Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Teenager dies having breast surgery

While I was reading the news article on the "Miss Bimbo" game, I was horrified at the idea of teenagers having cosmetic surgery. I , in my naivete, thought it was something from a game, nothing real. Not 2 hours later, I came across this article about a high school senior who died while have breast surgery.

While I feel dreadfully sorry for her family, I do have to question the society we live in when children are having cosmetic surgery.

Miss Bimbo Website

It's amazing what toxic websites are out there. Take Miss Bimbo as an example.

The Times Online says:

In the month since it opened the site, which is aimed at girls aged from 9 to 16, has attracted 200,000 members. Players keep a constant watch on the weight, wardrobe, wealth and happiness of their character to create “the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the world”. Competing against other children they earn “bimbo dollars” to buy plastic surgery, diet pills, facelifts, lingerie and fashionable nightclub outfits.

The website sparked controversy when it was introduced in France, where it attracted 1.2 million players.

My question is: Do the parents of the girls who play this game condone the messages their daughters get from this website? Or do they not really care and let their children surf where they will?

The Miss Bimbo internet game has attracted prepubescent girls who are told to buy their virtual characters breast enlargement surgery and to keep them “waif thin” with diet pills.

Don't you just love some of the rules?

Users are set targets:

Level 7
After you broke up with your boyfriend you went on an eating binge! Now it’s time to diet . . . Your target weight is less than 132lbs

Level 9
Have a nip and tuck operation for a brand new face. You’ve found work as a plus-size model. To gain those vivacious curves, you need to weigh more than 154lbs

Level 10
Summertime is coming up and bikini weather is upon us. You want to turn heads on the beach don’t you?

Level 11
Bigger is better! Have a breast operation

Level 17
There is a billionaire on vacation . . . You must catch his eye and his love! Good luck

I'm definitely in the camp that believes that a healthy body should be on the slim side but I teach my children that we do this by eating large quantities of healthy, phytonutrient dense foods and exercising, not diet pills. I also stress that good health is the issue, not body size.

I'm glad I homeschool. It makes it so much easier to control the media my children are exposed to. I know it will change as my children grow older, but right now, their peers are all children of mothers I happen to like and whose values I respect.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Homeschooling in the news

I read an interesting article on homeschooling by Gregory Millman in Sunday's Washington Post.

Millman wrote the kind of article on homeschooling that I think will hold more credence with the anti-homeschooling crowd than most pro-homeschooling articles that I see. He is not defensive of homeschooling, he just quietly goes about showing why homeschooling works for his family.

I am always happy when I see someone debunking the myth that we're all religious fundamentalists.
"And contrary to most popular belief, home-schooling isn't the brainchild of religious fanatics. It actually got started in the counterculture of the 1960s. In his landmark 1964 book, "How Children Fail," teacher and education reformer John Holt accused schools themselves of causing students to fail; eventually, he came to advocate a sort of "underground railroad" out of compulsory schooling. It wasn't until the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s that the movement spread through communities that believed public schools were threatening their moral values."

He goes on to say:
"My wife and I hadn't originally planned on home-schooling, but with six children and one modest income, we couldn't afford a house in one of the better school districts in the state. We were living in Plainfield, an elegant old central New Jersey city with typically poor urban public schools characterized by bureaucratic mismanagement, low teacher morale and student violence. In one notorious incident, third-graders in one school were strip-searched because someone suspected one of them of stealing $20. That wasn't what we wanted for our children. We first tried a local Catholic school, but we thought that the teachers' expectations for students were too low. Since we couldn't afford classy private school tuitions, we turned to home-schooling."

I become very uncomfortable with the strident homeschoolers who insist that we homeschoolers do everything better than the public schools. This is so patently false to anyone with half a brain. You just have to spend time with groups of homeschoolers to realize that we do things differently, but not necessarily better.

Millman says it well:
" Studies have shown that home-schooled children outperform the conventionally schooled not only on standardized academic tests but also on tests of social skills. This, I believe, isn't because home-schoolers do things better than schools do them but because we do better things than schools do."

