Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Garden Photos at This House





These three photos were taken in late November
at our rented home in Texas
using my iPhone and Instagram.


I am still trying to adjust to such deep greens and the long-lasting greenness of everything set against the brown deadness of the leaf littered ground, which is partially due to trees stressed or dying from the terrible 2011 drought.

This landscape is so different than the Connecticut woods which I've looked at and lived with all my life. I am still trying to learn to like it.

Finding a Good College Fit

I think I've heard enough about finding a college that is a good fit for our kids. I've been hearing lectures about it and read discussions online about it.

What a good fit means is pretty simple if you just stop and brainstorm. Here are some in random order that get discussed as vital to consider:

* has the major you wish to pursue

* has options for minors you wish to pursue (options if you change your mind)

* academic rigor you can handle

* costs what you can afford

* city vs. countryside

* college sports you want to do

* clubs and other things available that you want to do

* is swanky enough for your kid (dorm size, fitness centers, food in dining hall) -- I use that term   intentionally as it seems that some teens and their parents put that as a high priority. I don't.

* social life - party school (I will withhold my opinions on this category as it could occupy an entire blog post and perhaps should)

Much of this my oldest son and I do not know at this point in time. It is too early for us.

What seems a good fit for my son now when he's in ninth grade may not be a good fit when he is a senior and applying to colleges. So why even think about this now?

What rigor of education he can handle is not known yet. It is no good to get admitted to a college that the freshman flunks out of as it is too rigorous for their abilities. I'm a realist. I want my kids to thrive and do well where they attend college. I don't care about my kids getting into brand name colleges with rigor if they can't handle the work load!

I also am aware that my son's interest in a college major may change. For now he says engineering so I am helping him get there. If he changes his mind that will be fine with me, then he will change his plans accordingly.

I don't even know what our finances will be, with this economy who knows? We're saving all we are able (which sometimes is zilch) and even thinking about the next house we buy in our new state, we are thinking about buying a smaller home so as to have more disposable income to save for college tuition.

For now I am shooting for the stars and will be happy if my kids land on the moon. We're trying to supply academic rigor and have real learning happening here with mastery of content in the most interesting and engaging way as possible given the hoops that must be jumped through. I'd rather have my kids over-prepared for what they wind up doing than be underprepared with closed doors due to poor planning on my part.

And as I have written about at length recently my son is dealing with Lyme Disease induced brain injury and he is receiving medical treatments to help heal it, so he's working only at partial capacity right now.

I think we are in a good place and I don't need to put mental energy to wondering what college is a good fit for my son. He's only in ninth grade, for goodness sake. I'm closing the chapter on thinking about college choices and focusing on parenting and homeschooling both of my kids, that's taking perhaps already too much of my energy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Astronomy Book in Same Format as the Much Loved The Elements Book

The publisher of The Elements, a visually striking book about the periodic table of elements has published a similar book about astronomy called The Solar System. I learned about this when I saw the book on display at MIT's The Coop bookstore last week.



My very visual ninth grader loves The Elements. We own the book, the flash cards (which we purchased from Amazon.com) and a laminated placemat (purchased from the Boston Museum of Science).

We need another space book like we need a hole in the head, but I'm making an exception to purchase this book because it truly is unparalleled in its visual beauty. The pages are black with stunning photography. The writing is engaging, to the point yet interesting. Regarding The Elements I used to think they were boring, with that ugly chart popping into my mind when I think of them, but that book shows they are gorgeous and stunning. So, how can I resist the astronomy class?






Disclosure: Nothing to disclose other than the regular stuff which can be read by clicking the link near the top of my blog's sidebar. Blah, blah, blah. (Sorry, I'm getting sick of this federal law mandated disclaimer thing.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Having started homeschool lessons at nearly full tilt in mid-August, by the time Thanksgiving arrived, we are fried. We have also not spent any time doing art or poetry.



So the plan for the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I hatched and ran past my kids to which they responded with glee about is this:



Math

Science

Art

Poetry



That is all we are studying. That’s it.



We will also be doing Christmas preparations including an early family photo Christmas card which doubles as a notification of our new snail mail address, putting up a Christmas tree, and doing Christmas baking.



We will exercise outdoors too. The mild Texas weather makes this a perfect time of year to be outside. Temperatures are ranging from the 40s-70s.



Another change for December is my son’s Boy Scout Troop does a camping trip December 26-30 in which they focus on banging out a bunch of merit badges. So instead of lazing around the house playing video games and relaxing they will be booted out and the house will be oddly quiet that week. Actually both kids will be learning things while working on their merit badges (i.e. US Government, local government and science topics) which I count as learning experiences for “what they studied this year”.  

The kids being away also means that I’ll have a week all alone, while my husband goes off to work each day. I wonder what I will choose to do with all that free time?



Knit?



Read?



Homeschool planning?



Nature walks?



Photography?



Relax?



The possibilities are endless.

So Now We Have Book Summary Wikis

I won't cry that doomsday is here about it but I'm surprised to learn that there are now Wiki book summaries online. I found it while doing a google search on a book title of a book I'd read a few years ago.

Why read the whole thing when you can read the summary? Okay, sorry, I said I'd not get pessimistic.

I'll hold my tongue.

If you are curious, go to www.wikisummaries.org and search a book title.

Please, let this not be the end of reading a book cover to cover. Please.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Playing with Instagram

Finally!

A solution!

I have wanted to play more with fun photos with Lomography but felt it was too much money for the plastic cameras and too much for the photo film and developing then they'd not be digital in the end. So I resisted Lomography.

I bought some antique and vintage cameras a few years ago but didn't use them much for the same reason stated above.

Now I am using a free app for the iPhone called Instgram. You open the app, shoot the photo (you can't zoom, one downside) then you scroll through about a dozen filters to view the photo in different light and edges. Or, you take any old photo you have on your iPhone and use that to edit (but the shape may not fill the entire square photo box if you do it that way.)

The instagram photos are square shaped.

You have to pick one filter to use (or choose to save as unfiltered) immediately. Some make a photo look antique or vintage or super saturated in color, and one makes it black and white.

The photo is saved to your instagram account. (I don't understand this but at first my photos were not stored on my iPhone but the next day they showed up, so I'm a bit confused.)

With a slide of a button you can share your photo via Twitter or Facebook if you desire. You can view the photos via a PC and right click on your images to save copies to your hard drive.


Your instagram account defaults to public but you can edit it to make it a private account if you wish.

You can view anyone's public account, so it has that in common with Lomography.com.

There is a paid version of the app but I have not investigated it yet to see what is different about it.

If your friends use Instagram (or anyone else you care to see photos taken by) you can follow them and easily view the photos they share.


My favorite old and fantastic computer keyboard.


"Ginger, can this really be comfortable?"


South facing kitchen window blinds with palm tree shadow, morning, 11/27/11.

What Younger Son Said About the Way Parents Act

After spending time with adults this last week that we've known for years my younger son (age 11) made the observation that most adults act differently to kids than they act with other adults.

He then went on to say that I act the same with both.

I do not baby talk to babies and I don't talk down to even the smallest of children. I also try to talk to kids with respect. I give them the benefit of the doubt. If they are jerks to me or need putting in line I don't hesitate to step up to the plate, like when I spoke to some Boy Scouts about throwing golf sized landscaping rocks from the professionally made garden at each other and toward the cars in the parking lot (one of which was mine).

