Friday, December 31, 2010

Mr. Coffee FTX41 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker Product Review by Christine MM





Product Name:  Mr. Coffee FTX41 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker, Stainless Steel

My Star Rating: 1 star out of 5 = I Hate It












The first Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker we owned was given to me as a gift. I was not a coffee drinker then and only used it when guests visited. After owning it about nine months I resumed drinking coffee in the mornings (and using leftovers for iced coffee) so began using it about three times a week. On month four of my regular use (when the product was aged 13 months) I realized I'd put 12 cups worth of water in but only 8 cups of coffee brewed. The coffee maker was sitting in a puddle of water! There is a little round ring at the back and it was cracked. It's a tiny little thing and seems like it would be a cinch to replace. No extras are provided when we purchase it. These can't be purchased separately in the store. The coffee maker's warrantee had expired so I had no recourse. I had to throw the thing away.




I didn't want another one of this model or brand, but my husband suprised me by buying the same one as a replacement. I have used this one 3-4 times a week for the last 13 months. Today it started leaking with the sitting in the pool of water issue. Again. That little ring is the culprit. Again. The warrantee has passed. I have no recourse with the manufacturer. Again. This is going in the trash. Again.



What's most annoying is that a $70 (MSRP) coffee maker with functioning brewing mechanisms and a perfectly good glass carafe is rendered useless due to one tiny piece of plastic that probably costs less than one cent to produce. Extra rings should be given in multiple quantities with the machine. My grandfather would turn over in his grave if he heard this story. He was a tinkerer and fixer in the time of "making do". He lived in the day of being able to buy replacement parts and keep something like this coffeemaker this useful for ten, twenty or more years. My cynical friends declare this as a perfect example of planned obsolescence.



I'll never buy a Mr. Coffee coffeemaker again, and any gifts received will be returned to the store!



It seems to me that to have an electrical device sitting in a pool of water is a potential fire hazard...I'm surprised the manufacturer's lawyers aren't advising that something be done to fix this problem...



Mr. Coffee should be ashamed of themselves for not being able to get something as simple as a tiny ring of plastic right.



If you still want more basic info here it is. It is a basic coffee maker. It has a regular and strong brewing strength. Based on what coffee beans I'm using I have used both settings as I like my coffee strong. When using the strong setting it takes longer to brew which you may find a pain in the neck, so consider using the programmer setting if you want piping hot coffee when you wake up if you wake up at the same time each day. I found when grinding my own beans I must get the ground size just right or the device overflows: if the beans are ground too fine it causes overflowing (that's my fault, not a fault of the coffeemaker). It has a variable temperature control for the burner that keeps it warm after the initial brewing. On the downside I found I had to turn the temperature down or else within about a half hour the left over coffee would burn. If turned too low the coffee was not hot enough just minutes after brewing. I'm not happy with that issue either, but since my method is to brew a full pot, and drink only one cup hot and use the rest for iced coffee. So I shut the machine off immediately and let it cool then refrigerate the rest for iced coffee for the next few day's use. If I wanted to keep the one pot hot for a couple of hours time, it would either be burned or too cold.

(I am switching to a French Press with zero mechanical parts, no o-rings, and no plastic parts.)

Disclosure: As stated in the review we purchased one of these and one was a gift from a relative. I was not paid to write this review or to blog it. For my blog's full disclosure statement click the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 261 Published





The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 261 was published at Janice Campbell Taking Time for Things That Matter on December 28, 2010.



This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!





I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.





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.



Enjoy!



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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bormioli Rocco Gelo Glass Food Storage Containers Product Review by ChristineMM

Item: Bormiolo Rocco Gelo Glass Food Storage Containers 



We have been using this set of glass storage containers for three months and both my husband and I are very happy with them. (We own two sets at this point and plan to buy more.)

Our sets are round and have a red top. At present these are sold as a set of 3 or 4.

Note: when they say 4 piece they mean 4 glass bottoms and 4 red tops which is different than other manufacturers which count each item as one piece.



For quite some time I wanted to switch to use glass food storage (and away from plastic) but some of the glass products on the market cost too much money. We cook and bake from scratch a lot and always have leftovers. I can't afford $10 or $15 for a single container when I have 6-8-10 in use at all times! This was the least expensive set I could find and gave it a try. We are thrilled. Here is why:



The lids are one piece of polypropolene and they are easy to clean because there are no moving parts and no tiny cracks or crannies. An old toothbrush suffices to clean inside the groove if you need to.



Other brand's containers with snap down flap type lids that we've tried have gathered food in the tiny cracks and some grew mildew. (Talk about gross!) Other times the flap thing broke and did not close the container rendering the thing useless.



(A friend bought a different brand of expensive glass containers with plastic snap down lids and her snap lid parts are breaking, she tries to compensate with rubber bands to keep it on but it's not effective for transporting food such as using to transport lunch to be eaten away from home.)



The lids are very tight fitting and airtight.



The lids are soft plastic and easy to put on and to take off. Some of my plastic containers with different types of plastic lids can be hard to snap on compared to this.



The glass part is very thick and high quality. I don't worry about them breaking during normal use. It is thick enough for me to not worry about carrying them out when packing a meal to go.



I suspect the very cold glass against the food allows it to stay fresher longer as the glass is insulating. The food is so cold after being in the refrigerator.