He gives some good information on homeschoolers and college:
Home-schooled students' high performance continues into college. Admissions officers at IUPUI, a joint-venture urban campus of Indiana University and Purdue, and at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, have tracked the performance of admitted home-schoolers and found that they earn higher GPAs than the general student population. Associate Dean Joyce Reed of Brown University has called home-schoolers "the epitome of Brown students," telling the university's alumni magazine that "they are self-directed, they take risks, and they don't back off."

He ends with:
Conventional schools are like the nation's Rust Belt companies, designed in the 19th century but struggling to meet the standards of international competition today. School boards and administrators should be concentrating on ways to make schools more like home-schooling -- not on ways to force home-schooled children to go back to schools. People who are free to think for themselves usually get together and find solutions that are better than what bureaucrats can devise.

He says it so beautifully. Those of us who value liberty, who are free to think of ourselves find solutions that are better than those designed by committees and bueaucrats.

Reality TV has totally lost the plot!

I was reading Mothering.com this morning when I came across an alert to stop the NBC show, The Baby Borrowers.

The entire concept of reality TV befuddles me. I cannot understand the attraction of watching so called "real life" looks into dysfunctional people's lives. Why watch degradation, social dysfunction and just plain odd people? Why not watch something that reveres the beauty of the human spirit?

From Mothering.com

Presented as a "unique social experiment" the reality TV show "The Baby Borrowers" places real infants in the care of unrelated teen couples to "test" their ability to withstand the demands of parenthood and their relationship's strength to survive the pressure.

The show originated as a BBC production. This fall, NBC is rolling out its own version for a US audience. It films couples between the ages of 16 and 19 attempting to care for infants, toddlers, children, and eventually teenagers. Local authorities, concerned about the physical and emotional risk to the children, called on the BBC to cancel the show. Their requests were ignored, and social workers hoping to oversee the filming were turned away. Despite the protests in the UK, NBC seems equally determined to roll out their production of the show, describing it as an opportunity for the couples to "...peer into the future and see what they (and their partners) might be like if they remain together and decide to build a family."

The Natural Child Project is voicing its concerns to NBC and calling on producers to entertain people without jeopardizing anyone's mental health and happiness. Read the Open Letter to NBC by Jan Hunt, Director of The Natural Child Project. Send your letter of concern to:

Mr. Jeffrey Zucker
NBC Entertainment
3000 W. Alameda Avenue
Burbank, CA 91523

I'm stunned that real life parents are willing to entrust their own infants to strangers to be exploited for NBC's profit.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Little House in the Big Woods

We're currently reading "Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingalls Wilder as a family read aloud.

I have to chuckle, because I'll bet that in most families, the concept of a family read aloud is mom and/or dad doing the reading out loud. Not so in our family. Ben and Shira think it is most unfair if their parents get to do all the reading, so in our family we each take turns in reading two pages at a time. I'd prefer it if Marc and I did all the reading, but I can't complain as it's great to have the children willingly practice their out loud reading.

Mommy brag moment alert! The chicks actually read out loud rather well. It's a pleasure to listen to them reading as they read with fluency and lots of expression.

We had some funny moments while we were reading and I was reminded of Tina's post on her children knowing from whence their food comes . The book talks about how the Ingalls family prepared for winter and goes into a fair bit of detail about the butchering of a pig. You should have seen Shira's face when she discovered that bacon was pig meat. I have no idea what she thought bacon was as she has never eaten it but for some reason, the thought of it coming from a pig, horrified her.

Ben and Shira can be excused for not knowing anything about pig butchering though as they are thoroughly urban, kosher vegetarians. I'm thinking though, that even though we don't eat animal flesh, that perhaps we need to ask Tina if we can visit when they next butcher an animal. I think it will do the children a world of good to understand the process that gets the meat from animal to table.

Update: Even though the kids had been tucked into bed, we could hear noise from Ben's bedroom, so we knew he was building something. He's just come in to show us the smoke house he built, complete with pieces of meat hanging inside it. You've got to love Legos and Tinkertoys. (sorry, no pic, I was too lazy to get up and find my camera)>

The dreaded well child visits

Is it just me or do you also find the questions the ped asks your children, at their well child visits, intrusive and out of line?