I found it funny when my son said that kids like me, they think I am funny. I don't think of myself as funny. His observation is when I interact with his friends and taught classes at the homeschool co-op (he was in some of my classes). He said the kids at co-op loved me. I think they like my direct talking style, or at least the boys and tomboys do.

He also said, though, that I am funnier with other people's kids than I am with him. I explained that I have a different role with other people's kids than with my own. I said I have a responsibility to try to make things go right with him and his brother, that I have taken on homeschooling so the situation is not just me parenting them but also educating them. I said the stakes are higher and it makes me more serious. Lastly I said that he and his brother have a different relationship with me, they can push my buttons or give me more problems to deal with than other kids who I have less contact with. For example I have to be the one to break up their bickering before I go nuts hearing that nonsense. I sometimes have to be The Heavy or The Bad Cop since I'm the only adult present with them most of the time.

My son has been having some interesting conversations with me in the last couple of months. He seems much more introspective now and makes keen observations. He is a very social kid and notices things about people, how people relate to each other and non-verbal (body language) communication, tones of voice people use and noting the way they word things and he reads between the lines. I like learning how his mind works. He's a unique kid, full of opinions and his plain talking is sometimes pretty funny if I do say so myself.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Kids Still Love Basher Nonfiction Children's Books

We own almost all the Basher nonfiction books.

I find them silly and funny.

My eleven year old finds them "cool not funny".

My fourteen year old (who started reading them about two years ago) loves them and thinks they are funny.

We use these as supplements to what we are learning in homeschooling. My kids also pick them up on their own and read through them for fun.

Some of the books have been read three or four times, so these are keepers for us, I'm glad to own them. (And I have never seen them in public libraries so buying is the only option I had open to our family.)

When at MIT last weekend we visited The Coop (their bookstore) and I saw a big display of all the Basher books. I am glad that others realize there is a market for nonfiction books for kids. If the book is engaging, kids will read it, and they will enjoy it.

Basher books cover: (mostly) science, English, math, and music. So far, I haven't seen any history!

Highly recommended.

I see their publisher is now making some sets of flashcards using the visuals from the book. I'll be buying the periodic table set for my kids.

From the archives: My Kids Love Basher Science Books, April 2010














Disclosure: Nothing to disclose other than the standard stuff which you can read by clicking the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Homeschool to College Research and Worry - Enough is Enough!

When my oldest began eighth grade I started opening my ears and tuning in to the chatter about college admissions and what colleges really want. I thought that was "the right time" to really start researching but I was wrong. Since my son stated he wanted to be an engineer I researched what most colleges want. It was a good thing I started in the fall, as I found out that my information base and my son's academic work really should have begun in grade seven (especially for that major) but we were digging in to get the math done in grade eight (which felt like a rush as we already felt behind).


At the same time, my local homeschool friends, most of them, were working up to a panic state and it affected me and got me nervous.



It has been about 15 months that I've been reading, chatting, talking, and listening and enough is enough. For me, that information has turned to noise and is a distractor to getting the actual work done. It was also stressing me out. Now the more I read the more duplication I hear and I'm no longer learning anything new. It is time for me to focus more on teaching my son and having systems in place so he can get his work done.



If you are a homeschooler I feel that it is harder for the parent to figure out the path to college. First you need to know there are sometimes different guidelines and requirements made of homeschoolers than kids who use traditional schools. Your child may have to take more standardized tests to prove they really did learn something. Depending on your style of homeschooling in order to fulfill these requirements you may have to switch gears from a more alternative education style to a more traditional one. If you were a relaxed homeschooler you may have to switch gears and get more serious about deadlines (even just to finish science topic X by June to take the SAT II test in that month when before you were more loosey goosey about finishing up science in a certain month or letting it spill into the summer or the following fall). How much you have to do and what you need to change will vary depending on the major you seek.



What you should know first is that your research about college, I think, should begin in grade seven and be complete before grade eight starts. Second, you need to know what colleges want of schooled kids and then what they want from homeschoolers, which can be two different things.



I've read only one book but have heard perhaps a half dozen lectures from reputable people about the process. I've read some websites and blogs from college admissions coaches. I have read the college websites themselves to get the information directly from the horse's mouth. Regarding homeschoolers and college I have found a lot (too much) information on two YahooGroup! chat lists: homeschool2college and hs2coll.


After hearing five excellent lectures at the parent program ran by Learning U at MIT ESP Splash last weekend I feel the intense need to shut off the external voices and to focus inward on just my family. I am hearing the same information over and over and I'm not learning much that is new so why should I invest my time into hearing yet another lecture or to read another book?

I understand the need over time to keep my finger in the pot so I can know if there are changes but I think I could do that mostly by a quick check with the colleges and by skimming the chat lists.


Right now I think I'm almost ready to put my YahooGroups! on web only reading so that the emails are not delivered all day long putting the information and opinions right in front of my face all day long. I need to stop spending time trying to dig up new information when nothing new is being found when my energy needs to go into actually educating my kids at home. To reduce stress and to prevent it from developing into a true anxiety.

I need to filter out the noise and trust the process and dig deep into the living and learning rather than worrying that I don't know enough to guide my kids to get an acceptable (in the eyes of the college admissions officers) education. Really in the end what's important is the education they get, not just how it looks on paper on some application, so I'll focus on that now.

P.S. I plan to blog in the near future about some of the things I have learned about homeschooling high school and the path to college. To see what I've blogged in the past look for the "label" below this post with keywords and click on one to link to my past blog posts.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Are You a Sophomore at MIT? and Photographic Memory

The funniest exchange my fourteen year old had at MIT ESP Splash last weekend was a conversation with an MIT freshman.

My son was stopped in the hall by a lost MIT student. He asked if my son was a sophomore there. The young man said he needed to find a certain building and was a freshman student and was lost.

My son laughed and said, no! He was just a freshman in high school, and that he was there for MIT ESP Splash. He asked what building he wanted.

The MIT student told him where he wanted to go and said he never heard of Splash. My son told him how to get there and told him what Splash was.

The MIT student was surprised and said he couldn't believe how my son knew where to go. My son said it was his third time at Splash and he'd learned where many of the buildings were.

My son has a photographic memory with a strong visual spatial sense. He instantly memorizes what he sees in 3D and he can see the image and rotate it around to view it from different angles. When he has a printed map he uses it just a bit to find his way around but often it is committed to memory after one use and he can pull up a snapshot of the printed map in his mind as well as pulling up any visual image he has seen in real life such as what the exterior of the building looked like and other details that would never be on a printed map. He can compare the map image to his memory to find what he needs. Once he has a real life view the map image is of secondary priority for his use.

When my son was ten years old, we visited Hershey Park in Pennsylvania, an amusement park. It was his first time riding serious roller coasters. Due to his height he was able to go on all the rides, and he and I went on them together. (I am also a roller coaster lover.)

That night before bed my son started talking about the roller coasters. He said he was playing back the "video" in his head to help him unwind to go to sleep. I asked what he meant. He said that he had memorized the ride including such things as when ascending for the loop he saw just below was a food stand selling cotton candy, so forth and so on. Keep in mind this was a ride that went in excess of 70 mph and he was able to see and remember everything. I was so thrilled by the ride that I was not even seeing what was whizzing by, I was too busy experiencing the emotion and the sensation of the ride, and other times my eyes were closed so I'd not have seen what went by anyway!

(So far my son does not seem to have a photographic memory for text words. Memorization and recall would certainly be easier if he could pull up images of textbooks, books, and flashcards.)

