Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Plagarism and Homeschool Writing Composition

While researching something having nothing to do with plagarism I came across this article written by a homeschooling mother named Susan Richman who also works with homeschooled students teaching writing composition, even AP high school classes. This is a detailed and interesting article about plagarism in general and how even homeschooled students plagarize sometimes. She winds up placing blame on two things, one is that the parents never taught the children about plagarizing and the other is that some students who would never steal objects have no problem stealing the words of others.

I would add that an issue is that some homeschooling parents don't know about plagarism and they may plagarize in their own life, so how can we expect them to teach their children NOT to plagarize? I would start by citing the homeschool blogging parents who regularly lift written content and photographs from the Internet and publish it as their own.

Here is a great paragraph from the article about homeschooled AP high school students:

"All offenders were strongly religious kids, from good families— the types of kids who would never steal things. They just didn’t think of words as things. Interesting enough, in my current studies of Hebrew I’ve found the fascinating fact that the Hebrew word ‘devar’ means both ‘word’ and ‘thing’— in Jewish tradition, stealing words is equal with stealing anything else, and much attention is given to the ethics of properly attributing ideas to their original source. I think more attention needs to be given to this in our homeschooling, to specifically telling our children about plagiarizing, and not just hoping they’ll somehow make the connection. Some won’t."

The author of the article also makes an interesting point that perhaps students mistakenly think that being told to write a report gets mistakenly thought of as them handwriting it; the students don't think of a writing assignment as writing composition and instead think it is more of an exercise in penmanship. I don't know if that is true or not.

I recall in fourth grade in public school, being taught how to research using encylopedias and using two or three sources then using our own words. We were taught about plagarism. I was torn, back when writing a paper on a single topic, mine was tomatoes, that it was hard to write on a topic I didn't know about. Every piece of content came from researched sources and the topic was so simple that the research didn't involve much tale spinning or fact connection (unlike something like what today's history book writers have to do to go through many original source documents to gather facts from different sources and weave them all together). To make matters worse for me as a student in fourth grade, when I wrote in my report that the tomato was both a fruit and a vegetable the teacher marked it wrong, chastized me in red ink saying that it was NOT a fruit and lowered my grade. Having been certain from my research that indeed it was true, I learned right then and there that teachers not only don't know everything but can be wrong about a fact and sometimes may impart wrong facts to their students. That was a major turning point for me to see teachers as humans who are flawed, they were knocked off their pedestal in my eyes, after that they had to prove themselves credible to me rather than getting automatic respect.

Anyway my point is that schools and courses (even for homeschoolers) place a burden on students by forcing them to write about topics that are 'worthy' and 'school-ish' but that children know little about. Perhaps in the elementary and middle school grades more emphasis could be given to allow students the freedom to write and practice writing composition about topics they know a lot of and can speak about "off the top of their heads". (I have done this with my homeschooled children with success.)

To me the primary goal is to teach writing composition, not research, in the elementary and middle school years, for those assignments. I think we should remember for younger children these are two separate things and the research part can bog the child down, confuse them as well as introduce temptation to bypass the actual writing composition part by plagarizing.

For one assignment for my older son, at ten, I had him write about the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game. He knew so much from reading about it for months from many different articles in a magazine and from playing it a lot, and talking with other players. At eleven I had him write about the xbox360 game console and how it differs from and is superior to other game consoles, and why.

I see the traditional teaching of writing composition as so flawed that I've struggled to accept recommendations from writing curriculum. I will confess that perhaps at their young ages my children have done less writing composition with the written word than if they'd attended public school. (For years they have practiced oral narration which is the summarization and composition process done in the mind then using spoken words though. To my mind a key part of writing composition is intaking information, understanding it, summarizing it, editing it, and retelling it, all processes of the mind that can be done without ever putting pencil to paper, if the teacher is able to listen to the student's spoken word. I understand the burden that institutional schooling brings with its a high pupil to low teacher ratio makes evaluation of written work more feasible. That issue/fact combined with the idea of teaching easy concepts done in short assignments for years and years, building up to harder and longer work produced as a teaching philosophy which is used in American public schools.) However the work my children have done has been of higher quality than typical public school assignments (read a story and write two sentences, a common homework assignment in second grade).

I would argue that this could be an area of study in which formal instruction need not be done regularly starting at too-young ages but can be practiced more in-depth in a higher quality way at an older age with better outcomes despite less time having been invested in the process overall. Actually writing composition is on my agenda as the biggest focus for my seventh grader's upcoming homeschool year so as I go through a vigorous plan this year I imagine I'll be blogging more of my thoughts based on what winds up happening as the process unfolds.

Teaching research can be done with elementary and middle school students completely separated from writing composition lesson. As a public school student in the 1970s in those early grades I recall filling out worksheets to answer simple questions about what I found after reserching a topic. I'd like to think that is still being done in school today. I think it is good to teach this to homeschooled kids too.

At the high school level I think it is reasonable and fine to require students to research a topic uknown to them and to write about it. I'd like to think the students have already been taught about plagarism and are not plagarizing. This article shows that not many homeschooled students know much about plagarism (even ones who have not been caught doing it). But now that I have read this article I think every writing class should start with a discussion of plagarism and every class should have consequences for the student if they are caught, and definately that all parents should be made aware that it happened (no matter how uncomfortable it is to handle).

Although it may be true that with the use of Internet research the technology makes it easy to copy and paste I will not blame plagarism on technology. Whether words are plagarized by writing them out longhand or copying and pasting, it is the same thing, the wrongdoing is on the part of the doer not having anything to do with technology. Certainly plagarism has existed for hundreds of years prior to the invention of the computer. I don't feel the focus should shift away from the offense of plagarism on the part of the plagarizer to putting the blame on technology.

I'll not spend much time discussing another important element mentioned in the article: that parents are more interested in thinking highly of their children's abilities than questioning if their exceptional writing is authentic. I'll point you to Richman's words and let you think about if you feel you would be so happy to see great writing from your children that you'd ever question (at least in your own mind) if they may have plagarized any of it.

I am wholeheartedly against plagarism in all forms. As a writer who puts time and effort into writing, carefully choosing words and sometimes seeking publication in print, and as a publisher of book reviews in print and on websites, I see plagarizing of my developed ideas or words as theft plain and simple. I've been the victim of plagarism. In one case a book selling website steals Amazon customer reviews (including at least one of mine) giving credit to Amazon as the source but not to the writer themself. In a discussion with the website owner, it became clear that they didn't feel they were plagarizing or stealing as the profits from the sale of books based on their customers reading stolen book reviews were being given to charity. Oddly enough, the website is run in the name of being a Catholic-related charity, so the religious nature of the site didn't impact the site's owners to use good ethics and to follow U.S. law regarding copyright infringement. Good intentions with profits made does not make the action of plagarism ethical. Additionally plagarizing copyrighted material is copyright infringement which is illegal. (This is a good example of moral relativism at work.)

Plagarism is an important topic that all homeschooled parents should educate themselves about and think about then teach their children about.

I feel that this excellent article on the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers site by Susan Richman: Homeschool Kids and Plagarism should be mandatory reading for all homeschooling parents.

I'm curious to hear what you think about this topic.

What the Wild Turkeys Love to Eat

The wild turkeys love to eat the berries of this plant.

I don't know what it is, but it grows a lot on the edges of my woods. This is one plant I'm trying to figure out for the 100 Species Challenge which I've not been spending enough time researching (lately I've just been observing and photographing).

Last week I saw baby turkeys jumping up from the ground in order to snag these berries to eat them. It was so cute!

I see that the turkeys seem to not like to stay in one place very long. They walk along, eat some, and keep moving, eating along as they go. Perhaps this is one method of self-preservation, as they move from open spaces to under bush back to open space, and so forth, keeping them not too long in one place where a predator may find them. They seem to do this more when their babies are young then when I see adult turkeys eating alone or in groups.