It's nearly birthday time in the Silverberg household and I have to think about making an appointment for my children's annual well child visit.

I'm seriously debating not making one this year. Ben and Shira are the picture of good health and have not needed to see a doctor for ill health for years. I suppose on one hand this might be a reason to continue the well child visits. At least if something dire goes wrong, we'll have a relationship with the ped.

But on the other hand, I see no point in these annual visits. We'll get another push for the MMR vaccine. I'll again say that we're trying to catch the wild viruses and that nearer to puberty, we'll look at getting the shots separately. The ped will again ask his nurse to find the separate shots and she'll again tell me that no such thing is available. I will again tell her that it's strange that she says so because I know of at least two other pediatric practices in our area that do the individual shots. She'll then look sheepish, yet again, tell me that the pharmaceutical company insists they buy the vaccine in a multipack and she doesn't want to waste vaccines. I'm sure though, that if they offered individual vaccines to patients that they wouldn't have any waste.

I know I sound jaundiced, but we've had this particular conversation annually since my kids were 18 months old. I doubt it is going to change any time soon.

Then the ped will ask the kids what they eat on a daily basis. My children have an incredibly phytonutrient rich, animal product free diet. What other children do you know who eat half a pound of spinach with half a pound of fruit in a smoothie for breakfast? My ped will listen to what they eat and then worry about the fact that they have no dairy or meat in their diet. He'll worry about the fatty acids, protein and calcium intake.

I'll once again become seriously irritated that anyone with such a limited understanding of nutrition would dare to comment on my children's diet. If he truly understood nutrition he'd be bowing at my feet over my kids diet, not haranguing me to feed them milk, fish and meat.

Then the ped turns into school teacher and asks the kids what their full names are, what their address and telephone number is, to count to a hundred in 2's or 3's, what state they live in, what the capital of the state is and who the president of the United States is.

Huh? I'd dearly love for any pediatrician to explain to me what this little quiz has to do with my children's health.

Then to finish off the visit, I'll get quizzed on my children's social lives because after all, we're homeschoolers and everyone knows that homeschoolers struggle with socialization. Bah humbug. Just thinking of a well child visit makes me all irritable.

I think we've done our last one. We'll stick to going to the dentist twice a year. At least all he does is check their teeth and clean them. We don't have to deal with any attempts at social engineering.

The Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers - 2nd Edition

Welcome to the 2nd edition of the Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers.

Hopefully you will find this carnival a good blend of
a) a look into the lives of homeschoolers who do fun and interesting things and,
b) thought provoking and perhaps controversial articles.

Rational Jenn shares an hilarious story about her son’s obsession with sperm. This is a great article on how a homeschooled child has the freedom to explore a subject that interests him.

I was very pleased to see a submission about Dr Ron Paul’s thoughts on homeschooling and sowing liberty from Suzanne over at Adventures in Daily Living. I’m sad and a little agnry that Ron Paul botched his presidential campaign so badly as I truly feel that he is the only candidate of principle. No matter your political persuasion, his thoughts on homeschooling are well worth reading.

I’m with Tammy, appearing on CNN Headline News is rather cool. Click on the link to see Tammy speaking about homeschooling on CNN.

I often read posts on various email lists from parents who are looking for online high schools for their children. As we’re no where near high school level I have no input on the subject. I was pleased to receive this submission from David at Select Courses where he gives a list of questions you should ask of any online high school before you sign up with them.

Makita over at Twinkling Stars Family School blogs about how her
roots and shoots group
decorated canvas bags while she explained the need to reduce our reliance on plastic bags.
While the paints dried on the bags the children learned about how a bird’s beak is specially adapted to eat certain foods.

Reducing our reliance on plastic bags is a topic near and dear to my heart. I developed my hate relationship with plastic bags while I was still living in South Africa. Every fence was “decorated” with discarded plastic bags. I can date my antipathy towards them to a trip I made from the airport back home after a storm with a particularly strong wind. The fences along the highways were almost completely white from the plastic bags that had blown into them. I wish I had taken a photograph of them to show everyone who uses plastic grocery sacks.

