school?" (Note the language "go to school", we homeschool.) I said, "We are sleeping!" He said, "What, do you think you get to make up your own school schedule or something!?" I said, "YES!". (Are you kidding me with that comment, this is December 23rd and some private schools have been out of class for two weeks already! Do you think I have my kids up at seven in the morning two days before Christmas doing lesson? Oh boy.

Today's activities are:

The kids will finish decorating their gingerbread houses. (done)

I will wrap up the last few gifts that have been trickling in (Amazon deliveries etc.). (done)

Clear the dining room table of baked goods and Christmas wrapping paper and get it ready to be set for Christmas dinner. (half done)

Kids forgot to put up their little artificial trees and they said they want to do that today. (kids changed their minds)

Kids to do a laundry marathon as it seems it has built up again. (half done, still in progress)

I will clean the public areas of the house, and all the bathrooms. (half done)

Put the Christmas cards in the mailbox (we are usually not this late with them but we had a problem with the photograph). (done)

Added: bake two batches of gingerbread cookies from scratch and decorate them with icing from scratch (done)

Added: Package up homebaked cookies and homemade candy for the postal carrier (done)

Added: Package up two tins of homebaked cookies for the guitar teacher (done)

Added: Photocopy letters kids wrote to Santa then kids prep to mail and then mail (done)

I'm feeling quite calm and together right now and have zero holiday stress. Let's hope this stays with me and that I didn't forget something major.

(Post updated 7:30pm 12/23/08)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting Our Christmas Tree

I decided to share our Christmas tree journey this year.

This year we decided to get our Christmas tree from a family owned farm, Maple Row Farm, in Easton, Connecticut. This is one of my efforts to support local agriculture (rather than buying a tree grown in Canada or from some other New England state). I'm behind this, why we find a live tree and cut it down and why we support Connecticut agriculture. Now my kids like the tradition and want to keep it up, even though they do find something to complain about, cold air, cold wind, sore feet, and so on. My husband would be happy to buy a pre-cut tree from some roadside stand or even Home Depot, no matter if it was even grown in America let alone in this state.

First we tried to figure out which areas to walk toward to find the variety of tree we wanted. We nixxed certain types of trees as some variety's branches are too weak to hold heavy ornaments. And the one year we bought a blue spruce, I found the needles were so stiff it made my fingers bleed as I tried to put the ornaments on! Since they don't give a paper map, I snapped this photo and used the camera to help us navigate around the farm.

I won't keep a secret. I won't tell a tall tale. In the name of honesty and honesty about family life and parenting I will divulge details of the imperfection of the trip.

First this year for the first time let older son (age 11) carry the saw. This set off our 8.5 year old into a fit about why wasn't he competent enough or old enough to carry the saw? He pouted. (Do you see the pout in this photo?)

We were reminded again of why growing trees on hills is tricky. When the trunk is too bent it just can't stand up in the tree stand correctly and is prone to tipping over. Even with our moveable tree stand, we have had trees fall numerous times in the past and many heirloom ornaments were broken (as well as new ones) plus it takes a lot of work to deal with that mess.

Here is just one field on just one of the many hills at this farm.

So one after the other we nixxed the trees if their trunks were ill suited to the job. It got a bit ridiculous actually. We'd see a seemingly perfect tree in the distance, rush toward it, only to find a too-crooked trunk or big gaping holes or some other issue.

Next older son found a tree about ten feet tall which was skinny and just too tall. We nixxed that as we would have to cut off a lot of the good part of tree just to get it to fit in the room which seemed like waste. Plus it wasn't fat. We didn't even bother look at the trunk.

Note the pout in this photo, when we thought we had decided to buy this tree, older son was mad that we weren't buying HIS tree.

We went all over the place and still couldn't find a tree. Older son was still pouting. We had a discussion about compromise. I explained I like a fat tree so it can display more ornaments that we own. And how in past years with skinny trees sometimes less than half of our ornaments fit on the tree. We set off to a new field to look for a fat tree.

Finally my husband gave in and said we could get the tall tree our older son picked out. It was about a quarter mile from where we were, so off we went, hiking through the snow. Trudge, trudge, trudge. This is the famous hill we went up and down and up and down.

The tree that was supposedly perfect and memorable, could not be found by my older son. Finally he thinks we found it but the trunk was mangled and that is why no one else had cut it down to use it!

We picked the closest tree that looked good. It has a nice shape but is more narrow than I like. And we all decided we wanted this one as we were sick of walking around and not finding a perfect tree.