I like that the sides go straight up and the lids don't take up additional space. This saves space.



The top surface of the lid has a texture so it is not slippery. This is most helpful when stacking the containers on top of each other inside the refrigerator.



Other brands of containers I own have slick top surfaces and when I try to stack them with food in them or when in storage in my cabinet they slide and fall and make a mess.



If arranged in a certain order you can store the empty containers with their lids on all inside the largest one. This makes for more compact storage.



These are dishwasher safe.



I highly recommend these as the best glass food storage containers for refrigerator use and for transporting food. They are also great for storing room temperature foods such as nuts bought in bulk or storing cookies. They are the least expensive glass food storage container I have found with the best lid system.'

Disclosure: I purchased these for our family's use. I was not paid to write a review or to blog about this product. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memories While Decluttering

Sometimes decluttering helpers exclaim they don't understand why packrats find it hard to get rid of objects as they hold memories. Perhaps people think differently? I get that dismay when a hoarder such as on the reality TV show Hoarders is talking about keeping a dirty, empty paper coffee cup that cannot be thrown out  due to it "holding a memory".  I don't get their dismay about not wanting to get rid of other things especially in certain areas such as items used by their kids that hold good memories of their younger years.

Today I decided to tackle the very end of clearing my ten year old son's bedroom closet of some outgrown things. The other part of the project was mostly done earlier in the year but I left the rest unfinished for a number of months when I was way too busy to think about such things. Those shelves have had the same things on them for perhaps six years. While taking the things down the memories came flooding back.

I feel a sense of worry or sometimes a little panic-like feeling at the idea that if I get rid of the thing that the memory associated with it will disappear. You see, when I see the thing, the memory comes back like a flash. Yet if I don't see the thing, most of those memories do not come back, or shall I say a specific detailed memory doesn't come back but I do have a vague general memory. My mind is busy thinking of something else or I'm busy doing some other thing and that memory is buried somewhere in my brain.

I know this is true about the forgetting or the not-recalling of the memory,  because in the process of reorganizing (moving stuff around) or decluttering (getting rid of things) I have memories of things I know I've not thought about for years. When I remember it I get a warm fuzzy feeling and I don't want to get rid of the thing. (Other things bring back bad memories or feelings like a feeling of regret over having abandoned that quilt project and wishing I'd someday finish it.)

I keep telling myself that it is okay to let go of the thing and that I need to focus on the fact that the thing is no longer being used by our family and we need to make room for the new stuff that we are currently using. That's how I force myself to let go of the stuff. However I'd be lying if I said that it's all gone. Some of it is here.

I decided to blog a list of memories that I recalled today while decluttering.

I recall reading the Thornton Burgess books when I was a child. I remembered that back then I knew that the books were also read by my mother and my uncles and also my grandmother. My grandmother was raised on Cape Cod where Burgess lived and in his height of popularity she was a child.

When she was a child she took a field trip with her class to meet Thornton Burgess and she personally spoke to him. This was a great thrill. When my grandmother had children she purchased some of his hardcover books which were read by my mother and all her brothers. She was a packrat so she kept the books. Then those where handed down to me when I was a child. My parents are packrats so they kept the books on my behalf. Now I own those books.

The set I was given was far from complete so I bought Dover's paperback, cheap books to make a collection. Sadly my boys were not very interested in the books. At times like that I longed to have a daughter so that maybe I could have enjoyed those books with one of my children.

Perhaps five years ago we visited the home of Thornton Burgess and did a walking tour where an actor pretended to be him and we walked around the town of Sandwich hearing stories. My kids were not interested and sometimes my husband had to walk off with the kids to give them some attention so they'd keep quiet and behave during the walking tour.

This last summer we visited the Green Briar Nature Center and took a nature walk through the land that Burgess walked and used as his inspiration for his stories. My kids could have cared less about that, like my husband. I enjoyed the nature walk and took photographs. They complained they were getting bitten by mosquitoes and gnats and that they were hot (and it was humid). Okay so that memory is a bit mixed of good and not so good!

I came across a Hiawatha book that was mine when I was a child. My mother grew angry with the book and refused to continue to read it aloud to me saying she felt she didn't know how to pronounce the words correctly and it made her feel stupid. This is a clear memory. I put it on my son's shelf but never read it to them.

A number of picture books of some of my favorite authors were on the shelf. I love the artwork and stories of Eric Carle. I love the stories of Patricia Polacco. Another favorite is Tomie DePaola. Of these just a few individual stories are favorites of my KIDS. I realize I've made a little collection because I like them. I hesistate to get rid of these. I could pare the collection down, if I had to, by choosing just the favorites of my sons. Since at present we have storage space here there is no need to put myself through any torture so I'm keeping all the books by my favorite children's book authors.

There were some Lauri foam puzzles which are great for preschoolers. I have many  memories of fun times with both of my kids playing with those challenging yet durable puzzles. My younger was a puzzle whiz and started doing them non-stop when he was just two years old. I didn't know that was odd until a several different mothers approached me in dismay (I used to bring the puzzles with us to keep him occupied and quiet while we were at events for my older homeschooled son.)