Or perhaps this is just smart browsing, to take a little from many spots instead of over-harvesting from a smaller number of locations. If that is the case then humans could learn some lessons from the wild turkeys.

Photo copyright ChristineMM, taken 7/26/09 in my yard in Connecticut.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Really Excited About New Memoir by Katrina Kenison

While looking over the "leftovers" list of books, that is, the stuff unwanted by other Amazon Vine reviewers, a memoir "The Gift of an Ordinary Day" caught my eye. I didn't look at who the author was but read the description, a memoir by a mother whose kids are going off to college.

I like memoir, when it is written well and is something of interest to me. I figured that with six years left until my older son heads off to college, perhaps hearing a bit of what this mother has to say would be of interest to me, so I requested the book.

I have my advance reading copy in hand and looked at the author, Katrina Kenison. The name was familiar. Then I saw the line "author of Mitten Strings for God". My eyes popped open. That is one of my favorite books of all time, a memoir about mothering children in the very early years. If my memory serves me correctly, her oldest child was about eight when mentioned in that book. I've read the book through twice, the last time being in about 2003. I recommend that book highly and have purchased gift copies for friends over the years. It is hard to put into words what I like about Kenison's first mothering memoir, perhaps it is her ability to express deep love or her gentle parenting, or, I don't know what, but it resonated with me, I could relate to it and I agreed with all she had to say about not taking things for granted and enjoying our children while they were young.

I can't wait to see what Kenison has to say about parenting her sons as tweens and teens and as they grew into young men.

"The Gift of an Ordinary Day" will be released in September 2009 in hardcover.

Disclosure: Through the Amazon Vine program, I received an advance reading copy of this book with a retail value of $0, and I'm not allowed to resell it for profit either.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Japanese Beetle

I don't give a darn if the Japanese Beetle wants to eat the wild plants on my property. Eat away! Just stay away from my vegetable plants and herbs! Thank you!

In my organic gardening experience I have never had a problem with Japanese beetles.

Really the Japanese Beetles are lovely creatures. I think they are overly hated by many homeowners unjustly so, or maybe it is just hype produced by companies who make products intended to kill them.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 7/26/09 in my yard in Connecticut. Not digitally altered.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Memoriam, Ned Vare, Unschooling Father and Homeschooling Advocate

For details see Judy Aron's post.

I'd like to share some thoughts but it will have to wait for later.

I'm blogging this in case you had not yet heard this sad news that Ned Vare has passed away.

Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual: For Everyone from Beginner to Pro
Author: Bobbi Brown
Publication: Springboard Press (December 1, 2008)
ISBN: 978-0446581349 hardcover book
Full retail price: $32.00

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

Summary Statement: Clear and Concise, Great Advice and Information

The subtitle of BOBBI BROWN MAKEUP MANUAL indicates it is for the beginner to pro and I’m in the beginner category. All I’m interested in is doing my own makeup well. As a user of Bobbi Brown makeup for over ten years, I wanted to read this book to see what I could improve as formerly I was just applying the makeup as instructed by the BB counter saleswoman instructed me. I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing until I read this book.

The bulk of the book (the first 138 pages) is designed to be used by both individual women for their own makeup and can also be used by professionals. After giving some brief opinions and recommendations on which products or product types to use on various skin types or for different purposes (such as when to use crème blush versus powder blush for example), clear directions for applying the makeup properly are given in brief text along with full step by step directions. Important to note is that all skin colors and different ethnicities are included. Special techniques for Asians are given such as handling eye makeup. I was happily surprised to see special advice given for women with freckles, the advice is to not cover them up completely but to use special makeup effects that allow them to show through. Also covered is how to handle makeup with skin conditions such as rosacea and others.

A section at the beginning gives information about brush selection, the importance of proper brush maintenance, and the reasons to use high quality brushes. Advice on compiling makeup kits is included, specifically, what items to buy and how to organize them for different purposes (travel, everyday use, and so forth).

I was impressed also with the section about eyebrows and eyelashes. Included is information about the benefits of and best ways to shape the eyebrows and when eyebrow makeup should be used. Directions for penciling in eyebrows for women with sparse eyebrows or who are currently undergoing chemotherapy is useful too. The proper way to apply mascara, how to use an eyelash curler and even how to apply false eyelashes correctly is included.

What struck me the most about this book is that it gives just enough information to be thorough but not too much so as to bog down or intimidate the reader. The photographed stepped out directions are done well. It is easy to find the makeup technique or effect you want to achieve to use the book’s directions when needed. When to use various effects is explained, such as daytime makeup and then touching it up for evening. Makeup for weddings and other formal events is also covered.

The last 80 pages are dedicated to professional makeup artists or those striving to become professional makeup artists. Those pages cover a range of topics from special makeup procedures to use on models in dramatic photo shoots to job basics such as career options, marketing oneself and booking work.

A short resources section is included at the end.

I read the book cover to cover and learned some things about makeup and makeup application that I never knew. I finally know how to pick the right shade of lipstick and foundation, and how to bring up the various levels of makeup for a more dramatic effect if desired. Now I will use the book as a reference guide for applying makeup. The book can easily be referenced for step by step directions.

Again from the perspective of an amateur, I loved this book. It breaks down a lot of information into easy to understand manner. I like the makeup style used by Bobbi Brown, of how natural her everyday makeup look is and the fact that Brown seeks to enhance a woman’s unique features rather than putting the makeup first and the women second. Unlike other makeup companies, Brown does not just churn out trendy colors each season and expect women to buy and use them as they are ‘in style’ at the moment. Brown wants women to look their best, to look natural but an “enhanced” natural. Brown’s makeup recommendations for evening and special occasions is elegant and beautiful, the makeup is not overpowering.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoughts Inspired by Wild Red Raspberries

Photo copyright ChristineMM, taken 7/26/09 in my yard.

Earlier this year, I decided to keep a small patch of wild red raspberries growing where our woods met our lawn rather than cut them down to make more of a "normal" and "acceptable" backyard.

The red raspberries are now are ripening at a fast rate with our sunny days, 80-something temperatures, and rainy nights. Berries not yet ripe at noon are often perfectly ripe by sundown and can be overripe by noon the next day or by sundown. I'm making it my business to pick daily if not twice a day now.

Yesterday at noon I picked over a pint, from those I could reach from the lawn without touching poison ivy or trodding on the ant nest on the woods-side of the patch and made a lunch of them, eating them immediatly after picking.

We had a severe thunderstorm last night with rains. This morning I found ripe berries on the ground, probably forced off by the hard rain. In about five minutes I picked over a pint of berries and ate them right then and there.

There is nothing as wonderful as ripe wild berries eaten right off the bush. Saving them for later, or eating while cold from being in the refrigerator is not the same at all. The temperature is important too, with air temperature being just right.

Photo copyright ChristineMM, taken 7/26/09 in my yard.

(Note the three leaved plant at the bottom of the photo, that is the horrid poison ivy plant!)

My husband put in a request to make jam from these wildcrafted berries. I figured in order to do so and make the effort worth my while, I'd have to harvest the berries daily and freeze them immediately. Then at the end of the harvest, I could use the frozen berries for jam.

Truth be told I've never made homemade jam having always had a free supply from either my grandmother or mother. But now that my grandmother has passed and since my mother hasn't made any (with storebought berries) in a few years I figure it is time I learned. To that end I jumped with joy when I was offered a review copy of a new book on jam and jellymaking. It is en route now and I plan to read it and review it this summer. But I digress.

I decided to eat these berries each day instead. The flavor is so fantastic that I prefer to savor them daily rather than use every berry from this small patch for jam. If I had access to larger quantities of free berries then I'd make jam. When berries are of this high quality, I almost feel it is wasteful to douse them in sugar and make a jam of them. I'd rather use the future crop of wildcrafted black raspberries for that purpose, as they sometimes can be just a tad too tart au natural.