My son was chuckling over the idea that he was mistaken for a college sophomore. He has been growing tall and does look like a young man, but he didn't think he looked 19 or 20!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

SAT Cheating Ring

At least 20 current or former high school students from an affluent New York suburb of high achievers have been charged in a widening college entrance exam cheating scandal that has raised questions not only about test security but about the pressures to score well."

Published at FoxNews.com
On: 11/23/11

Sigh. Meanwhile the non-cheaters stress out about trying to do well...

Older Son's Plan B for This Year

This is a follow-up post to Neurofeedback Therapy Has Started regarding my fourteen year old son.


Plan A for 2011-2012 year was:

Do a typical grade nine academic course load year with rigorous academics geared toward fulfilling college prerequisites for an engineering degree. Arrange math so can finish levels required for future sciences.

Due to the move, the fall semester will focus on home studies, independent or taught by parent-teacher. Take one online math class. Look for options for more group learning for second half of year as we settle in to this new place.

Do one sport (fall, winter, spring), for physical fitness and social fun.

Continue with Boy Scouts.

Eat well and get enough rest. Reduce the staying up too late reading great fiction books habit.

Avoid foods that cause food intolerances and sensitivities.

Try to get through "typical teen behavior and the slacker years" by taking life one day at a time and picking my battles.

After the move, find a new behavioral optometrist to continue monitoring the visual processing issues which have been under treatment for four years.

Adjust to life in our new home after the long distance move, try to help ease the transition any way I can so he is not stressed out.

Heal from the June 2011 case of Lyme Disease.

Focus on academics not girls.

The reality:

My son is sleeping more than he ever has in his life.

Puberty is going at top gear. He is gaining about two pounds a week and growing inches and inches taller.

The academic course load is too heavy for him to handle. His brain fizzles out and he can't sustain for long periods of studying.

The online math class is a terrible match for my son's learning style. He struggles to learn math by reading lines of words on a screen, or in a textbook. He needs to hear a teacher talk and see the operations done out, such as on a video lesson or in a live class (the way 100% of school kids are taught).

New consult was sought in early October after about six weeks of various struggles. Neurological issues were confirmed by EEG and a brain map (qEEG) was scheduled for more detailed information in November. Neurofeedback therapy began in October, 12 sessions done at the time of this writing, 20-30 more will likely be performed. This takes half a day two days a week and leaves my son with headaches and so tired that he falls asleep at lunch time. Not much academic work can be done on those two days a week. Thus, the academic work load has decreased more than we were doing.

The sport team takes four evenings a week and four entire weekends a season. Boy Scout camping trips take one weekend a month. These interfere with shifting academics to nights or weekends. In fact those activities are so time consuming and exhausting that they prevent even a few hours of work to be done Saturday and Sunday. Also, his brain is fried already so he couldn't do night work even if I wanted him to.

My son is getting distracted by girls. From body language reading, I suspect there are three and maybe for girls on his co-ed sports team that have crushes on him. (We continue to not allow texting so that has not invaded on his time.)

I caught my son web surfing using my old smart phone (which I gave him to use for music listening when his MP3 player broke). He was goofing off online instead of doing his studies. This had been going on for weeks but it took me a while to put two and two together, because I didn't realize the phone could do that, since the phone had no phone service and we did not pay for internet access. He was riding on our neighbor's internet service! Thank goodness I had a strong Google parental filter set on or he may have been viewing even worse things than what I found. The Droid was taken away but later he asked to please not give it back to him lest he be tempted again.

I was left not knowing how to proceed with a rigorous an academic plan could be accomplished during the neurofeedback therapy time (30-40 weeks of this year).

Plan B:

After speaking with the board certified neurofeedback therapist (a pyschologist) a more big picture perspective was encouraged.

To justify his recommendation (which I will share momentarily) he explained to me that he can see with my son's behavior and his tenacity with the neurofeedback compared to the brain wave measurements that my son is very motivated and works hard. My son is showing a calm, pleasant, and easy to get along with attitude, and he's a "good kid". When his brain is tired and the brain waves reflect the struggle the psychologist offers him an easier exercise and my son refuses and asks to continue on the hard exercise. He does not show any signs of laziness or a lack of cooperation.

In addition the brain waves are really off and he is struggling. Delta should be at 5 or below and my son averages 17 for the session, and goes up to 30 for the last third of the exercise time and he continues to not give up and to push through and make effort. Thus, the psychologist feels that my son is not lazy at all and has good character traits, and that if he could do a heavier academic load, he would. The issue is the brain is struggling and unable to do the work, thanks to the Lyme Disease's neurological effects. My son has a true biological block hindering him that can be corrected with the therapy and helped by the fact that he is young and his brain is so plastic at this age.

Continue with neurofeedback therapy. View this as a therapy to help heal a medical problem that is important. It is time consuming. Accept the reality that the therapy is a top priority to help him heal.

Get enough sleep. Try to go to bed about the same time each night. Set an alarm to wake up in the morning at the same time.

Eat a protein breakfast immediately upon waking, which will help energy levels. It alters brain waves and puts them into a more active state good for learning.

After breakfast, go outside and exercise vigorously for 30 minutes. Get some sun on the face to boost Vitamin D and serotonin and to avoid the winter blues (apparently people do get those in Texas too).

Supplement with Vitamin D. Most American's Vitamin D levels are too low.

Eat well and avoid as many processed foods as possible.

Supplement with fish oils, including omega 6. This helps the brain's ability to think and process and aids learning.

Scale back the academics to focus on what is most important. Make goals achievable or else self-esteem will suffer. More do-able goals will also help me not become a task master nagger.

Due to the fatigue from the neurofeedback therapy, from getting up at a set time each day, and from the sports, take a nap from 2pm to 3pm each day for one hour only. This is better for the body and brain than sleeping an extra hour in the morning. Too much sleep negatively affects delta waves so don't overdo it.

Continue with sports. Even though it is time consuming the exercise is good for his body and the experience is self-esteem boosting. It provides social opportunities that do not yet exist for us in this new place.

Continue working at his Boy Scout rank advancement on the path to Eagle. Do Troop activities as the schedule allows, don't kill ourselves having him attend every single thing. Others his age are not super participants, this Troop has a different culture than our former Troop. So now our son will do less with the Troop but will focus inward on finishing some difficult merit badges and getting closer to Eagle.

Consider adding a fifth year to the high school studies. It is common for school kids to stay back a grade after having mono. He had mono for 8 months in grade 7 in 2009, (misdiagnosed many times by different doctors) and he couldn't keep up with his studies that year which pushed back his subsequent studies (like a falling row of dominoes). Since my son has had Lyme Disease multiple times, including in 2009 and 2011 (not to mention previous cases) this is a reasonable idea. My son hates this idea so we are keeping it as an option to deal with in the future.

The new academic goals are a major focus on math to include finishing Algebra I and to also complete Algebra 2. He will finish Biology with lab and will study to take the SAT II test in June 2012. He will finish up the last work on his literature course. He will work on writing composition. The rest will be "bare minimum" to comply with standards.

We will not go "above and beyond" in every single subject. Foreign langage is being pushed off until after the neurofeedback therapy is finished, possibly until fall of 2012 (he has stopped Rosetta Stone due to hating it, he formerly loved it, and we need to look for a live class to take instead as I think this is a preferable method for him).

We dropped the online math class as it is not working and found another online math class with a video format that is working well for him. He has been working at that for about two weeks with great success academically, and he enjoys it too.