Lauri puzzles hold up well so these look brand new but really we did use them a lot. I could get rid of these if I had to but love the idea of pulling them out to play with with future grandchildren. Actually I just found out about a place that does free tutoring of school kids who are underpriviledged city kids so I may just wipe our slate clean and donate all the fantastic homeschool preschool educational supplies I have to them and call it a day.

There were some wooden toys and games that I was inspired to buy from the Waldorf-inspiration days. I wanted high quality items and the ugly plastic was a turn-off. I started off with some Waldorf inspirations in my oldest's younger years but felt the system was too legalistic and had so many inflexible rules that I felt were stupid. I therefore abandoned the Waldorf education model. These items are so high quality I hesistate to ditch them, yet we are not using them any longer.

I found a DK picture book which named 1000 objects or something like that. My first son loved the realted board books in that series and read this one a bit, but his younger brother could have cared less. I'm getting rid of that.

There were some picture books that had outstanding artwork that makes me want to cling onto them. However the stories are mediocre. I'm letting those go.

I found book that was a library discard from the little village in Maine where my aunt and uncle used to work. My grandmother probably bought it from them or it may have been in a give-away pile or sold by someone at a tag sale.

I found three books my younger son read about Alaska and bush pilots. These hold a special place in my heart as I have always longed to go to Alaska and finally did go for my honeymoon. I have never seen such a magnificent place in my life. Furthermore one of my uncles worked as bush pilot doing seasonal work for a number of years to help make ends meet (leaving his family behind in Maine to go do that work).

In the phase before my older son was diagnosed with a visual processing disorder he had started to read journal type books that were hand written and had graphics. One of these he liked even though it is a 'girl series": the Marissa books. I found one on the shelf. Frankly I think she's a snarky little brat so I have no problem getting rid of that book. The others in the series that we own I'd found in other rooms in the house and already have those in the donate or resell pile.

There was a full set of those tiny illustrated classic paperback books. When my younger son was two he clung onto those and carried them everywhere. The first one was found at my grandmother's house in Maine during a visit. It was so darned cute. Nanny loved watching him go everywhere with the book and she let him take it home. I then would buy them used when I'd find them (they were out of print in that style).  When he was four and reading fluently he began reading those books. He read just a couple then stopped. A Mark Twain adaptation was the last sraw for him. Obviously these were over his head content-wise so he got turned off. Yet we still have the whole collection. I decided to get rid of them all but upon blogging this I think I should keep just a couple, the ones he read if I can recall which titles, or if he can (or if I look at our photo album with those pictures in it).

The general memories I have are the years that my kids were young and were so happy to sit in my lap and cuddle up to me. I can't tell you how many hours we spent under a blanket on the couch all snuggled up reading from a stack of picture books. They never wanted the same book repeated immediately, so we'd burn through stacks of books daily. The favorites would be re-read on other days. We had no bedtime stories, we read books all day long here and by bedtime I was fried so what was the point of doing yet more reading when my voice was shot and I was tired? I also remember sometimes one child with me and the other playing quietly on the floor with Thomas trains or LEGOs or Hot Wheels cars. You'd think the one playing was not listening but that's just not true.

The best though is the memory of time I had with my kids and having long open days that families who don't use daycare centers or preschools have available to them. We'd wake up in the morning and the day was ours to do what we wanted. I often would stay in my pajamas until right after lunch then take my shower at one in the afternoon and we'd go out and do something in the real world after that.

I also remember those were the days of overflowing unconditional love. My kids would snuggle right up to me in the morning, and not even notice my "morning breath" or see the pimple on my face or not notice that my morning-hair was a mess. They just loved me and wanted to be with me and I loved them right back.

Who could argue with a person not wanting to do something that would put those memories at risk of disappearing forever?

I tell myself those items were used back then and they are not being used now. They are no longer useful for their regular purpose as we have all grown and changed and have moved on to other interests and we do different activities with our time. Thus in order to make room for our present lives we must let go of some material objects from the past.

At times like this I think more and more of forcing myself to write down the memories so I can keep them alive rather than relying on keeping various objects that bring the memory to light in my mind only. If I write the stories out then my kids can read them someday if they want.

And while I'm at it, if I publish the memory here on my blog I have no idea who out there is reading it. I sometimes wonder who really cares about these things I have to say? I don't know who cares or if someone reads but doesn't give a hoot: whatever! Blogging here is free and it is easy to hit the "publish post" button so I click it and let my words go to cyberspace...
...and if you are wondering, today I got rid of two boxes of stuff and kept just one box. Those are not bad odds for a sentimental packrat-in-reform like me.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dry Aging Beef

This year yet again my husband dry aged our prime rib roast beef which was our Christmas Day meal. Dry aging removes some of the water and concentrates the flavor. Sometimes non-dry aged beef has an almost bland or tasteless flavor (if no strong spices or marinates are used) but dry aging totally changes that flavor and makes it more rich and gives it more flavor.

The instructions are from the Cook's Illustrated December 1995 magazine issue. (Each year I buy only the hardbound year-end edition as a gift to my husband.) We have learned a lot from Cook's Illustrated magazine (and I don't even read all of it)! I learn a lot from hearing the 'why' behind things and enjoy reading about trials of different methods and which worked best and why.

This is so simple to do. You basically put the roast in the refrigerator (uncovered) and let it sit there. Prior to cooking the dried up parts or any funky-ness is removed with a knife. I highly recommend the instructions in Cook's Illustrated. (And making prime rib at home is super simple and much much less expensive than buying it in restaurants.)