My grandmother would wildcraft raspberries and make jam with them, in Maine, even into her 90s. As she neared the end of her life she relied on her wildcrafting friends (they used to go picking as a group, it was a fun time for them and was filled with much talk and laughter). After my grandmother was too frail to pick berries herself, her friends would drop off wildcrafted berries to her for jam making. I was there to witness this firsthand and was moved by their kindness. Imagine giving over three gallons worth of ripe berries! What a gift!

At the end of her life, when she had lost too much of her eyesight to age-related macular degeneration, her paid caregiver was the jam maker, with active oversight and direction from my grandmother. At first I thought that was silly, as did other relatives, until I realized that in her eyes she felt she was fulfilling a need. She was able to continue her role as provider of homemade jams to her loved ones. We could all afford to buy factory made jams, or even small batches made by cottage industries, but that was irrelevant to her. She felt we had always enjoyed her jams and jellies and she wanted to continue providing them to us. So we let her. And we all appreciated the thought and her gifts, finally coming to accept them with hugs and kisses rather than saying it was unnecessary or that she should "rest as she is getting older". She didn't want to hear that, and it bothered her to be reminded that she was losing her independence and physical abilities.

In addition to the red raspberries she also wildcrafted with blackberries, fiddleheads, and high bush cranberries. She wildcrafted apples and plums from fruit trees on bare abandoned lots that had turned to wild field, which were former homesteads back when the area was thriving from the lumber industry.

Perhaps one reason that I enjoy wildcrafting is it reminds me of my grandmother. I can't help but think of her while picking berries. Wildcrafting is also a way to appreciate the simple things in life, to enjoy the superior taste of a small (free) food grown my Mother Nature. It is a good reminder that not all things created by man and sold in the marketplace are superior. I think that appreciating nature helps put humans in their place, as the simplest attempt at taming nature for garden, yard or a home is a constant effort against the elements and the Earth's critters. To realize the power and strentgh of the wild Earth keeps me feeling humble.

Related Posts

The View Out of Nanny's Kitchen Window (March 2006)

Rest in Peace Nanny (December 2008)

Peaceful Moment Thwarted (July 2009)

Style Naturally Book Review by ChristineMM (Shorter Version)

Here is a shorter, edited book review of "Style Naturally" by Summer Rayne Oakes which will be published on as a Vine review.

Title: Style, Naturally: the Savvy Shopping Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Beauty
Author: Summer Rayne Oakes
Publication: Chronicle Books, December 2008
ISBN: 978-0811865241
Full Retail Price: $24.95

My Star Rating: 4 stars out of 5: I Like It

Summary Statement: Has Feel Good Vibe; Best as Shopping Guide;

I chose to read this book as I was most curious about issues with the clothing industry and how the manufacture process may be bad for the human workers or the Earth. I already know a lot about the issues with ingredients of personal care products and makeup.

Overall I feel this book is a very good attempt to bring a blend of information, some important and some more “feel good” information to a reader who may not already know this information. This book will inform readers a LITTLE BIT on the topics. The book handles the topics lightly. The author does not over-burden the reader by inciting anger or fear.

As the subtitle states, this is a SHOPPING GUIDE and it is worth mentioning that it does not steer the reader toward Do-It-Yourself projects such as encouraging readers to make their own soap, shampoo and skin care products.

Good to know also is the products and clothing in the book are for women and teenagers. This book does not have too much in the way of men’s personal care products (except where gender neutral items can cross over). Also the book does not cover the growing market for green baby and children products and clothing.
Some shortcomings are that the author recommends toothpastes but never explains the health risks or issues related to SLS in toothpaste (a special concern as if swallowed it has different implications as when SLS is in shampoo or hand soap). The big fluoride in toothpaste controversy is entirely absent. Also missing from the discussions are the issues chemicals that act as phyto estrogens which is especially an issue for young girls and boys and for women in peri-menopause (the dozen or so years before menopause).

An omission in the laundering clothes section was bothersome. The author focuses on laundry soap and reducing water usage and carbon emissions. However she does not mention fabric softener which is an issue in some people’s opinion. Inexpensive white vinegar can be used in place of chemical based liquid fabric softener products. Other issues regarding ingredients in softener sheets (chemical neurotoxins) is absent.

Also perplexing is that the author covers laundry detergent which is good but fails to carry it over to the next logical important topic: household and dish cleaning. I understand the book has to have limits on what is covered but one or two pages could have been included to discuss this. The same considerations given for natural laundry detergent could have been said for surface cleansers, bathroom cleansers and floor cleansers: avoiding the toxic, buying the ‘green’ or natural versions (or making one’s own for a lower cost). As a comparison the author found room in the book to discuss the danger of inhaling toxic chemical fumes when using perfume or chemical fragrances but the same thing can be said of using common cleansers for glass and surface cleaning sprays while cleaning one’s home. While we’re on this topic it would also have been good to discuss not just perfume for the body but issues with chemical fragrance in candles and diffuser oils and to present greener alternatives.

1. Discusses the fact that in the USA the FDA does not regulate the safety of products such as makeup, skin care and sunscreen. Consumers must educate themselves and become informed consumers to make choices that will hopefully not cause them to become sick with something as serious as Cancer.

2. There are over 50 pages of resources to learn more and to find products, located at the back.

3. Good resources are also listed within the pages of the book such as reading sunscreen recommendations on the Skin Deep site.

4. The book is fully indexed which I find useful, especially for going back to re-read certain sections after I’ve already read the book cover to cover.

5. I learned new things about the manufacture of clothing such as how certain processes such as tanning leather can create pollutants or put workers at risk for developing diseases. To learn more about that was one goal I had for reading this book.

In summary this book covers a broad range of topics in a non-scary way and leaves the reader feeling hopeful and almost happy to go spend money on new products and clothes. The person who will spend a lot on fashion and wants to feel good about their purchases will be happy to hear about companies to buy from.

If money is not an issue the reader/consumer will feel good about being directed toward certain products and companies. The real life downside is that not all consumers will be able to afford these purchases and may have to rely on DIY methods that are not really encouraged in this book, such as opening one’s mind to making natural homemade bath soap and skin lotions. If you are in that category, more self-education is needed and there are plenty of good books on the market to inform you.

For Further Reading

To find out more about chemicals, products, and US Government’s involvement or lack of:

To find out more details about dangerous or risky ingredients in personal care products

To make your own household cleaners, laundry products & air fresheners

To make your own personal care products with natural ingredients:

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in order to write a Vine review to publish on

Style Naturally Book Review by ChristineMM (Long Review)

Here is everything I want to share about the book "Style, Naturally". This word count is too long to publish on Amazon Vine so I will have to edit it to shorten it in the near future, so I can publish the shorter version on

Title: Style, Naturally: the Savvy Shopping Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Beauty
Author: Summer Rayne Oakes
Publication: Chronicle Books, December 2008
ISBN: 978-0811865241
Full Retail Price: $24.95

My Star Rating: 4 stars out of 5: I Like It

Summary Statement: Has Feel Good Vibe; Best as Shopping Guide; I Wanted to Read it for the Issues & General Information

For twenty years I have been educating myself about wellness and healthy living. That journey included learning about organic gardening and the dangers of chemicals in agriculture and in products we consume. Later this included learning about personal care products such as skin lotions, hair products, sunscreen, nail products, and makeup. I responded by making my own natural soaps and personal care products and house cleaning products.

I wanted to read this book because I didn’t know much about the clothing and fashion industry and how the manufacturing of them may negatively impact our environment and what I as a consumer might want to know in order to make different choices. I was curious to see what Oakes had to say about makeup and personal care products, perhaps some was different or more comprehensive than I already knew.

Overall I feel this book is a very good attempt to bring a blend of information, some important and some more “feel good” to a reader who may not already know this information. To be specific, the best audience for this book would be women who are interested in fashion and designer clothing and who use a lot of makeup and personal care products who don’t yet know about the issues with these products and want learn about the issues. The book handles the topics lightly (perhaps too lightly for my liking in some cases) The author does not over-burden the reader by inciting anger or fear. The author tells of a danger with a chemical in a shallow way and quickly steers the reader to use products that do not contain that thing. This is different from other books on the market which are much more detailed about the problems and dangers and have always left me scared for my health, angry at the industry, and in general, feeling doomed to possible death by product usage!