Continue the family ban on text messaging in order to help curb distractors.

Continue to not provide him with a smart phone or on any other mobile device to avoid internet surfing so he can focus on his priorities and avoid temptation.

(I am hoping he doesn't get girl obsessed which may dominate his mind but I can't prevent that if it does happen.)

The TV watching and video game playing policies remain the same: watch something as a family at night only. Video games on weekends for two hours a day only. Facebook time is minimal.

Per the psychologist he should earn one minute of screen time for every one minute of exercise he does.
---

This new plan is more realistic and attainable. I feel a sense of relief to know that what is best is for my son's general health and well-being to be the primary focus and that he is getting professional help via the neurofeedback therapy. Now I have been given permission to lay off the rigorous academics that I had planned. It will not be the end of the world if my son has to "stay back a grade" due to medical conditions. In any event he has an August birthday and we did not "red shirt" (for social reasons) him as many parents did in my area. Since "red shirting" is so common with boys now it should not be held against him if he stays back a grade due to recovery from multiple medical conditions.

It is hard for me sometimes as a homeschooling parent to know "how much is enough" regarding expectations and academic load. It is hard to also struggle with the worry that we're not doing enough as homeschooling parents.

It is now clearer to me that what is truly most important in every child's life is to be well medically and mentally. Getting educated and learning comes after that first foundational need has been met. I'd rather slow down and take some extra time so my son can receive a high quality education than cram in the schooling while feeling too tired and not functioning at full brain capacity just to say he crossed the graduation finish line in four years at age 17. Who are we rushing for anyway? Both my son and I would rather have a higher quality of life and quality learning instead of rushing and cramming academics in a stressful manner while feeling unwell and while functioning at partial capacity just to "get 'er done" by some certain date.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scharffen Berger Nibby Dark Chocolate Bar




This is a delicious gourmet chocolate bar of dark chocolate with small bits of cacao nibs in it. The bar is 62% cacao. The dark chocolate has great flavor and the tiny nibs give an even stronger general chocolate taste. This packs a punch and has a deep chocolate taste, deeper than a regular plain dark chocolate bar.

As to the texture I will say this. Anyone who wants a creamy smooth candy bar should not eat bars with any solid things in them, whether they are nuts, coffee beans or cacao nibs. So, I knew before I ate this bar that it had small pieces of solid food in it, so a texture of cacao nibs in the bar came as no surprise to me nor was it perceived as negative by me. The nib pieces are quite small and I found them a delicious addition to the candy bar. In the past I have eaten cacao nibs straight, and found them chalky and weird, but that same sensation and taste was not present in this Scharffen Berger bar because the sweetened dark chocolate candy that envelops them changed the experience entirely.

The only negative thing I can say is that one or two times per bar, while eating them, I came upon a nib that was so solid and hard that it reminded me of accidentally biting onto a piece of nut shell, crab or lobster shell when you are not expecting it. The crunch and the hardness of those couple of nibs was almost bad enough to make me wonder if I cracked a tooth. I did not experience any nib pieces getting stuck in my teeth requiring an urgent dental flossing or toothpick use.

This bar is all natural having few ingredients: cacao beans, sugar, cacao nibs, cocoa butter, non-GMO soy lecithin and whole vanilla beans. This product is gluten free.

Scharffen Berger is an American company founded by two California men. Using artisan chocolate making methods they craft chocolate in small batches using the best ingredients from around the world and with vintage European chocolate making equipment.

I have seen this company and their methods profiled on television food shows in the past, and what I recall is the commitment to high quality ingredients and how the founders travel around the world shopping for the best ingredients offered in specific regions.

For years this company's chocolate has been used by chefs to make high quality desserts. Scharffen Berger sells many different products now, some for baking and some for savoring as gourmet chocolate candy. Be sure to read the label's product information to learn what that bar is.

Knowing the work that went into producing the bars explains and justifies the price.

I rate this 5 stars = I Love It.




Disclosure: I received $25 worth of this product from Amazon Vine for the purpose of doing a review on Amazon.com. I was under no obligation to review it favorably or to publish it on my blog. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Son Asks for Narrative Science Books to Read

Hot on the heels of declaring his enjoyment of historical fiction books my son challenged me to provide him with narrative science books. I turned around in my chair and plucked two books from the shelf that I'd had ready for him to read this year. They are two books written by Lucy Hawking and Stephen Hawking: George's Secret Key to the Universe and George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt.

His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he admitted the challenge was meant to stump me. He did not know that anything like that existed. He dove into Universe first and proclaimed he loved it. As I write this he is nearly finished with Treasure Hunt. Black Holes was set to be published in August 2011 but it is not available on Amazon right now, so we don't own it yet.





It seems in this case the subject matter expert Stephen Hawking combined with the storytelling talents of his daughter Lucy has made a winning combination.

Here is a video of Stephen Hawking talking about the book trilogy.



Here are two videos of Lucy Hawking describing one of the books and about the collaboration with her father.

George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt:



George's Secret Key to the Universe

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Younger Son Likes Historical Fiction Now

My eleven year old son has discovered that he enjoys historical fiction. I can't tell you how happy this makes me.

For years I have bookhunted and scouted and taken suggestions from other homeschoolers about the best books to read. Many are historical fiction. In the past my sons have both resisted this genre which has been an area that I felt sad about. I wanted my kids to love those books.

While going through books in the moving process I decided to let go of thousands that we were finished with or never got around to using. I saved some picture books from the time period we are studying right now and figured I'd have my eleven year old read them now, quickly and easily then I'd let go of them.

One book I held onto was a journal style book written by Marissa Moss, "Hannah's Journal" which was historical fiction about a Jewish girl from Lithuania immigrating to the United States. He enjoyed the book (although he hated the abrupt ending) and asked for more. He now says he never knew this thing we call historial fiction existed.

Now he is moving on to books that are longer in text, the chapter books.



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He is also finishing up a narrative nonfiction trilogy series published in the late 1950s to 1960 by Gerald Johnson. The series is called "A History for Peter" and the titles are America is Born, America Grows Up and America Moves Forward. Both of my kids enjoy narrative nonfiction (a writing style popular a hundred years ago but which has become pretty rare).




Friday, November 18, 2011

Priorities, Issues, and Burning Wood for Heat

Earlier this year I was at my mother-in-law's house looking for a piece of scratch paper to write on. She has a drawer where free scratch pads are stashed when they arrive in the mail, such as those from non-profit organizations. I pulled one out to use.

The pad was an advertisement for a nonprofit seeking to educate the public and find cures for lung disease. A tip on the pad was to stop burning wood for heat in your home as it contributes to poor air quality in the home and increases disesase in humans.

I was surprised to see that as I'd never heard that precaution before. I was reminded though, of how my maternal grandmother became ill in her late 80s with a cough. It took over two years for doctors to diagnose her problem. She had been on various medications which were not working. The problem in the end, was said to be an allergy from mildew or mold. She lived in a small home in northern Maine and almost her entire unfinished basement served as wood storage. Her furnace was wood-burning only. She was to get rid of the wood (which nearly killed her as she believed in being frugal and using what you have on hand) but she did it. She installed an oil burning furnace. Upon cleaning out her home and stopping the use of the wood, her cough instantly disappeared and there was no sign of illness.

Then I thought about some of my friends who have a passion for saving the Earth. They do not like petroleum use and seek to reduce the use of heating oil so they had bought new wood burning furnaces and started buying or scraping up free wood to burn to both save money and to save use of oil. They think scavenging wood where they can get it as "free fuel" so they like it even more.