Here are some photos that may get the beef lovers salivating.

Our seven pound roast, after dry aging, before trimming:




Carving the roast.




On my dinner plate!


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day 2010

Here are a few scenes from our family's life on Christmas Day 2010.


Our tree and all the presents.





Going to look in the stockings.




Who knew a  $5 hat could make a kid so  happy?


Surprised and loving the soft fleece camo robe.








Happy he got the ripstick.




Psyched he got the watch he wanted (affordable from the annual factory sale).


Trying out the new video game: Split Second for xBox360.



Big stick found on nature walk/bike ride after dinner.




Typical boy thing: smashing the ice with a stick. My son with his cousin having a blast. (Appreciating that boys are so much easier than girls to parent.)



Lovely ice.



The pods released their seeds.



My brother and his wife assist their son pretending to ride my son's bike. He loved it and I said maybe he could learn to ride it but they said his coordination challenges related to his Autism will always limit him to a three wheeled bike.



Between the present-opening and the walk we ate a formal dinner with my parents, my brother, his wife and their two sons. The company was calm, happy and easy to be around. The food was delicious. It was quiet and peaceful in my home.

After the nature walk we went to my husband's cousin's home for an evening party. There were probably 50 people there, a large happy crowd each year. This year it felt a bit off since the man of the house recently passed away. Also, another cousin passed away suddenly in his sleep two days before Christmas. It was hard for me to see his wife and two adult children obviously upset as people gave their condolences. I find what my grandmother's Hospice nurse was right, with each death we experience it brings up emotions from other deaths we've experienced. Thus the passing of a distant relative may hit us hard as it reminds us of a past loss of someone closer to us. I think some of us also feel empathy for what the other people are going through which brings us down even more.

It was a good Christmas but one with varying emotions, ups and downs. I think we have a good life despite the challenges and imperfections. The amount of good still far outweighs the bad. It's all about perspective and how you choose to look at your situation: focus on the minutae and complain about one little problem or look past the nonsense and try to focus on the good stuff instead. At the end of the day we can't erase all the problems we may have so why not choose to feel the joy from the good things?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 260 Has Been Published






The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 260 was published at No Fighting! No Biting! on December 21, 2010.



This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!





I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.





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.



Enjoy!



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Carnival of Homeschooling Week 259 Has Been Published




The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 259 was published at Home Spun Juggling on December 14, 2010.


This Carnival provides a lot of homeschool-related reading. Take a look!


I enter these Carnivals and encourage you to as well.


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.


Enjoy!


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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies

These cookies go by a few different names, one being Mexican Wedding Cake cookies,  and they can be made with walnut, pecan, or hazlenuts.

This year I made them myself for the first time. I usually enjoy those made by others. They wound up being really easy to make.

I used this recipe on the Joy of Baking site.

My tip for storing them is to store in a tin with layers of waxed paper in between. Most importantly, sprinkle a lot of extra confectioner's sugar on the layers. If you do not do this they will soak up the sugar and will not be white anymore. They taste best with gobs of confectioner's sugar on them.

Enjoy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Frigoverre Glass Pitcher Product Review by ChristineMM

Frigoverre 40 ounce Glass Pitcher Product Review by ChristineMM







Summary Statement: High Quality Thick Glass Made in Italy Space Saving for Fridge Door but Lids Leak and Splatter


My Star Rating: 3 Stars Out of 5 = It’s Okay












After years of use the two glass pitchers with soft rubber-type tight fitting lids that I bought at a Pyrex store broke and I searched far and wide for glass pitchers; they are not easy to find in retail stores (and can't find them at the Pyrex stores in 2010).


I finally found the Frigoverre (made in Italy) which I found a few months ago at a popular chain gourmet cooking mall store and it was the only kind available there. The lids on the Frigovere are loose with wide air space. I was able to find one that seemed tighter than the rest and since I was desperate for a glass pitcher I bought it.


I have also tried a few different no name made in China glass products which break on the second or third use when just putting them down on the counter. Later, a glassblowing artist I know told me that poor glass making procedures or improper processes can cause weak glass that shatters in typical use.




I see air space when the lid is on. Even when they are turned to the closed position they leak if tipped to the side.


The thick glass is durable when washing them I don’t worry they will shatter with the smallest bump against our stainless steel sink. The thick glass absorbs the cold and helps keep the liquids fresh especially good for milk! However the not-tight fitting lid is an issue for freshness.


These are space-saving pitchers which fit perfectly in my refrigerator door compartment.


The design is flat plain glass which is utilitarian looking.


I am still seeking a glass pitcher with a top that is a softer plastic that allows for a tight seal. (Why is this not available on the market? Is this really asking too much?) I may have to resort to buying glass juice bottles with screw top metal lids and using those in order to have a glass container with a tightly sealing lid to keep refrigerator odors from entering the stored liquid or to help keep milk fresh longer. However that's not as nice looking for the table as a proper pitcher.


Note: One reviewer gave directions on something to be done with the lid to make the lid have an airtight seal. This does not work with my lid, I don't appear to have the same lid as he does. My product is what is listed on this product page, it has a clear hard plastic lid with no rubber parts and no serrated edges, and I bought it in September 2010.