An important distinction between this book and others on the market is the heavy use of photographs of products and clothing. Other books are text-only and are not product specific. By using photos of clothing and seeing individual personal care products, the reader can use this book as a buying guide. Seeing the clothing along with knowing how it is sustainable or how lovely a used, vintage piece of clothing can be, it encourages the reader to open their minds to the companies and products. However, this may date the book, if personal care product lines cease to be made, or new and better ones come on the market, or as clothing styles change as they do so quickly. Despite the timeliness issue, the basic information behind the individual products is still there and is educational to the reader if the reader is not yet well educated in these areas. If the reader is well read in these topic areas this book may be considered to contain no new information or to treat the topic much more shallowly and lightly compared to other books on the market.

Probably due to her gender, age and stage of life, the author has targeted this book to her own experience and what she cares most about: she has focused the book on adult women mainly, and teenaged girls. There are only some personal care products being gender neutral for men. Perhaps another book on men’s fashion and men’s personal care products will be written? The book also lacks personal care product lines for babies and children and lacks children’s clothing. Again perhaps that will be in a future book? The area of baby health and safety regarding cleaning while changing diapers, bath soaps, and skin lotions is an area that has exploded with natural product lines. The issues of green cloth diapers and green clothing for babies and toddlers has also grown a lot

Some criticisms are:

1. Despite Oakes’ recommendation to simplify personal care products and to wear less or go without makeup (page 180), that category of products is covered thoroughly and seems excessive. For example the recommendation to carry a hangnail soother stick in one’s pocketbooks is a bit much for me, considering I get one hangnail only about every two years. I wonder if this large section was dominated by the fact that the author received samples of the products for free in order to review them. Other books on the market discussing natural products tend to encourage using very small numbers of items and using things that have multiple purposes. The fact that Oakes stresses using personal care products with expiration dates due to the fact that they spoil due to lacking chemical preservatives would therefore make over-buying of many products with short expiration dates a waste of money and resources.

2. I wish there were prices with the products. I’d like a ballpark figure, such as are those jeans $75 or $400? What is the present cost of turning one’s old jeans into a custom made pair of sandals? After reading the book I had a mental shopping list of products to try, but I’d like to know if that skin lotion is $4 or $40. A simple cute purse made from recycled candy wrappers I have seen in stores for over $100, not in my budget for a non-practical whimsical piece.

3. The product information for the personal care items should have a larger font and should include the product name not just the brand. The order of the list to the layout of the photos is hard to follow (despite the bar color coding method) because the order of the text list is not consistent on all page spreads.

Some Shortcomings:

1. The author includes some toothpaste reviews but never discusses the issues with toothpaste. One label says “SLS free” and although SLS was discussed in shampoos earlier it is never discussed regarding toothpaste. From what I have read in other sources an issue is that SLS can be unhealthy if swallowed (especially an issue with children who may not realize to never swallow their toothpaste or for anyone who does not rinse their mouth after brushing their teeth). Why that is not discussed boggles my mind. Secondly the controversy and debate over fluoride is completely absent from the book yet Oakes only has toothpastes that are fluoride free in the lists.

2. Not much is said about chemical soaps and the benefit of natural soaps. In my experience, natural soaps are less drying and have ended my daily use of skin lotions. I was surprised this was not mentioned.

3. The author discusses good reasons for avoiding unnatural laundry soap. However she does not mention fabric softener which is a big issue. Vinegar can be used in place of chemical based products. Some fabric softeners contain known carcinogens which is not mentioned.

4. The author covers laundry detergent which is good but fails to carry it over to the next logical important topic: household cleaning. I understand the book has to have limits on what is covered but one or two pages could have been done to discuss also how we clean the dishes and glasses that we eat off of and also how we clean our homes. The same considerations given for natural laundry detergent could have been said for surface cleansers, bathroom cleansers and floor cleansers: avoiding the toxic, buying the ‘green’ or natural versions or making one’s own for a lower cost.

5. Also missing from the discussions are the issues chemicals that act as phyto estrogens which is especially an issue for young girls and boys and for women in peri-menopause (the dozen or so years before menopause).

Some Praise:
1. Discusses the fact that in the USA the FDA does not regulate the safety of products such as makeup, skin care and sunscreen. Consumers must educate themselves and become informed consumers to make choices that will hopefully not cause them to become sick with something as serious as Cancer.

2. There are over 50 pages of resources to learn more and to find products, located at the back.

3. Good resources are also listed within the pages of the book such as reading sunscreen recommendations on the Skin Deep site.

4. The book is fully indexed which I find useful, especially for going back to re-read certain sections after I’ve already read the book cover to cover.

5. I learned new things about the manufacture of clothing such as how certain processes such as tanning leather can create pollutants or put workers at risk for developing diseases. To learn more about that was one goal I had for reading this book.

In summary this book lays out a detailed plan for the Three R’s: Reduce (buy less, buy things that look best on you not just what is in style), Reuse (buy used items or vintage used items, consumer repurpose one item into another (jeans into sandals, remake a t-shirt into a new garment or a consumer buy an item that someone else repurposed, or wear classic styles that can be worn for more than two seasons), and Recycle (donate your items to charity for people to directly re-use or for resale for the charity to resell to generate revenue or even to make into something else such as rags).

The book also encourages the consumer to have their money go to worthwhile companies or to benefit people who need it the most. Under the term sustainable, the author encourages things like buying items made by hand from poverty level third world country residents rather than buying factory made items in industrialized or becoming-industrialized countries.

A last note I’d like to make about the clothing, it is an odd blend of new, trendy designer clothing and wearing used vintage clothing including the recommendation to shop at Goodwill and other low priced charity thrift shops. Additionally some styles shown were made or altered by the owner using DIY techniques in an ‘artsy’ way. Books in the resource section provide DIY directions for DIYers to make their own custom designs.

Oddly while encouraging readers to alter or make their own clothing from existing pieces, the author never encourages the reader to make their own personal care items such as bath soap or body lotions. These are not hard to do and the products can be made for a fraction of the cost of buying prepared items (it costs me 33 cents for one bar of my homemade natural oatmeal soap). The book lacks recommendations for DIY of personal care products.

In summary this book covers a broad range of topics in a non-scary way and leaves the reader feeling hopeful and almost happy to go spend money on new products and clothes. The person who will spend a lot on fashion and wants to feel good about their purchases will be happy to hear about companies to buy from. If money is not an issue the reader/consumer will feel good about being directed toward certain products and companies.

If the reader feels they want more detailed information about the issues of personal care product’s safety issues and health concerns, there are other books on the market to meet that need. They can be found in the resource section of the book. One book I own that is recommended by Oakes is NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE THE UGLY SIDE OF THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY by Malkan and I second that recommendation. Additionally to learn more about the US Government and how they allow things to be sold that damage people’s health, the book THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR ON CANCER by Davis can enlighten you.

If the reader wants to make their own homemade personal care products for less money than buying factory prepared items, I recommend NATURAL BEAUTY AT HOME by Janice Cox (and other books by Cox) . If the reader wants to make homemade household cleaning items, I recommend THE NATURALLY CLEAN HOME by Seigel-Meier. I own and use those books.

Books Mentioned in This Review

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program in order to write a Vine review to publish on

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Red Spotted Newt

Here is the Red Spotted Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens.

After a rain they are all over the forest floor and also perch on tree bark near ground level. I've never seen one out in very dry weather. They sit still on the damp ground, and are therefore easy to photograph.

I saw many while at Boy Scout Camp last week.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 7/17/09 in New Hartford, Connecticut.

Added Followers List to My Sidebar

Blogger has had the ability to follow other blogs for a few months. It is a way to see on one's Blogger account, the latest blog posts made by blogs a person chooses. Essentially it is a "reader".

So now in my sidebar you can see some of the people who read my blog on a regular basis.