I gave one family a huge dead oak tree that a tree company felled as it threatened to fall onto our house. They spend days cutting up the huge trunk into sizes they could lift and hauled it away. They were going to rent a splitter to split the wood. They acknowledged that their project was costing both the mother and the father many hours of hard physical labor and also monetary costs to drive here and there to get free wood plus the rental fee for the splitter, but they felt this was worth it to not burn oil. They still said they felt they were probably saving money.

Looking at the recommendation from the lung health nonfprofit organization I wondered if anyone burning wood to "be green" realizes that they may be putting their health, and their children's health, at risk.

There is also the issue that wood burning without filtering it pollutes the air more than burning heating oil (with a furnace that filters the exhaust). I recall hearing a few years ago that some places in California were making wood burning in house fireplaces illegal in order to try to keep the air cleaner to reduce air pollution.

Wood is a renewable resource but there is not enough of it to replace oil or other forms of heat in everyone's homes. There is too much of a demand compared to the supply.

Being Green?

Being green has its consequences. There are competing interests. If you listen to the lung people, their priority is to help save humans from developing a lung disease. If you listen to the green living people they want you to use less oil and use anything else for heat instead. It's interesting to identify different people's or organization's priorities and goals and then to compare the means to get to the desired end.

To those who want electric cars, I would ask that you investigate where your power company gets their electricity from. In Connecticut it comes from burning oil. So if you think by buying an electric car you are not using petroleum products you are mistaken. Some comes from burning coal which has its own negative consequences from mining and also from the burning. If someone is against coal use they may be surprised if they realize that the electric car they thought was good may use coal for the electricity.

To those who use hybrid cars to try to save the Earth I would ask you to research the negative environmental impact of creating the car and the toxic mess that results when your car is old and is no longer used. The toxic metals in the special battery and engine are a mess both during mining, manufacture, and when the old stuff needs to be disposed of. It has been said that the hybrid car is worse for the environment than gasoline burning engine cars.

Life is Complex

Life and living is more complex than most people like to admit. It's just not that simple folks. Everything has consequences. Everything.

Do you really want to make a positive impact? Then you must educate yourself. Sometimes the trendy thing that seems to be good is actually more damaging than doing things the old way.

You should also look inside yourself and see what you care about and what your priorities are. Maybe you fill find out what you care about most is external appearances and doing what the crowd does rather than taking a stand and doing what is right and best for your cause. If you really care about the Earth perhaps using a gasoline burning car has less of an environmental impact than paying a higher cost for an electric car. If you care about good health for humans and the Earth you might realize that heat from heating oil or natural gas is more environmentally friendly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Our Family Is Watching (and Not Watching) On TV Lately

Top Gear BBC version

My fourteen year old is addicted to this and has watched every single episode and now is re-watching all of them. I find the show hilarious too but seldom watch it as I'm doing other things.

None of us can stomach the American version of this show.

Dr. Who

My fourteen year old recently discovered this and has been watching old episodes on Netflix Instant Streaming. I have tried watching some mid-story and it makes no sense to me. I have no time to go back to episode one and start watching it, nor do I have the desire!

Kitchen Nightmares

The entire family is watching the current season. We recently watched last season on our On Demand. We watched it a few years ago but missed seasons in between. We love Gordon Ramsay. The kids also like seeing real small businesses in action and the thought process behind their actions. It is interesting to see failing businesses' owners defend their poor decisions or bad actions. We like seeing ideas to turn the business around which Ramsay provides.

Hell's Kitchen

Again we saw one season once a few years ago and have not been watching until now. We watched the most recent season using On Demand. We like cooking and baking so this is a fun show. The clashes between personalities and watching other people's work style and poor interpersonal relations is eye-opening (especailly to my kids).

Work of Art

My kids and I watch this. My husband has no interest in the art making process. The question of what art is interests my sons, and they think some of the artists are real characters (entertaining to watch).

This is a reality show like Project Runway where artists are given an art challenge with a theme or material, to complete in a time limit. Then the art is hung in a gallery and the public and the judges view it. There is an art critique (crit) where they question the artist and praise or critize their work. Each week one contestant is booted off the show.

It is running season two right now. Repeats frequently air on its network: Bravo.

Survivor

We watched every season until the last one which we skipped due to burn-out. Well, we're watching again. As a family we discuss how people treat each other, ethical issues, and the way people choose to play the game.

My fourteen year old wants to be on the show but he would die of starvation due to his picky eating and the odds are against him being cast (if the show is even still on the air in four years).

I say I'd never make it on the show due to being out of shape and due to my very poor eyesight (contact lenses don't work well for deep underwater diving challenges). My husband says I am am not a good enough actor to hide my true feelings and that I couldn't keep my strong opinions to myself. I tend to agree as I'd be under stress, physically and mentally and to constrain myself would require more energy than the game would leave me with.

My husband, we decided, would not be able to tolerate the nonsense and he'd tell people off and isolate himself for an early elimination.

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We watch one show in the evening as a family. We don't watch much TV here. The TV is shut off during the daytime or else no one could get their homeschool lessons done.

I do not like our new cable company's servives. The inferior DVR feature that we pay for is not working out well to find and record documentaries that we could be watching for educational purposes. There is nothing out there to rival the TiVo with its artificial intelligence and ease of use. We were 95% happy with AT&T U-Verse in Connecticut. We are tortured by the poor cable service we have with Comcast. (Their new and improved Barraccuda system is not in our area yet.)

The library in this place is inferior compared to what I am used to in Connecticut. So, documentary watching is not happening much here this fall.

I quit the Netflix DVD by mail when they doubled the price.

We are busy hitting the paper books and doing other online learning and study work so we have not taken time to use the Internet for documentary watching.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Old Council, New Council

Out with the old and in with the new.

It didn't feel right to rip the patch off and not record the moment. I almost felt I was betraying someone or something by removing the patch.

At this transition point all we feel is sadness about leaving behind all the good memories.


My sons need to have new experiences to earn the respect and admiration of the new situation. I need to get to know these families more before I consider them acquaintences let alone friends. We entrust our kids with these leaders and I still don't really know who they are yet.

Yet, it's not a clean break from the old relationships. We feel like we have one foot in both places, perhaps that is due to us still owning the Connecticut house and knowing it sits lonely?

Both of my kids are asking to camp at the old summer camp in Connecticut with our former Troop next summer. They could very well attend as provisional campers and the leadership, I am sure, would let them be at the Troop campsite so long as they had two bunks free.

And, another Troop who let my older son camp with them once was so impressed with him, that the Scoutmaster has invited him to go to Scotland with them for the 2012 Jamborette. We haven't made the decision yet as it is expensive and I think our son should earn all the money to go ($2K) due to the tight financial situation our family is in with maintaining two houses. My son is brainstorming ways to earn money as I write this.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Depression Cooking with Clara

I was delighted to find Clara's Depression Era Cooking videos on YouTube. My husband sent me the link after seeing Barilla link to it on their Facebook page. (What did we do before social media?)



Seeing this video reminded me of my grandmothers. Just the voice, the wrinkled hands, and hearing the old stories and how they "made do".

(When he first sent me the link I thought it was some new video that was going to teach recipes that would ward off mental depression but I was wrong! I was thrilled to see they are old time recipes with an old timer rather than some new fangled food fad cure-all thing.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Schools Aims: Just Not True

"Schools teach people the skills of citizenship—how to get along with others, how to reason and deliberate, how to tolerate differences," says Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of educational history at New York University.