This is hard to rate, I give 5 stars = I Love It for the glass's high quality and the nice thickness and 1 star = I Hate It for the lid, that averages to 3 = It's Okay.


After being disappointed with this I purchased another product made in Italy: Bermioli Rocco Gelo Glass Pitchers whose glass is a more stylized and has colored lids and thicker glass and more wiggle room with the handle, but the lids have the same leaking and splattering issue.
































Disclosure: I purhased this for our family's use. I was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Bormioli Rocco Gelo 2-Piece Glass Pitcher Set with Lids, Red and Green Product Review by ChristineMM







Summary Statement: High Quality Thick Glass Made in Italy Space Saving for Fridge Door but Lids Leak and Splatter






My Star Rating: 3 Stars Out of 5 = It’s Okay


 
 







After years of use the two glass pitchers with soft rubber-type tight fitting lids that I bought at a Pyrex store broke and I searched far and wide for glass pitchers; they are not easy to find in retail stores (and can't find them at the Pyrex stores in 2010).








The first brand I tried was Frigovere (made in Italy) which I found a few months ago at a popular chain gourmet cooking mall store and it was the only one available there. The lids on the Frigovere are loose with wide air space. I was able to find one that seemed tighter than the rest and since I was desperate for a glass pitcher I bought it.






I have also tried a few different no name made in China glass products which break on the second or third use when just putting them down on the counter. Later, a glassblowing artist I know told me that poor glass making procedures or improper processes can cause weak glass that shatters in typical use.






So I was on a quest for another glass pitcher and found the Bormiolo Rocco brand two pack glass pitchers (made in Italy) at a local discount retail chain store. They were sealed closed in a box so I couldn't inspect them before buying but they were 50% the price of the Frigovere so I figured I'd give them a try.






Like the Frigovere, the Bormiolo Rocco Gelo also has hard plastic loose-ish fitting lids. I see air space when the lids are on. Even when they are turned to the closed position they leak if tipped to the side or put upside down (contrary to what one reviewer here said). When storing iced coffee in these the act of putting them on the fridge door shelf causes the coffee to spray out of the top and leaves coffee dribbles down the side of my fridge, clear proof that these lids leak.






The pros of the Bormiolo Rocco Gelo pitchers is they are nice and thick and made in Italy so I'm hoping they are higher quality than some of the made in China products I've bought in the past. The glass is thicker on the Bormiolo Rocco Gelo pitchers than the Frigovere pitchers. I note that the thick glass absorbs the cold and helps keep the liquids fresh especially good for milk! However the not-tight fitting lid is an issue for freshness.






These are space-saving pitchers which fit perfectly in my refrigerator door compartment.






One other difference which is a design issue is the Bormiolo Rocco Gelo pitchers have lines on them for style where the Frigovere are flat plain glass (are more utilitarian looking); which you like better depends on your personal taste.






I am still seeking a glass pitcher with a top that is a softer plastic that allows for a tight seal. (Why is this not available on the market? Is this really asking too much?) I may have to resort to buying glass juice bottles with screw top metal lids and using those in order to have a glass container with a tightly sealing lid to keep refrigerator odors from entering the stored liquid or to help keep milk fresh longer. However that's not as nice looking for the table as a proper pitcher.






This is hard to rate, I give 5 stars = I Love It for the glass's high quality and the nice thickness and 1 star = I Hate It for the lid, that averages to 3 = It's Okay.






















Disclosure: I bought these for our family's use and was not paid to write this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog's sidebar.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Learning About NARHS

This fall a local homeschooling mother shared that she is using North Atlantic Regional High School for her two children (in grade 7 and 9). She explained the logbook and the way the family documents the student's work to me.

I have been looking into this. NAHRS is a private school in Maine who offers a (real high school) diploma to students who document their studies and submit them for approval. If you are curious about NARHS they have a free video to watch online (23 minutes long). This is not an umbrella school.

The appeal to me to use NAHRS is that it would force me to keep a detailed logbook of work accomplished. (I got sloppy about that in the 2009-2010 school year and again this last fall).

I am also interested in NAHRS because it would qualify my sons to apply for certain college scholarships that require a high school diploma.

I have requested their free 99 page book (sent by email) about NARHS to learn more. After I filled out the form online they emailed me a link to download the document free online. I already began reading it.

After a discussion with my husband he said he thinks NARHS is a good idea but it's not in our budget until a job is landed. Given their age rules my son who is 13 at present and who I consider in eighth grade could actually enroll into high school for this academic year. Or, I could apply real high school level studies to his transcript and consider him a middle schooler too. The appeal for this is he has been doing high school level work for biology and physics and Algebra I.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Son's Self-Initiated Science Experiment

A truck pulled into the driveway.

The doorbell rang.

No delivery was expected but indeed a cooler full of Omaha Steaks products arrived, a Christmas gift from a relative.

What was in that box that was not the food, was the main draw for my kids: the dry ice. My husband pitched into the fun and showed how to safely handle it and put it into water.

The boys ooh'ed and ahh'ed over it. Abruptly my thirteen year old went upstairs. I heard the sound of hands swishing through LEGOs. I wondered what was going on but was too busy to go investigate.