Other get my posts delivered by email through FeedBlitz.

Some are following me on Twitter and when they see a tweet from me announcing the latest blog post they click through to read it.

Some use Google's blog reader.

And of course some find me by going directly to my blog site to read the posts.

Thanks for reading my blog!!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Peaceful Moment Thwarted

Driving into the driveway today I spotted more ripe wild red raspberries on the edge of our woods and yard. After parking, I went behind the garage and carefully plotted a path to the berries, being careful in my capri length pants to avoid the poison ivy, poison oak and the virginia creeper. Having just healed from an itchy allergic rash I didn't want a new allergic reaction to start!

I'd not ventured to that side of the berry patch yet this year and there were many berries ripe for the picking. I plucked them off and was popping some into my mouth. They were delicious.

I looked at the clusters with the berries in various stages of ripening. The sun was coming through and dappled light was playing on the leaves as they swayed a bit in the breeze. I had a moment of reflection of the beauty of simple things in nature.

I started asking myself if the light was right for photographing them, or should I wait for later in the day? I was debating this and wondering if I should stay put and pick more or go fetch the camera and take photos before any more were picked.

Pain! Pain!



My thoughts came to a screeching halt as my ankles were suddenly being zapped. I looked down to see tiny black ants on both of my ankles and at least two dozen more fastly crawling on all sides of both sneakers, making a dash for the skin on my bare legs.

I jumped away, not knowing if I was still standing on the ant nest.

Then with one hand full of berries, I used the other to swat my legs repeatedly to kill the ants (a painful act in and of itself), then moved to smacking my sneakers and socks to kill those critters. At the same time I was looking to the ground to see if I was in a safe place now. I was not, so I hopped around to another patch of ground that was absent of poison ivy.

My legs were inflammed and red from being swatted. Not seeing any live ants on my person, it was time to find an exit. It was not easy to find the fastest route out of the weed and briar patch that would not put me in direct contact with a poisonous plant or another ant nest, since the entire place seemed teeming with ants. Once I found a route, I got the heck out of there ASAP.

To heck with nature! I was so happy to enter the safe interior of my house.

I'm going to have to figure out a Plan B if I'm to harvest any more of those wild red raspberries!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 185 & 186

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 186 was published this week at Homeschool CPA’s blog.

The Carnival of Homeschooling week 185 was published last week at Tami’s Thoughts and Views.

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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I Agree

I agreed with so much of what Peggy Noonan wrote in her latest column, about Obamacare, health care reform, health insurance for or whatever the heck it is that I have to blog my favorite parts.

(All quotes are Noonan's from this op-ed piece: Common Sense May Sink Obamacare.)

Will whatever health care bill is produced by Congress increase the deficit? “Of course.” Will it mean tax increases? “Of course.” Will it mean new fees of fines? “Probably.” Can I afford it right now? “No, I’m already getting clobbered.” Will it make the marketplace freer and better? “Probably not.” Is our health care system in crisis? “Yeah, it has been for years.” Is it the most pressing crisis right now? “No, the economy is.” Will a health-care bill improve the economy? “I doubt it.”

Talking about Obama's talk about health care reform during the campaign versus what is being rushed through now, I agree with this statement of Noonan's:

The White House misread the national mood. The problem isn’t that they didn’t “bend the curve,” or didn’t sell it right. The problem is that the national mood has changed since the president was elected. Back then the mood was “change is for the good.”


The final bill, with all its complexities, will probably be huge, a thousand pages or so. Americans don’t fear the devil’s in the details, they fear hell is. Do they want the same people running health care who gave us the Department of Motor Vehicles, the post office and the invasion of Iraq?

I would add that we all know, everyone knows, don't they, that Medicare, Medicaid and the Veteran's Administration's medical care are all a mess. No one is happy with them, not the patients, not the health care providers. Care is rationed in all three cases, whether it is being limited to certain providers, or having trouble finding participating providers (as is the case with Medicaid) or being forced to wait longer for appointments (for various reasons), or with run down and outdated equipment or facilities (as with the VA).

Private citizens currently with private health care or without health insurance will always have something to complain about. It may be that care is more expensive than they like or can afford (but they get a fast appointment, top quality and the latest equipment, and access to high quality doctors, or the freedom if they so desire, to see top specialists). If the patients get a good provider they may grumble about waiting ten minutes past their appointment time but not realize their over-chattiness with the doctor during their consult is making someone else's appointment start late.

From working in the health care field in private medical practices I know that a number of uninsured Americans CHOOSE to be uninsured. They don't want to pay for medical insurance as they think they are saving money and being frugal by keeping their cash. They are gambling that no accidents will happen and of course gambling that minor illnesses will be cheaper to pay out of pocket than to "waste" money on monthly premiums. Some feel they hate a body telling them they need health insurance, they want to exercise free choice by refusing to purchase health insurance.

Mandating health care coverage as Massachusetts started over a year ago has not fixed the situation. People are still uninsured and abusing the system from what I've read, such as going uninsured then buying the plan before a surgery then quitting the plan right after. That is not fair to the health insurance companies who get clobbered.

In general I think Americans have come to think of health care as an entitlement. Some have also taken for granted their free access to health care (such as the ability to seek a second opinion, to fire a doctor that they feel wronged them). Some have forgotten that health insurance is to help offset the cost of the larger bills, and they then complain about the smallest of non-covered services, while also sometimes spending large amounts of money on non-medically necessary procedures such as whitening their teeth, getting breast enlargements or tummy tucks. Rather than control one's desires for food or to force oneself to exercise, a number today think gastric bypass paid for by health insurance is the first stop option.

The overindulged Americans who have it very good, so good that others from developed nations come to America to access our health care system, have complained too much and now President Obama wants the government to step in and "fix things".

I have serious concerns that those who ask for health care reform may get something that makes things far worse than any of the complainers ever imagined they'd have to deal with. The problem is they may be forced to take it rather than having free choice to avoid it. I believe this comes from the "other people" mindset, in which a person who feels they have a good heart wants government run health insurance for non-Medicare and non-Medicaid patients but they don't want it themselves as they like the freedom of their private insurance. However if their employer ditches the private plan in order to offer just the cheaper government plan how much will they like it then?

This is not just about money, about possibly paying more taxes. The larger issue is about rationing care, about the scary idea of the government introducing more limits than any private health insurance company ever has done before, such as evaluating a person's age and saying "you are too old and it is not WORTH it for you to have this procedure" or "yes that drug would help try to cure your Cancer but it is too expensive for a person your age or with X other medical diagnosis complicating your case". The only thing worse than that, in my opinion, is if the federal government begins offering euthanasia as a cheaper option than treatment of a condition, as is being done in the state of Oregon. (Source: Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin)

Americans would be wise to remember that it is much harder to revise or un-do federal legislation than it is to prevent a new program from starting in the first place. One need look no further than the well-intended but much-criticized "No Child Left Inside" legislation which remains unchanged despite outcry from both teachers and parents.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The State of Our Houses

So I'm in the middle of repurposing a room here. I started in the spring but got sidetracked by important matters, a health problem (minor) and a sick kid.

I have been converting the kid's playroom into an art and craft studio for me. I was doing good by first decluttering stuff in the room, it was pretty empty, then cleaned it deeply. Then hauled stuff out of closets, going through that, and trying to declutter that. That is when things were stopped. You know, in that middle of the project stage it looks like total chaos.

Today I realized the repair guy for the air conditioning would have to get access inside of that closet. The room was a disaster zone and the closet was empty. I got a chill when I realized a stranger would walk through my house and see the room in disarray like that. What would this person think of me if they judged me on the state of that room?

As I tidied up so that he could reach the spot without getting injured, I suddenly saw the room with new eyes. Yes, I'm in the middle of a project but truly this looked terrible! What kind of person lives in this home?

I started with the guilt trip. Like I have a nice house why doesn't it look like a spread in a home decorator magazine? It is furnished, it is decorated, it is just full of STUFF.