Here is me and my kids in front of the tree before we cut it down.

My younger son, still feeling resentful about his brother and him being able to hold the saw, asked if he could cut the tree down. Our older son had never done that task. My younger one is very competitive. He cut it down with me just helping him guide the saw a little. He was elated and so proud of himself that he got to use the saw and he cut it down by himself. I noted that it was cold to kneel in the snow in jeans but he never complained, not once. He is a hard worker and doesn't mind working up a sweat or doing physical exertion to get a laborious job done.

Younger son then asked if he could help his father carry the tree to the pick up spot. It was heavy but he did it.

He was glowing with pride. He wanted a photo with his conquest. Based on this I have a hunch if we taught him, he'd be happy to hunt game.

The farm as we left...

All in all it was a good trip. The imperfections in the day were pretty much forgotten. All hurt feelings were smoothed over. I'm glad we went.

Here is the tree before we decorated it.

We are already discussing what we will do next year. I am tempted by lower prices for pre-cut trees sold on lots that are superior in size and quality. But already the kids are refusing and saying no, let's just try a different farm next year...maybe some other farm in Connecticut would have more of the fat trees that we'd like...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Triple Chocolate Biscotti Recipe, Ideal for Chocoholics

The other day I made chocolate biscotti from scratch for the first time. Why go for a more plain old chocolate biscotti when I could make TRIPLE chocolate biscotti? I found this recipe by Sean Paajanen on the site: Triple Chocolate Biscotti. It is triple chocolate because it has unsweetened cocoa in the batter, it has chocolate chips in the dough then melted chocolate is drizzed over the finished biscotti.

The batter is so rich---can you tell?

These are a bit soft and I would classify them as a more American type biscotti as compared to the very crunchy more traditional Italian biscotti that almost demand dunking into a liquid before attempting to eat them. These Triple Chocolate Biscotti are just soft enough to eat as they are, without dunking.

Notes on my ingredients:

I used my favorite chocolate chips, Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, which are a more bittersweet and rich chocolate than "semi-sweet" and definately richer than milk chocolate chips.

For the unsweetened cocoa I used Dagoba brand Organic Cacao (which is unsweetened). Read more of what I have to say about that product here.

If you want to see more of the baking I've done from scratch and see what other biscotti recipes I've tried, click on the label below 'my favorite recipes'.

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Almond Biscotti Recipe We Loved

Yesterday I made this batch of Almond Biscotti, trying a new recipe.

For this batch I was in search of a more traditional Italian biscotti recipe, that is, biscotti that is hard and crunchy not soft and sweet like many Christmas cookies or American cookies are.

If you read the article and recipe that I link to, you will see that the recipe can be adapted to meet your taste for the flavor and nuts and/or dried fruits you wish to use.

I adapted Mario Batali's base biscotti recipe, for this recipe, by using amaretto for the almond flavoring and toasted almond pieces for the nuts. (I had raw whole almonds on hand, toasted them in the oven, then ran them through my food processor.)

These are definately dry and crunchy. These really are best for dipping. They probably will not be liked by children or people who prefer more American-soft- and sweet cookie type biscotti.

Because these have a lot of egg but no butter or oil they have a different fat content than some other recipes.

If you want to see more of the baking I've done from scratch and see what other biscotti recipes I've tried, click on the label below 'my favorite recipes'.

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Delicious Vanilla Walnut Biscotti Recipe

The other day I made six batches of three flavors of biscotti. Between giving them away as Christmas gifts and my family eating them they are nearly all gone. The biscotti made for my mother-in-law are gone, thanks in great part to my husband's snacking.

I decided to make more and went in search of a new recipe. Knowing that my mother-in-law likes the traditional Italian biscotti that are very hard and crunchy I tried to find a traditional recipe. I decided to give the recipe of Mario Batali a try. If you read the article and recipe that I link to, you will see that the recipe can be adapted to meet your taste for the flavor and nuts and/or dried fruits you wish to use.

I adapted Mario Batali's base biscotti recipe, for this recipe, by using only pure vanilla extract for flavoring and walnut pieces for the nuts.

I can now say these are definately the more traditional Italian biscotti that are crunchy. These really are best for dipping. They probably will not be liked by children who prefer more American-soft-cookie type biscotti.

If you want to see more of the baking I've done from scratch and see what other biscotti recipes I've tried, click on the label below 'my favorite recipes'.

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