A little while later he emerged with a LEGO creation in hand. It was a wide chimney that tapered up to a narrow smoke stack. He said he wanted to see the dry ice come out of the smoke stack.





Before placing the chimney on top.

The first attempt failed as the chimney was too short to fit over the measuring cup with the dry ice and water in it. Modifications were made, as seen in the below photo.

The second time he placed it on top and made sure the surface was flat against the granite counter. He pushed down to make sure no air was leaking out. Nothing came out of the top. We waited. Nothing came out.





Above: Chimney placed flat on the counter,  nothing escapes from the top.



He lifted it up and the vapors came out of the bottom, so they really were there. He placed the chimney back down and held it tight and waited. Nothing came out of the top. Once again he picked it up and there was a lot of vapor trapped in the bottom of it.






Above: Lifted up the chimney, some vapors came out of the bottom (hard to see in photo), no vapors come out of the top.







After: there is clearly vapor still available. See how it falls down the side, sinking?

"Oh!", he said. "It's not coming out of the top because the dry ice is so cold and it is making the water very cold and the trapped air also is cold. Cold air sinks and so the vapors are gathering at the bottom instead of rising up and out the top of the chimney!"

I guessed he was right. The funny thing was he put two and two together before I did. I was too busy looking for errors in LEGO construction to think about the scientific things that were going on.

---
Update 12/23/10: I didn't go look up this information to verify the accuracy of my son's hypothesis but I should have. My friend and blog reader Kim of Kim's Play Place corrected me that the smoke is vapor that is carbon dioxide which is heavier than the air in our atmosphere thus it sinks. Thanks Kim!

Most likely next academic year my son will do a high school level chemistry course and such matters will be covered thoroughly. So far in our homeschooling the learning about chemistry was happenstance or interest-led. Some chemistry is being touched upon in this year's biology studies via a homeschool co-op course. Both of our innacuracy after the dry ice play is further proof that a thorough, organized, broad-sweeping study of a topic such as with science or history is important. It also underscores a bit of the risk when a homeschooling parent is not a subject matter expert on every single subject being taught. Thanks for the reminder Kim.

---

Our fall was too busy and over-scheduled. In any free time the kids tried to go right to the TV to sit and vegetate which I discouraged. Neither had free time for creative pursuits or even thinking like this. On this day, this week, almost all of our structured activities done outside the house had ended for the fall.

This was the first full day the kids could sleep in and stay home all day long to do homeschooling lessons with me or Christmas preparations. The pace of the day was entirely different. This is an example of the good things that happen here which are educational or support thinking skills that can only happen when we are not stressed out and running around like chickens with our heads cut off. This is an example of self-initiated or joy-led learning that some call unschooling.

However unschooling does not suffice for this child or my younger one as a full-time thing. These good things don't keep up, they try to watch TV or beg to play video games or other easy passive things instead of using their time on educational pursuits all the time. They also start to bicker if they have too much free time on their hands.

Also, they avoid learning things that are not fun or that challenge them. Certain skills like improving reading ability, literature analysis, practicing difficult math concepts and writing composition skills do not get addressed if I leave my children to their own devices for a full unschooling experience.

I'm trying to straddle the fence between guiding my kids toward the education that our state government requires, preparing them for the career of their choosing (some includes a certain college degree) and allowing them some freedom and fun in their learning. It's not easy to provide them with the social experiences they want with others and have free time at home for solo pursuits and sleeping in.

I'm still looking for that elusive balance. Homeschooling is a process that is ever-evolving. While I can stress or complain of being too busy it makes me feel better to see something good like this going on in "free time" at home, something that shows thinking is happening and that past science lessons learned someplace, sometime (who knows when), were committed to long term memory and were retrieved accurately. I love seeing curiosity and exploration and spontaneity also.

Below: my younger son, age ten, playing around with the dry ice and making a scary face like a mad scientist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lobster Marinara Sauce

It's Christmas prep season which means it's time for my husband to make his mother's traditional Lobster Marinara Sauce or "Lobster Sauce" as they call it.

Our family hosts Christmas Eve dinner which includes linguini with this sauce as one course. The family tradition continues.

Here is a link to the recipe for Lobster Marinara Sauce which I first blogged in 2008.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Reality of the Fushigi Ball

My ten year old son is a sucker for product marketing, he's easily won over by commercials. His Christmas list is short this year. I need to make careful decisions about how to spend our money due to the tight budget.

I understand that one perspective that adults use regarding kids and presents is to give them what will make them happy, even if the gift is stupid or a total waste of money. I hate that basic principal, and when the budget is tight I especially don't want to do it.

The Fushigi ball is one thing my ten year old wants for Christmas. He saw commercials for this on Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Nick. He believes the commercials.

The other challenge with this child of mine is he likes to gain mastery over things such as learning to do fast stacking of that stacking cups game that so many kids were playing with three or four years ago. (Someone gave him a set for his birthday, I'd never even seen them prior to that.) He likes to do things like practice jumps on his bike or practice his guitar.

There is a problem when the thing my son is trying to perfect a skill using a defective item or if it is much harder to master than the marketing department led consumers to believe. In the end if the product stinks this son of mine can take it personally and blame himself as inferior rather than seeing the reality that the product or excessive claims in commercials (or their lies) is the real problem.