I started asking, "What have I been doing with my time to not have finished this yet?" I've been super busy!

Truth be told today I was supposed to be driving north for our traditional family vacation in Maine. I cancelled it to spend time at home finishing house projects just like this one. So I need to give myself credit for having the wisdom to prioritize the situation here. I want these projects finished more than I want a five day vacation out of state.

Two days ago the kids and I re-did the shelving in the master bedrom closet which holds mostly my husband's clothing. It was a mess in there before that with overflowing shelves with crammed stuff. We changed the height of the shelves and I installed containers from Target's Itso line. But all the clothes were put on the floor for my husband to go through and get rid of some, and to put the keepers in the new spots.

Today when the repair guy came I walked him into that closet and realized, oops! My husband was not done with the project yet! He'd worked on it a little for the last two nights. Oh boy. I wonder what the guy was thinking. I apologized as I moved piles of clothes out of his way.

While making reports on our homeschooling for this last year, when I looked over May and June's calendar I thought, "Are we nuts? No sane family would have a schedule like this". The schedules were crammed to the hilt with activities and appointments, some long-standing and some urgent or emergent. I vowed then and there to slow down for the upcoming homeschool academic year. The crazy thing is that compared to some of my friends and other homeschooling families our schedule is light. So it is not just us, nearly everyone I know lives a rushed and busy life.

Between the painter and the carpenter being in and out of my garage, and the air conditioning guy also down in my basement, I'm feeling downright ashamed to have so much stored stuff.

I am vowing right now to get rid of tons of stuff. I just want it out of here. Now.

I keep wondering if other homeschooling families have these same issues with struggling to keep the clutter down and to keep the house clean at the same time. The more we are home the more we mess up the house, yet the more we are out and running around the less time we have to actually put the stuff away and to clean the house. It feels like an endless cycle to me, do you feel that way too?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So Much To Say, Too Hard to Edit

For about the last 14 days that I've been home I have spent over an hour writing blog post drafts filled with deep thoughts and strong opinions. The topics are so draining but the words were begging to be released.

However with so much to say and trying to write with brevity, it is a struggle. Each time I began in the early morning while the kids were still sleeping and would go until the kids woke up and wanted attention or deserved attention.

Then the blog draft was saved but ignored afterward.

I also have a fair amount to say about topics not usually discussed directly on this blog such as pertain to Obamacare ideas and Cap and Trade. A part of me does not want to stray into too much political talk lest I tick off my readers.

But on the other hand what I have to say about health care and health care insurance is from the perspective of having worked for private physicians and then later, at an HMO who worked also with Medicare Advantage and Medicaid's equivalent program. I have heard and know the issues from the perspective of the employer, the insured person, the doctors and hospitals and ancillary providers. I have worked with state and federal legislation and putting the laws into practical application through the insurance coverage and how it affects the patient/member.

I'm not a know-it-all. I have a good gist of the big picture, believe me, but I know enough to know the issues are so complex and not all can be solved with happy resolutions due to the very complex nature of the issues. The last issue with trying to have all involved parties happy is that we are dealing with perspectives and opinions and no matter what is done, someone is always unhappy, unsatisifed, finds more to complain about, or is so ignorant about the topic that they cannot grasp the situation or see reality for what it is, they see an illusion or an odd perception of reality.

I have insight as a person who has helped elderly, sick, and dying relatives navigate through the health care system and deal with real life ramifications due to their health care coverage or 'the way the system works'. I also have had sick kids and dealing with tricky conditions like Lyme Disease (if you don't know why that is political or sticky watch the new documentary "Under Our Skin").

I also have friends and relatives who are nurses, medical doctors and dentists so have that insight also.

At present I am not working in the health care field so my opinions are not based on a fear of it negatively affecting my income.

I don't seek to spout negativity but want to share genuine thoughts and insight from having been in the trenches.

But then after blowing off steam and moving on to good summer fun or enjoying the sun or feeling happy at seeing my garden growing and our yard alive with birds, bees, and all sorts of insects, I just don't feel like opening those saved documents to re-read, revise, and fine tune the thoughts. Plus I have no clue if anyone gives a darn enough about those topics to care what I have to say enough to actually read the words.

I have deep concerns for the future of our country after the bailouts, and if Cap and Trade passes, and if there are changes to our health care system or health care insurance. I have fears about limiting access to health care, having the government decide what person is "worth" treatment and the possible pushing of euthanasia including the government insurance plans encouraging and PAYING for it instead of paying for medical treatments, as is presently done in Oregon according to Mark Levin in "Liberty and Tyranny". (If you want to read about the legal state of euthanasis in Oregon here is one source.)

I am bothered by the media's one-sided coverage.

I am worried that Americans have no clue what they are possibly getting into. What complaints were made like "we want cheaper health insurance" and how the government feels they will "help" Americans get what they want.

I'm worried that the viewpoints and desires of a large part of Americans are not being represented by our elected officials. I'm moving to the mindset of "Let's throw all the politicans out and start from scratch".

I'll leave it at that for now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It Boils Down to One of Three Reasons to Start to Homeschool

I came up with this idea about five years ago.

After speaking to many homeschooling parents and reading posts online, books and magazines, I believe that it really comes down to three main reasons that is the prime reason a family starts to homeschool.

Yes we can make a list, maybe a long list of the many reasons why we choose it or why we homeschool now that was not necessarily on our list when we first began.

Here are the three main reasons, in a random order:

1. The Rescuer Families. These parents are now homeschooling but never planned to. Heck, some never even knew it existed. They found out about it and dove in for one reason only: to rescue their child from the school system. Some had high hopes or even past good experiences with older children of theirs, or with this same child, but this one child then had something different happen and the best solution and sometimes the only viable solution to "save the child" was to begin homeschooling.

I have heard these cases:

child suffering in school due to a learning disability not being helped enough by school staff or special ed services

gifted child bored to tears by slow pace or "not enough challenge"

parent says child bright and eager to learn but whatever is going on with 'school learning' is killing the child's motivation, altering child's behavior and having too many negative consequences

child being bullied terribly verbally, school not helping it stop

child being bullied physically, school not helping it stop

child bullied so badly they now suffer from anxiety mental disorders or anxiety caused physical ailments

child has a medical disease or condition that makes them miss too much school. Keeping up is too hard. Easier to just homeschool, on all concerned parties.

child has an allergy that is related to school, such as mold or mildew allergy that acts up when in the school building, or a severe food allergy that puts them at a health risk too much at school

school pushing child to take a drug for ADD or ADHD and parent doesn't think the child really has it or doesn't want to medicate the child

2. The Religious Families. Plain and simple the family wants religion infused into school topics more than the public schools do. Some families do not have access to a religious school for their religious preference. Other families who do live near a private religious school cannot afford to send their children there while living on a single income. The family may also seek to protect their children from other experiences or school agendas or perceived negative influences of school teachers or from other students.

3. The Alternative or Superior Education Families. These parents believe a range of things that all mesh together so I consider them one and the same general topic.

These families accept that learning does not have to happen inside of a school building. They realize ther are other ways to learn and other things to do.

Some use homeschooling methods which are similar or identical to alternative education methods used in private schools, others use other methods such as unschooling. Some feel their homeschooling method teaches 'more and better' things than can be offered in schools, such as due to cost limitations or logicstics for the school. Some dive more deeply into their child's interest areas such as the arts or the sciences. Some use older schooling methods such as classical education which the parents feel is a more rigorous and gives a more solid liberal arts education than what public schools presently offer.

Some families use alternative teaching methods due to their child's learning style, learning disabilities or medical conditions (neurological conditions that affect learning like Tourette's or ADHD for example.)

Some families would be willing to use private schools to access similar programs and alternative education methods IF a school was near them and IF they could afford it. In the absence of an available and an affordable private school that can meet their ideals or the child's needs the family homeschools.

The rarest occurance is the child who is a serious competitor in athletics, has celebrity parents or is a child star. They homeschool due to their training and career schedule clashing with traditional school attendance.