- "Online Education: My Teacher is an App: More kids than ever before are attending school from their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. The result: A radical rethinking of how education works.", by STEPHANIE BANCHERO and STEPHANIE SIMON published in The Wall Street Journal, 11/12/11.

Let's analyze that one sentence.

(There is much that could be said of this long article but I'm choosing to hyper focus on that one sentence for analysis.)

1. "Schools teach people ... how to get along with others"

Not really. Come on.

Let's look at the worst kind of treatment kids do to each other: bullying. There may be rules against bullying but they are often not enforced.

In fact the old methods of verbal and physical abuse and sexual harrassment and sexual abuse have been expanded to cyber bullying via text messages and via websites like Facebook.

In Connecticut there is a state law that every act of bullying in a school must be reported to the state. According to the legislator who created that bill which was passed into law, barely any reports are received. Yet bullying stories abound.

The pecking order is alive and well in schools, as are cliques. There is a deeper psychological reason for all of it that cannot be cured with one day workshops on tolerance. Dysfunctional relationships are in every classroom regardless of the number of colorful posters that teachers hang on the walls to try to reinforce something more utopian.

What schools teach is that you are trapped. You are stuck in that class. Until high school there is barely any way to get out of a class and no freedom to choose the class content or teachers.

Schools label and rank people and you are trapped in that slot. Having been graded on past tests, even if you improve and get your act together there is no making up for past grades, no chance to retake tests and to show that now you have mastered that content. You are forever stuck with the fact that you made a stupid mistake on that day or you were sick and failed to study enough for that test or (insert other real life experience that had you not on your A game that day). Students who lagged behind but now are "caught up" are penalized by keeping their old bad scores as proof of what they have learned. Does that even make sense? A grade is a capture of what a person knew at that moment in time. It doesn't represent mastery of a topic at the end of the school year (as it probably should).

You learn in school that your destiny is in the hands of others. Most kids have no choice but to attend the public school where they live, so there are few options.

Our schooling with its focus on liberal arts college prep does not do justice to students who have other aims such as those seeking more serious science and math degrees or students with talents in the arts or students with interests in other vocational skills.

Your grades will follow you. What classes you take determines your future.

You learn there is little flexibility, you are under the control of your teachers. Tough luck if you are stuck with a teacher who is burned out or tired physically (one of my teachers would sleep through class after moonlighting at a night job). How about the teachers who are drunk in class (one of mine pulled from a flask on frequent trips to the hallway and had the stink of whiskey on his breath). Everyone in the administration and all the students know what those teachers are up to and no one does anything about it. Those bad teachers keep their jobs, and who suffers? The students, that's who.

2. "Schools teach ... how to reason and deliberate"

Uh, no.

Schools favor memorization of fact and parroting back fact and opinion.

There is little discussion that goes on.

Some teachers hate it when a student has an opinion that differs from their own. Two years ago, a student near the top of his class that I know was allowed to deliberate in history class but when his peers personally attacked him with insults for having those opinions the teacher who shared their opinions let it happen. So go ahead and speak your mind, you are a target and sometimes allowed to be thrown to the wolves. That kid could handle it, he wanted to stand up for his beliefs. He wound up getting teased outside of class, but he let it roll off his back. Not all students are as tough as that though, so they learn to shut up in order to protect themselves.

Teachers have personal bias they push.

Textbooks often has a bias they push.

Logic and rhetoric are no longer taught in schools. Kids don't know what fallacies are. If they did they would not commit them daily as they'd not want to appear to others to be as stupid as they actually are!

Kids who are not taught how to read critically and the skills of rhetoric cannot spot the nonsense in real life when they are adults. We all pay for their ignorance, daily, when we are surrounded by people who make bad decisions every day, people we interact with in the course of their employment, people who provide us services or who we hire to do work for us. These are people who we interact with in our kid's activities or our neighbors. Poor judgement and bad decision making can cause real problems for others.

3. "Schools teach ... how to tolerate differences"

Schools teach "if you don't like it, lump it".

Even in situations where a student's safety or well-being is in jeopardy due to being around certain other students nothing is usually done. The victim is told to just deal with it. Rather than deal with the real source of the problem, the instigator, the schools let bad behavior go on and if the victim can't take it anymore they let them be the squeaky wheel that might be able to make some change, such as switching out of the class with the bully.

I'd read a story online last month that a mother shared. Her son was targeted by a girl romantically and he didn't want a relationship, she made his life so miserable with documented text messages and harrassing texts and phone calls. The school knew about it and didn't deal with her. Instead the boy wanted a solution and the only one offered was for him to leave that good teacher's class to move to another class. Why do schools let the bully carry on and let the victim struggle until and only if the victim pushes and pushes for a change?

4. Schools are "teaching citizenship"

This is a topic that a whole essay could be written about, what good citizenship means and if our schools are really teaching it. I'll refrain from getting into that. I could spend half a day thinking and writing about just that one thing, and I have kids to raise and things to do today.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Changed Math Curriculums for Younger Son

My younger son, age eleven, started grade six homeschool continuing with Teaching Textbooks. This for him meant doing the last lessons in grade 6 and then starting in with grade 7.

He was frustrated as there is too much review. Over 80% of the work that is done is review of old material. There is not enough practice of new material. The daily work is graded (not just tests). Since there are about 22 problems if you get two wrong that's a B. The errors include data entry slips with the keyboard or putting in simple data entry mistakes. That son of mine loves grades and has been asking for them since Kindergarten when he learned of their existence by reading Calvin and Hobbes comics (we own all the books).

My son asked for something more rigorous.

He has switched to the free Khan Academy. He accesses the full program by logging in with a gmail account. (You can also now log in with a Facebook account.) With Khan we find that when errors are made they make you do a lot more to prove you really know it, so we feel there is sufficient practice. You move at your own pace and can move quickly or slowly depending on how you are doing with the material.

My son loves this platform and the program itself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stossel Essay Contest

This essay topic for students aged 13-18, for a contest ending 2/6/2012, is right up my alley. I love the discussion of unintended consequences of government's actions.

"Why do you think politicians make promises? When they try to keep them, why are there often unintended consequences? Describe a promise made by a current politician or political candidate from any party, and discuss whether or not they will be able to keep that promise and what, if any, are some potential unintended consequences from that promise. Please use at least one example from the Stossel special or other Stossel report to support your response."

For full essay details, how to enter and more, see the official website.

My fourteen year old son wants to enter this contest.

Hat Tip: Kim's Play Place on Facebook.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Neurofeedback Therapy Has Started

My older son began neurofeedback therapy in October 2011.

Why?

He is having some symptoms that the psychologist who is board certified in neurofeedback feels are neurological problems from his past Lyme Disease, which negatively affect learning (rather than the symptoms stemming from a lifelong learning disability which is what I suspected the issue was). That conclusion was based on findings after performing testing using EEG and discussing his past medical history.

(These symptoms are different than past symptoms of an eye tracking problem that was helped by a behavioral optometrist using vision therapy at home trained for me to do the doctor.)

I am hopeful for the outcome of the therapy. It is expensive and time consuming, so I am putting faith in this. We'll see what happens.