Today I decided to check out the Fushigi ball online before forking over the $20 that one costs. I turned to the Internet. Actually I sat my son down in front of Google and told him to search for some reviews by pluggin in the keywords "fushigi" and "review". The first thing he found was a YouTube video explaining what the Fushigi is really like. I was in the room with him so we were both educated on the Fushigi ball thanks to Web 2.0. Come to find out there are many product reviews for this item on YouTube done by amateurs and even kids!

The ball appears on TV to be made of a pretty glass but from what we have learned it is clear acrylic with a metal ball or a metallic looking ball inside it with a cushion of fluid. One reviewer showed the thick acrylic seam that goes half way round the ball so it isn't even smooth or "nice". One reviewer tested it by dropping it on various surfaces (which will happen while practicing contact juggling) and showed how the ball gets scratched or marred with paint in the process.

The second issue is when watching the commerical the first few times it seems like the ball can do great tricks. Per YouTube reviewers I saw that they are not all real maneuvers but some are illusions. My son and I then viewed the original Fushigi ball commercial online and by very careful listening we heard the correct terminology was used that the user is creating illusions. It's funny how we didn't hear that the first time(s) around. I talked with him about use of words and deceptive language and marketing and advertising. (This type of thing winds up teaching kids about critcial thinking skills.)

The last review we saw explains the ball will take lots and lots of practice to master (years even). Thus this will probably be like some other toys like the Rubik's Cube which may sell product but few owners will actually master the technique to use it "fully" or properly. Young kids seldom have the attention span necessary to become a master at something that takes years to practice.

My son no longer wants the Fushigi Ball. Well that saves us $20. This was yet another lesson in seeing reality for what it really is. Little by little my kids learn about the real world which includes pursuasive marketing of toys to children and deceiving them.

Here are some of the videos that we watched. Since these are amateur videos by kids and adults the quality is not professional, that's okay, it was the information we were after.


Video name: Fushigi is Fake, which shows how any ball can be used for illusions and contact juggling


Long review by adult: Fushigi Review Can YOU Do It?  (note: one use of the s word) in which he focuses on mastery of contact juggling will take lots of practice, maybe even multiple years.

Adult woman reviewer does testing by dropping the ball and seeing what damage occurs: What Happens if You Drop a Fushigi Ball?

Impressive looking use of the glow in the dark Fushigi Ball (I note my son's small hands could not do this trick if he tried).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Amazing Blog Post

Speechless after reading this, mostly as I felt this way in the past especially during former joblessness of my husband and also in times of grief and mourning over dying or recently deceased loved ones. And again now that unemployment hit our home again. Our lives were never like what this woman's was but the basic feeling is the same. This is a powerful piece of writing and gives much food for thought.

Seeing Past What It Seems

Hat Tip: Post found on a blog of a woman who I met through the local homeschooling community who now blogs about her battle with Breast Cancer: Hiking Up Hill.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wisdom From the Ten Year Old Son

Yesterday my ten year old son returned home from an indoor lacrosse clinic with a new gem of wisdom. He is learning a lot there about typical socialization of public school kids in this town (this fall that means mixed  age boys in grades 5-8).

"Mom, in school if you are smart they make fun of you and some call you an idiot. But if you're not good at school or dumb, others call them an idiot. So no matter which you are, someone's calling you an idiot."

I said that about sums it up. It makes no sense but that's the way it is.

I note that television shows on the Disney Channel have been my kid's main source of the realization that it is perceived as a bad thing to be smart or to like learning. (Thank you Zach and Cody. Not.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'd Like to Move

The idea of moving half way across the country is appealing to me. I like the idea of a clean break and going to a completely different place. I have lived within a thirty mile radius my entire life, although the environment of growing up in a lower middle class family in a solidly middle class shoreline town in New Haven County and now living in a wealthy town in Fairfield County sometimes feel like they are two different planets. This difference is underscored since my relatives still live there and when I visit I am reminded of my childhood versus the life I'm leading now which some may classify as most closely fitting the 'soccer mom' stereotype (only because so few know much about homeschooling so they put me into the nearest familiar category).

When we moved to this house we wanted more space and specifically, storage space. Our first home was a ranch with no attic storage and a finished basement with just a small area in the unfinished furnace room for storage of things like Christmas decorations. The problem with this house is there is too much storage, the unfinished basement is the same square footage as our entire former house. We could make the attic useful for storage too but we don't need the space as we already have too much. That plus walk-in closets and under the eaves storage invites saving of too much stuff.

Today I started on a quest to put on a clean pair of jeans to go to church in. I was excited to see the special Christmas choir presentation. One pair of jeans I know we washed last week has gone missing before I ever wore them. One pair was wet in the washing machine. The third pair is also missing. I had not yet switched out my summer and spring pants for whatever winter pants I had in the closet in boxes. I refused to wear sweat pants or yoga pants to church (or summer cotton capri length pants) so we skipped church! Instead I dove into the closet to swap out the summer for winter clothes. I also went through every drawer and touched every single thing in the under the eaves storage area. I have put things into bags to donate to charity thrift shops and some things to be given to my brother to use for rags.

I was raised in a family with pack rats on both sides and multiple grandparents who lived through the depression. Growing up without much money, my parents emphasized not wasting money on buying things and to use everything until it wore out. It feels wrong to get rid of good stuff that I just don't like or doesn't fit well or is out of style even though it is servicable. However I do let go of some of it.