After thinking about this for a long time and discussing it with my friends, everyone has agreed that you can really boil down a family's reason to homeschool to one of these three main categories as the largest reason. As I said before, once the journey begins, our list of reasons why we are happy to be homeschooling grows, and the reasons may then fit into two or even three of these other categories as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lovely Sunset

On June 26th I sat in the window seat nestled between floor to ceiling bookshelves and watched the sunset change by the second. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

At that moment my kids and husband were waiting for me so we could watch a TV show together. They know how I am with enjoying observing nature and taking photographs so they let me enjoy those minutes in peace. Thta is just a small example of how they show their love. I'll take it!

Note: this photo was not altered in any way. The colors were gorgeous.

A Thought About Lawn Care

When I became a homeowner I began to educate myself about lawn and garden care.

Back then I was working in the health care field and daily saw sick people. I wanted to be healthy and well for as long as possible. My relatives are long-lived, so I need to carefully plan my lifestyle or the long elder years may be painful or filled with coping with chronic diseases.

So back in 1995 I made the decision to not use chemical fertilizers on my lawn. I educated myself about the con's of lawn fertilizer. I didn't want to hurt wild creatures or my own health by the use of products to make a lawn look "perfect". By reading about organic gardening I came to realize that the idea of a monoculture, a lawn with just one species of plant living on it is a downright bizarre idea. Think about it for a while and you may come to the same conclusion.

Here is a current article published by Scientific American that discusses the downside to the use of chemical lawn fertilizers by everyone including homeowners. I know some who use it and they've told me that they feel their lawn is small so how can it have an impact? The answer is obvious to me, if we all use it, it builds up to a higher level and then there is a problem. I'm not sure why that concept is hard to grasp.

Article: How Fertilizers Harm the Earth

If an organic and safe solution exists, why not use it instead? It is not hard to have more natural lawn care.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Currently Reading "Crows and Cards"

Last week I committed to reading "Crows and Cards", a juvenile fiction (ages 9-12) book released in April 2009. Presently it is available in hardcover book, Kindle, audio CD and as a PlayAway.

My TBR pile of review copies of books is higher than I'd like. My latest reading strategy is to pick one book and then read nothing but that one book until it is done. This is atypical for me. I usually have about a half dozen books going at once, at a slow pace, and one to three others that I'm reading only portions of to educate myself on a topic about.

Anyhow what deterred me from digging into this book when it first arrived as an Advance Reading Copy from the Amazon Vine program was the dialect. This is set in 1849 in St. Louis. It is about a twelve year old who is sent off to start an apprenticeship with his uncle, a tanner, but instead chooses to join a riverboat gambler. From the beginning the book is heavy on dialect which is not typical to modern day America or at least to New Englanders like myself.

I just finished the eighth chapter and so far it is an interesting story filled with adventure. I enjoy hearing about the freedom and larger responsibility that boys had back in 1849, and the apprentice model of education rather than the prek-grade 12 method of schooling we have today.

When I was in chapter one I was wondering if today's boys (or girls) would want to read a book heavy on dialect and using terms that are not used today or not.

I'm curious to see what happens as the story goes along.

I will review it when finished.

Disclosure: I received only an Advance Reading Copy of this book which I cannot resell. I receive no pay for writing the review for publication on I had no agreement to write about the book here on my blog (I chose to do that on my own).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Interesting Book Review Site for Amazon Reviews

While trying to use Google to find a past published blog post of mine's URL more quickly than scanning my computer files I stumbled across a site Planet Book. They had posted a book review of mine on their site.

The sole purpose of the site is to post to and link reviews from Amazon's top customer reviewers. I had no clue such a thing existed.

Planet Book is also on Twitter. They submit a Twitter post (a tweet or a twit) announcing new book reviews by "top" Amazon reviewers.

One last point is that Amazon owns the copyright for all submitted customer or Amazon Vine reviews. The only companies or individuals allows to copy the reviews and republish them on other sites are Amazon Associates using the review for the purpose of marketing or advertising a book for the purpose of trying to make a sale.

Still it felt wrong to see my words published on Planet Book. It also is a strange feeling to know my words are published in places that I have no clue are doing so.

I am still pondering why a site like this might be useful. If you have ideas about that, or other thoughts, please post a comment.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Homeschool Filmmaking Class for My Kids This Fall

When something does not exist that you would love for your homeschooled kids to do, you or another homeschooling parnet sometimes have to create it. When opportunities do not knock on your door you sometimes someone in the community (like you) has to create it.

"Make Something Happen"
-quote seen on a mug in a psychologist's office

In this case a homeschooling mother found out about programs offered to children in the community that were run in after-school hours. She approached the center about custom making a class for homeschooled kids during school hours on a school day. My sons will be in the class.

Most places are open to this if the homeschool parent is willing to do all the work to coordinate, find and market the class to the homeschooling community. I've been told that not all centers have the staff to start a new marketing project to go find homeschoolers for homeschooled kids to take the class with especially if they have no clue about how to find the homeschoolers in their area. This is especially an issue for nonprofit centers such as YMCAs and their various branches. Most centers are happy to do these classes to put bodies in the otherwise empty building during the school day, to generate revenue that would otherwise not be there.

Only once did a (for profit, new) center I approached have a problem and that was because they were using only public school teachers to teach the classes in the teacher's after school hours and they could not find fine art teachers with open schedules to teach classes once a week during the school day.

I have organized some classes for homeschoolers and can say with honesty that it is not always easy. To be frank some homeschooling parents can be a pain in the butt, rude, or outright demanding beyond what is considered normal etiquette or courtesy. Some homeschooling mothers are so used to having everything so custom tailored to their personal whims and needs that they can be overly demanding in their requests even when taking a class at a professional center.

"I want this class for this aged child, yes mine is younger than the stated age the center offers but my child is gifted and is beyond what is offered for her age. I also need the class to be over before 1:15 p.m. as my younger child needs a nap at home and simply cannot alter their napping schedule and to keep our lunch on schedule it should start no earlier than 12:15 p.m." This is a sample of the many special requests that I had to contend with when trying to set up new classes for homeschoolers. After a really bad experience I swore off organizing classes until further notice.

However my experience not let it not deter you from attempting this in your area. Maybe it was just the people I dealt with, maybe it was my geographic area, blame it on the New York City attitude that overflows here, I don't know what it was.

I signed my kids up for a class at this center based on an email. Only now am I seeing the wonderful brochure they have online and I'm blown away by other options available for other programs and for other aged kids. I see endless possibilities here.

One more thing. In order for my kids to do this class some things have been done by me. I am making changes to our typical plans to make room for this opportunity. It is not that this class is two doors down from me, cheap and happens to jive with our lives seamlessly.

1. I am willing to drive the one hour to get to the Center each way, due to the unique nature and wonderful opportunity that this class is.

2. I am willing to shuffle around my preferred home education lessons at home schedule to make room for this class.

3. I am willing to pay for this class. The cost seems reasonable to me given the expensive equipment the children will be using and the fact that they have real studios and experienced staff to work with. However not all families may want to spend their money in this way or put money toward something in performance arts like this filmmaking class.

I note in their regular programs that this nonprofit organization has some scholarship money available to families temporarily or more permanently living with a low income. Other Centers that you may work with may have the same thing. I also found that fine art classes being offered at an Art Center branch of the YMCA had much lower prices (one half to two thirds lower) due to having received government grant money to offset their costs to the students taking the class (general grants not grants for homeschool programs).

I have made this decision for both of my boys to try this class as I feel this is one of the unique opportunities that schooled kids do not get to do inside regular schools. I feel that something that could be a great experience like this one should be made a priority at least for this fall semester. If it means putting history or math on the back burner for these two months, so be it. We can always catch up with those home-study lessons later in the year.

I hope the class is high quality. My boys are very excited about it.

I blogged about this to try to encourage you to open your eyes and ears for opportunities like this in your geographic area. There may be great things available that you don't know about. If you have to travel an hour each way or go into a city you think is not easy to drive in, your opportunities will broaden from what is in your backyard.