This was my husband's idea, not mine. I am, honestly, sick of looking to label problems. I just want the problems solved. No, we need them solved or else changes have to be made in our family, such as quitting homeschooling as I can't take working with a kid who has the challenges he has. I now realize that due to him taking more outside classes with others I both missed out on realizing some situations were bad or needed fixing as well as having been spared the stress of what it is like to work with him on every subject all day, every day.

Worse though, than whether we continue homeschooling or start to use school is my son's future. If things do not change he will be unable to do an intense rigorous education that is required for certain majors like engineering. Simple example: at this rate he will not get all the math done through calculus in 3.5 year's time, and that does need to happen.

I am willing to do whatever I can doin the role of mother and homeschooling parent-teacher that it takes to get my son's goals accomplished. But I can't do the learning for him. He has that responsibility.

On the emotional side, I am tired of blaming struggles on a learning disability. I am tired of throwing money at cures or helps for LDs. But, if there is an LD and that points you to a solutuion you didn't try, then that's a good thing to know the label and to know of the therapy. So then again, investigating something and seeking a therapy is good if it really does help and if the therapy works.


It is not fun being the parent of a child who struggles to learn. It is heart-wrenching and painful.

Some say LDs are over-diagnosed. Who would wish a learning struggle on their child? What parent wants to invent or create a problem? I don't think one can be invented by a parent anyway. I can't pretend my kid can't spell or can't recall facts. If they learn, they learn, and there is no un-learning things.

The older that my younger son gets the more I see a difference in my two kids. I know every kid is different. However, the younger child has never struggled or experienced the things that my older son has. The two are like night and day. Something just is not right with my older son and it really upsets me to know it's not all resolved yet.

I was getting to a point where I was ready to throw up my hands and give up on helping my son fulfill his dream to become an engineer. Maybe some kids with certain medical conditions or learning disabilities or those who may just be "average" just have to settle to do some other kind of work with their life than what they dreamed of. If you thought the only thing necessary to fulfill goal X was hard work and the hard work is not resulting in success then maybe the dream should be given up on.

Academic pursuits should not be different than a physcial path: our society can somehow accept more easily that not all kids have the physical talent to have a career playing a sport professionally. A healthy kid with average physical abilities will never qualify to be in the Olympics.

Why do we have a hard time saying a if kid can't cut the mustard academically in order to do well in school to get the required degrees for certain professions? Jobs have requirements for skills. A cashier who can't handle money accurately and blames it on their dyslexia shouldn't get a pass. (That story was left on my blog the other day. The dyslexic cashier who couldn't give out right change to customers thinks it is unreasonable to expect it.) I want the engineers designing bridges to be competent in advanced math, don't you? Why can't I expect a cashier to be competent at handling my money and giving me accurate change?

Heading into this semester I blamed certain lack of progress on the fact that certain homeschool co-op classes didn't deliver what was promised, or that we never put enough time in at home to finish Algebra I last year. To make up, this semester we hit the books hard. I was disappointed and frustrated seeing the same patterns of learning struggles with my older son. He knows the information one day, but the next day it is gone from his head, and also the fact that he cannot sustain studying and learning beyond a certain number of minutes a day. Anything done beyond that point is futile as "nothing sticks".

The EEG clearly showed that my son's brain was trying too hard on all the activities and thus his brain was burning too much energy to accomplish things in a more efficient manner in order to save "brain power" for more tasks. Then he crashes and is spent, depleted. (The reports break all this out in terms of delta waves, theta, and so forth but I'll spare you those details.)

Doing this therapy has meant our regular homeschool schedule has been altered to make time for the appointment and the travel to and from the office.

I hope it's worth our time and money.

If this doesn't work and old fashioned hard work doesn't pan out my son will have to explore options other than engineering for his career path.

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Update: I drafted this post a couple of weeks ago and was holding off on publishing it. Yesterday after the 10th neurofeedback session I had a long talk with the psychologist about academic goals and reasonable expectations especially while my son's brain is taxed by this therapy. I think I will share that information in a separate blog post as it may be useful for some people to hear.

Also we have scheduled a brain map to be performed later this month. That more detailed test will help them design a more customized therapy plan for my son. This should be interesting as it will show exactly what is happening in the different brain centers.

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Neurofeedback therapy is also being used as a way to help kids with ADD and ADHD by changing the way their brain uses its energy, instead of using drugs to sharpen focus chemically. I'm mentioning this in case you are interested in ADD/ADHD.

It is also being used post brain injury such as post concussion and post stroke. Children's minds are more malleable than adult's older brains so they are supposed to respond to these therapies faster and easier (better).

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I encourage you to research neurofeedback therapy if you are curious about it.

If you want to find a local provider I would encourage you to find a board certified health care professional by visiting bcia.org.

Disclosure: I have nothing to disclose.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

First Finished Knitted Object in 2011







I have not spent much time in 2011 knitting. I have focused on other projects like homeschooling my kids, teaching at a homeschool co-op, doing volunteer work, and then packing up and moving half way across the country.

After a ridiculous amount of imbalance with too much work and not enough play I decided to return to knitting this fall. Inspired by Jane Thornley and pushed by the deadline of an October knit-a-long on the JT forum on Ravelry, I started and finished this scarf in four weeks.

How this process with Jane's method works is: we start with a common general theme from nature. We were to use autumn's changing landscape as an inspiration. Having landed in the Houston area where there is not a glorious color display (which I am mourning) I chose a photo I took in my Connecticut yard last autumn. I used the (free) color palette generator at bighugelabs.com to find the colors.

This pattern is lace and it is from Jane Thornley's Branches and Dunes Evocative Guide. What we then do is take our unique photos and we pick our own yarns based on the color palette or the shapes (depending on the pattern). We usually work with yarns that vary in texture and thickness that range from wool to silk to acrylic to ribbon to anything and everything under the sun. The colors are usually varied and bright and anything but dull and boring. In the end every single project knitted from the same base pattern is truly a different creation. One of my favorite things about a knit-a-long is we chat through the process and we share progress photos along the way. We help each other when we are misunderstanding the stitch and when we need help getting past a stumbling block.

It felt great to knit again. I was off to a rough start, having started and frogged this scarf five or six times before understanding the new lace pattern enough to get it right. I did make an error on the end's decrease so my two ends are not the same. Oh well, that's okay. The ends look a bit boring and it is flat only because I steam ironed it due to it being bunched up and lumpy. I think I will (for the first time) add bead embellishments dangling off the ends. That will require finding where the local craft and bead shops are in the Houston area and going on a shopping spree, it's not something I can quickly dash off and do.

One thing I like about this scarf is it is loose and airy enough to wear in Texas. I kept it short and didn't make it too wide on purpose. It can get cold indoors, especially in the air conditioned restaurants and shops, so it will be good to have a light scarf around my neck this winter, I think.




Wild Cherry Tree Leaves

Photo above taken 10/26/10 by ChristineMM in Fairfield County, Connecticut (not digitally altered).

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I'm Still Me

I paid for the kids to take a high ropes adventure class with a homeschool group the other day. It was a drop-off event. Well, parents could watch but I feel that challenge courses should not have Mom as cheerleader. I say let the kids grow and leave them be with the stranger instructors to face their fears and gain some confidence. I am with my kids a ton already and I don't need to be their personal sidelines coach for every single thing.

I was tempted to go shopping (with no need to buy anything) but decided that I shouldn't be spending money so instead I Google'd the local library on my iPhone and plugged it into my navigation and headed over.