One thing I hold onto is clothes I really like but that I no longer fit into since I've gained weight. Honestly I am the same weight I was in the first year of my marriage (fifteen years ago) when I was in my late twenties. I was this weight when I got pregnant with both kids so I can't blame pregnancies or even age for me being this weight. This is what I am when I lead a sedentary lifestyle. This is also what I am when I exercise moderately which makes me feel defeated so I give up on exercising, why bother if I see no results? My only hope of shrinking back down to my former petite size is to go back to exercising 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day six days a week. So far since becoming a mother and homeschooling I have not been self-disciplined enough to do that much exercise though.

I own a fair amount of stuff we're not using but it's not causing a problem to keep it. If we were to move I'd be forced to get rid of much of this stuff. Especially if we move to certain locations where homes are built on slabs and storage space is limited I'd be forced to give up even more of my packrat ways.

Another weird thing though is when money is tight such as when my husband is out of work, the feeling to save it all in case I need to use it takes over and makes it hard to let go of stuff. It would be foolish to give away things we may desperately need later.

I'm in the mood to just get rid of everything. I started today so even if we don't wind up moving we'll still own less, which can only be a good thing.

So there are some thoughts from the mind of a packrat who has been trying to reform her ways for years.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Shifting Perspective and Modes

Last month while my older son was at MIT's Splash event I attended some lectures for the parents. One was about the holistic college admissions process. The way the description was written I thought it was about the general holistic admissions process but it wound up being about MIT's admissions process. It was eye-opening and helped shift my perspective.

This fall I got wrapped up in confusion due to changing the way we homeschool to majorly focus on doing learning experiences outside the home. Each kid had four full days of being out of the house. The fifth day was a commute day for each kid while their sibling was in a paid class for the sibling's age range. So really we all had five days a week outside the house. Most of the academics at home was not lessons taught by me but me overseeing homework assignments for the outside classes.

This fall I became fearful of my abilitiy to homeschool the high school years for my older son. I started freaking out about college admissions. One of the challenges is that for his intended major the prep needs to begin in eighth grade so I am not wrong to start thinking about that now.

At the MIT lecture I was encouraged (even though the speaker kept saying a disclaimer that he was not speaking on behalf of MIT or the MIT admissions office) that perhaps the best thing about college for students is to find a good fit. I have heard that before, especially from parents who seem to not be in a race to get their kids into the top name colleges. However hearing it at MIT really helped me see the point.

What I'm doing is raising kids, I'm parenting kids and that's my primary role. My secondary role is homeschooling. Something happened while I listened to that lecture to help me step back and see the big picture. I really needed that reminder to think about kids as people not just thinking of kids as students with an aim to get into a good college.

So far my kids are turning out well. I think they are good kids with unique personalities and good hearts. In the long run that is what is important. I want them to find a college that is a good fit and that they will thrive at both academically and socially. I do not want them at a school where they will struggle and fail. I don't want them in a college that they will feel fulfilled academically but lonely socially.

As for homeschooling we have always custom tailored our "home school", taking full freedom of choice to sculpt something interesting and good. Too much outsourcing of classes this fall made me realize that I was giving away the very freedoms that drew us to homeschooling in the first place. I am looking for more of a balance now, some outsourced teaching but mostly home studies or even some studies done via Internet courses.

I realized also that abundance has a cost. When time seems infinite I seem to become more laid back (if not lazy) and I don't make the best use of our time; it feels like we have forever to get to do that thing or to teach that subject or skill. Then all of a sudden I realize, "My kid probably should already know that thing but he doesn't." When money is flowing it is easy to pay someone else to do something for my kids instead of doing it myself. It is easier to have someone else do the work then to sit back and complain if it is not as good as I'd hoped. This fall I also had a luxurious thought that I could send my son to private high school if homeschooling was not working out (like so many parents in my area do as they can afford to).

Now that the budget is tighter due to my husband's company downsizing I've shifted into another mode, to the "make do" mode. Now I am looking at the materials we own at home and saying "I can and will teach this" instead of "what co-op class can be created to have someone else teach that skill to my child". Now that the thought that I may have to return to work is in my mind I'm asking why I didn't make better use of my time with my kids when I had them all to myself? Now we couldn't use private high school if we wanted to. If my kids go to school it will have to be public school. Feeling like we have less options this month compared to last month is not a good feeling.

I'm in a good state of mind, feeling grateful for the time I have with my kids. I am happy to think of the new found time we have now that some of our outside activities have ended. More will end next week and then we'll have a couple of weeks without any appointments at all (but we'll be busy prepping and celebrating Christmas). I will nail down some homeschool lesson plans in that time so we can start off January working hard here at home with a firm plan in hand as to how we'll spend our time (so we don't go into lazy mode).

Despite the uncertainty of the income situation and not knowing if we'll move and be thrust into a new community, I'm feeling content and satisfied. I know I have done a good job parenting my kids so far and no matter where or how they are educated for the rest of their primary and secondary education and whatever winds up happening with college, they will be good people and we have an emotionally healthy family life. That's what really matters to me.




Enjoying Butterbeers
at the Three Broomsticks restaurant at
the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios,
Orlando, Florida earlier this week.