Look for these unique opportunities and then approach the centers asking for special homeschooler classes. Taking the class with other homeschoolers (not just taking after school classes with the general community) will let your child make friends or continue seeing existing friends in their local homeschooling community. You may also have a better chance of getting into high demand classes by creating a special homeschooler class instead of competing for slots with schooled kids using their after school programs.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Natural Consequence Story

Note: This blog post was written in May 2009 but had not been published. At the end is an update revealing how this turned out as of July 2009.

As I write this there is tension in the home. Yet again my eleven year old's disorganization has resulted in something getting lost, something he needs for his comfort and well-being.

Last fall the eleven year old finally outgrew the largest size of a boy's raincoat. We had to move up to men's sizes. He needed a lightweight rain jacket with a hood to wear especially on Boy Scout camping trips when he'd be forced to spend hours outdoors despite it raining. Men's outerwear is not cheap you know. We got this one on SALE at the LL Bean factory outlet for just over $40.

I'm suddenly realizing this about clothing costs. I thought kid's clothes were expensive before. I note that a boys XL is usually the same in measurement as a men's small but even in the same brand and same style the price jump for the men's size is huge. My brother-in-law complains of this also with girl's clothing. His issue is his middle school grade daughters say it is a stigma to wear outerwear or shoes in girls sizes, they want women's XS or S size for the winter coats or the different size of shoes and sneakers but the price change is sometimes $75-100 higher for the women's size especially with high quality ski jackets and with the Uggs. My nieces report that the other girls at school read the bottoms of their Uggs to see who is wearing girl's sizes versus women's sizes and ditto for the winter coats and other outerwear. Upon hearing things like that I am glad I have two boys and no daughters. I feel for them with their peer pressure situations but my practical side would go ballistic when faced with that demand from a child of mine.

My son had worn the jacket the prior week at wilderness school and it was full of mud. He washed it. (He and his brother do the family's laundry and he puts away his own clothing.) Now it is now lost. Only six days had gone by and it had not been re-worn. Where was it?

As we pack for his camping trip this weekend, with rain predicted for Saturday night I told him to pack the raincoat. Well now what?

Now my other son and I are running around with him looking in all the places where it should be. We can't find it.

Yet again this is something we spent money on and bought a quality item as I wanted something that actually worked (unlike cheaper rain coats I've bought that are actually not waterproof!) and this son has lost it.

So I told him if it rains I will give him a big garbage bag with holes cut out for his arms to wear as a poncho. He got a look of horror on his face.

Then I recalled we have a big rain poncho, it is bright yellow with a giant Mickey Mouse on it. We bought for a couple of bucks at Disney World when a big rainstorm hit on one of our past trips. I gave it to him and again he got a look of horror on his face.

The third alternative, the choice is up to him, is when it starts raining and he must be outdoors for the many scheduled events at the camping trip, he can choose to wear his regular spring jacket or a hoodie, and get all wet, then go to sleep wet.

So, parents, there you go with a story of natural consequences being used instead of traditional punishment. I'm giving the boy his choice of three options.

For the record I did consider lending him a nice rain jacket/windbreaker that my husband got for a gift, but I use it when I'm outside exercising or doing yardwork, and frankly, I don't want to risk letting him use it this weekend lest he lose that one too, then I'll be out a jacket that I use and I'll need to buy one to replace it. Forget it.

Update May 2009: My husband went on the camping trip with him. When I told my husband the plan for the natural consequence he said I was being cruel. We discussed it and I lost out. My son was given one of my husband's extra windbreakers the he received free from attending a professional conference for work. It is not as high quality as my son's LL Bean one but it is better than a big poncho or a trash bag.

Update July 2009: The raincoat suddenly appeared. My son had put it on a hanger and put it in his closet with his short and long sleeved shirts. He says he looked there back in May but didn't see it. In his daily use of said closet since May he never noticed the coat hanging there. I had not double checked the closet in May since my son swore it wasn't there, I was looking elsewhere. Since my son dresses himself and puts away his own clean clothing I have no reason to ever go into his closet so I never saw it there later either.

The real place the jacket belongs is in the hallway closet near the door we exit the home from. That was thoroughly checked and it wasn't there.

This is yet another example of that son of mine not putting things away where they belong, being careless in his organization and storage of items. It is also another care of him not seeing what is right in front of him. He often does that, says he looked for something in a drawer and complains it is not there when I know it is there, then when I look it is there.

I chalk it up to another trait of the very visual-spatial person.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Homeschool Stuff Reorg Before & After

Here is a home reorganization project I did in May 2009 related to homeschool supplies.

This is a hutch in my kitchen which is not being used as a decorative piece only (as is typical in most American homes). It was a center for kid's stuff like board games (on bottom shelf) and homeschool supply storage and our most-used cookbooks (on main shelf).

This I had originally set up with Montessori inspiration back when we moved here when the kids were aged one and three so the (safe, child-friendly) items would be at their level and available for them to help themselves to on their own.

Not visible is stored inside the drawers and cabinet are children's casual art supplies (cheap paper, markers, crayons), and fine art supplies (good paper, professional art markers, drawing pencils, charcoal), art and nature journals.

The hutch was so over-cluttered that it hurt my eyes to look at and gave me various negative emotions to just see in my visual field.

The impetus for finally doing this, and for doing it in May was that my kids were blaming me for lost homeschool student workbooks and misplaced books. In my defense I will share that after the reorganization, the kids were still losing stuff and I realized that 90% of the time indeed they were leaving it all around the house where it doesn't belong. They were just blaming me because the hutch looked too messy and they assumed the stuff was lost in the mess which was somehow "my mess".




About This Stuff

The homeschool stuff in this area is supposed to be only materials we are using this school year. I confess some of the folders, binders and papers were from the last three years due to not decluttering it on a regular basis.

One shelf with the clear glass containers is a nature shelf which I adapted from the Waldorf education "nature table" concept. Any natural thing brough into this house must go on that shelf. Period. I do not want rocks and feathers and driftwood laying all over the place. I do have some limits you know. Originally this was to change with each season but we just keep it all there as the kids don't want to part with the rocks, shells and all the other stuff. Going forward I will periodically get rid of some of it, especially the nuts that wind up opening, the seedpods that wind up spitting out seeds and the not-pristine things.

The main shelf is now the cookbooks and family recipes. It also holds homeschooling things that will be used this year but are not being used at this very moment. Random other homeschool related things that have no other home are there too like fancy math dice and the math drill Flashmaster gadget.

Now each child has a bin at the bottom (Target's Itso system, cloth container with vinyl bottom). In the bin is just their active homeschooling workbooks and books reading right at this very minute. It holds their assignment schedules and anything else. One bin is mine and holds our current logbook for homeschooling records as well as teacher's manuals and answer keys using right now and books I'm reading aloud to the kids right now.

A note on the American flag. We were given the big flag by veteran's at an event we went to. To keep it off the floor I store it there. We do not pledge allegiance to the flag while inside our home. I just don't know where else to store it that will not descricrate the flag by accident.

From the board games, I gathered three or four boxes to either resell or donate to charity. The keepers were placed in another room.

The art supplies were decluttered including letting go of things they'd outgrown such as preschool type coloring books.

The baskets on the floor were children's books (living books) that the kids will soon read or have finished reading. I do not have a perfect system for keeping up with all the books that are lined up to be read in the next year, the ones being read right at this second and the ones finished reading in the last week or month.

Not seen in the photo is a wooden box which we keep in the family library which is where all the library books are kept except those being read right at this moment which are either on our nightstands or in the new bins. I just don't have room to keep it right with the hutch.

This system is working wonderfully so far. It's been this way for a solid two months and no additional clutter has accummulated, even though we are actively still homeschooling and using these materials on a daily basis.

My husband is happier now as the too-cluttered appearance was bothering him as was the fact that before his cookbooks and recipes were hidden behind surface clutter.