I walked in like I owned the place although I had no clue where I was going. People looked at me but I confidently went forth down the halls and through the stacks looking for signs to indicate adult nonfiction. Since I have the Dewey Decimal numbers of my favorite nonfiction book genres memorized I just scanned the stacks and found books to read. I selected two knitting books, one of interesting patterns and one about the artists who make hand painted yarns and sat down and read for two hours, taking notes on things such as simple knitting patterns I now want to knit.

On the way out I spotted a new book that keeps popping up on my Amazon suggestions list, and one on wild plant identification in Texas, so checked those out to take home to peruse.

I popped in to check on the kids, took some photos, and found they went over the allotted time and planned to keep going. So I headed to the car alone to read through those two books, until the kids were done.

Honestly with all the stress of the move it felt great to just have a few hours alone. I didn't feel the least bit guilty that I left my kids there alone, while some other Moms chose to watch every step their kids made.

I was reminded of the old advice to seek balance and to not burn yourself out lest you then have enough energy to give back to your kids. It is tired old advice that is hard to put into action in real life sometimes.

Although I was sitting in a strange Texas library that day I felt no different than when I've done the same thing at the familiar Westport library while my son was busy rowing at crew on the Saugatuck River. I'm in a new place but I'm still me and what I like to do when I can is scan the stacks at the library and find good things to read through. Some may think that doing that is really geeky or weird but frankly I don't give a darn. I started doing that when I was nine and I'm still doing it at forty-four. I'm still me, apparently, I haven't lost my identity yet, I just have a new address.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Too Much Work Planned for Biology

My grade nine homeschooled son is (finally) asking for some kind of a schedule to follow. He is asking for my help to organize what I have in my mind onto paper so he can follow it and pace himself.

I am making a checklist plan that allows freedom and flexibility. I am not giving him an hour by hour time slot thing that is set in stone because that is a recipe for disaster for him and he'd not only rebel but could more easily see a failure to keep up.

In the process of trying to sketch it out I added the number of minutes for reading the supplemental biology readings (not the main text) is 234 hours of instruction. That is more than one course's worth if using Carnegie Credits. Depending on who you talk to, we should aim for 120 or 140 or 160 hours of direct instruction (that does not count homework). By the time he reads the textbook, studies and memorizes from it, and does one lab a week he will be at over 500 hours of instruction. However I don't know how much of that work is "homework" versus the "direct instruction" when most of what we do with homeschooling is self-teaching using source materials (not lectures given by me).

At times like this I feel that in my attempt to study things deeply and to use interesting materails not just to use the base (boring) textbook combined with my natural inclination to be a perfectionist I wind up expecting too much that is unattainable and ridiculous. By adding in readings of living books that are actually interesting and fun and educational I have doubled the duration of the course which means we are at risk of not completing the course.

And that leaves me feeling like I don't know what I am doing.

Thanks for listening as I have one of those homeschool moments of self-doubt.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Deer Tick Photo for Size with Q-Tip

Deer tick or black legged tick (alive) as photographed on a Q-Tip so you can see the size. With ticks this small you might imagine it could be hard to find them on your body or on your scalp under your hair.




I found this crawling on me after I walked around my yard on the grass for about a half hour.

Our experience has been that ticks are active anytime the weather is over 40 degrees including the winter months. They seem most active after a rain. Wet seasons (even a wet January or February) can be prime deer tick time so long as it is over 40 degrees at some point in the day.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 4/25/11 in Fairfield County, Connecticut (not digitally altered). The color difference is with flash vs. without flash.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Tips for Successful Bread Baking

I have been making bread from scratch for about fifteen years with success. It amazes me how many people tell me they have tried and failed and are afraid or think they can't do it. So, they have given up.

There are some common mistakes that people make that ruin the bread. If you know about these you can make changes and give this a try. I urge everyone to try to make your own bread. If you have failed in the past please use these tips and give it another try.


Photo of my homebaked bread taken by ChristineMM 1/22/11 (not digitally altered).



1. How much flour to use


The amount of flour should not always be what the recipe says. The flour quantity varies a bit by the humidity in the air. Thus where you live and the season of the year matters. Even a good recipe you used in the winter may need a different amount of flour in the summer.

Use the recipe as a gauge. If it says 6 cups of flour, add 5. Then start looking for the "right condition" of the dough. Use what the dough looks like rather than the text of the recipe.

The dough should pull off the side of the bowl cleanly and not be wet and sticky. If the dough is sticky, add another 1/3 cup or so and continue. Keep adding small amounts. At some point you will see what I mean when I say the dough pulls off the side of the bowl. If it pulls off for a few seconds then goes back on and is stuck there again, it needs more flour. You should be able to pull the dough out of the bowl in one big hunk and have it come cleanly off the bowl.

If you use too much flour the bread can come out like a brick. If you make the batter too wet it will not be right either. I think most people use too much flour.

If you accidentially put in too much flour the dough will have extra flour that has a hard time incorporating into the dough and it is dry and just a mess. It won't be an even soft batter ball, it will be more tough with extra dry flour all around the bowl. Rather than throw away your dough you can try to save it by adding in a little water right away. Keep mixing and see if you can get it to the right batter consistency by adding little bits of water at a time. If you are patient and know what a proper dough should look like you can usually get it to the right consistency and save that batch.

2. Using the cup measurement for flour incorrectly

Flour should never be packed into the cup. Do not dig the measuring cup down into the flour and smash it against the side to fill it. Do not pack it it in to flatten it down. That adds more flour.

I found this YouTube video that shows the weight difference between the two methds that this cook used.



What I do to measure is something I learned somewhere else, where, I do not recall. In case the flour in your storage bin or bag has compacted, this helps. I take a spare cup and put flour in it, then I pour the flour into the measuring cup slowly using a kind of back and forth sifting and pouring method. This adds air into it. As said in the video I do not pack it in. I level off the top by pushing the extra flour off the top with a knife.

(This measuring method should be done with every baking recipe not just bread.)

One reason some recipes say to sift flour is that incorporates air back into the flour and prevents it from having too much flour. The other reason is just to avoid lumps in the batter.

If you use too much flour the bread can come out like a heavy brick.

3. Weighing the flour

Some recommend this as the most accurate way to measure flour. I can't be bothered with this extra step. You will need a metric scale if you want to do this. Plus, the issue with the humidity described in #1 still is an issue when making bread. If you want to use weight, a website may help with the conversion using English measurement recipes to gram weights, such as this one.

4. Don't kill the yeast during prep

I use warm water about 95 degrees F and add the yeast and pinch of sugar. I used to measure the water temperature with a thermometer but now I know what it feels like so I wing it. I let it sit for a few minutes while I do other prep work and I can see it rise. This is proof that it is alive. If your water is too hot you will kill the yeast and it will not rise.

5. Use fresh yeast

To save money I buy yeast in bulk at a warehouse store or in a grocery store. The packets with one serving per packet must be refrigerated and may be dead due to mishandling by grocery store staff; they are also much more expensive per serving than buying a big vaccuum pack for $5. I keep my yeast in a zip top plastic bag or in a small jar in the refrigerator and throw it out after one year (I date the package).

6. Yeast storage tips

If you buy that big bag at the warehouse store here is a recommendation for storage. Put most of it in a zip top bag in the back of your refrigerator and date the bag. That will remain temperature stable and will last at least a year.

Put a smaller amount in a small glass jar in the refrigerator. Pull out the small jar to use it. This way just that small amount is subject to the back and forth from the fridge to the room temperature which is not ideal for it to experience frequently.