I don’t however think that regular totes are going to convince people to move away from plastic because they require too much thought. You have to remember to put them in your van, then remember to take them out when you shop. I bought these neat ultra compact reusable bags that weigh less than an ounce and a half each and fold down into almost nothing. I keep 6 in my voluminous pocketbook all the time. Now no thought is involved. The reuseable bags are always on hand.

Staying with our cool homeschooler, Makita, we learn how her family made their own maple syrup. To my mind, it is becoming increasingly important for us to show our children from whence their food comes. Makita’s children now know how much work goes into making maple syrup. I’ll bet their breakfast pancakes will taste all the sweeter now that they understand the process of making maple syrup.

Tina, my dear friend and crunchy homeschooler from North Carolina expands on the theme of children understanding the origins of their food in her post about rural homeschooling.

This quote says it all to me, the quintessential urban homeschooler:
“The effect that all of this focus on our farm life has on the kids is that it has taught them responsibility. They know where meat comes from and it's not out of a Styrofoam package we bought at Wal-Mart, where it was injected with extra beef flavor, possibly to cover up the green taste. They know this because they went with me to drop our steer off at the abattoir and because of the wild game that if often butchered right here at home. They know that if I send them out to pick some oregano that they should not come back with rosemary or swiss chard. Martina, as a baby, quickly learned the difference in quality between a green tomato and a red one as she crawled around the garden and took precisely one bite out of every tomato in it. Travis has learned the value of good friends and strong prayer when he was caught in the woods on an undependable four-wheeler, with 2 friends and 1 large black bear. He has also helped feed our family by hunting wild turkey and deer. These kids are not growing up with Nature Deficit Disorder. So far as I can tell, the effects of our rural life are positive.”

Makita and Tina have done me a huge favor today. They’ve reminded me that I need to increase the amount of nature to which my children are exposed and we have to show our children more about the origins of their food. I must say that it is easier for me, than most, because we only eat plant based foods, with the odd egg. I’ve resorted to Peta for videos on animal farming and slaughtering to show the children why we don’t eat meat. I know that if we dealt with meat like Tina’s family this would not be an issue, but since I have strong feelings on the health impact of animal flesh on the human body, I decided to stick with those gross videos to psych my kids out of eating meat.

Laura over at We Don’t Buy It blogs about a gross and disturbing homeschool activity her children did. LOL. They grew magnificent mold gardens.

My kids are very psyched about trying to grow their own mold gardens. We’ll enlist dad and his high powered microscope to help us take close up pics of our mold. We promise to post them on the blog once we have them.

I was very excited the other day to discover Shard by Shard . I’ve not been able to come up with a workable art appreciation curriculum for my children so her post on art games intrigued me. I’ve been hearing about art games for along time but for the life of me, could not work out how they could do anything for teaching about art. This blog post gave me a good idea about how well these art games can work as an intro into art appreciation.

Shard by Shard had a lot of fun with her children while they made these cool Egyptian masks.. My kids can’t wait to try their hands at mask making. I’ve ordered our plaster tape so hopefully we’ll be able to make our own masks next week.

I’ve been wanting to start teaching my kids basic programing but haven’t been sure how to go about it. Lori at MORTpiphanies writes about a cool programming tool for kids. .
She writes
” two versions are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, standard Alice, designed for high school and college-aged “kids” and Storytelling Alice, for middle school-aged kids. I think even some younger kids will be able to use Storytelling Alice, given that my 7-year-old son sat on my lap this morning and explained to me how he thought it worked. After watching me for a few minutes, he definitely understood the basic idea behind how to build a world and make the characters in it do what we wanted them to do.”

I’d like to end this Carnival with a post that is rather different from the ones that have gone before. Danielle writes about using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with your children. I must admit that the first time that Danielle told me about EFT I was highly skeptical. However, I am now a believer as I have used her techniques to great effect with my children. I find that it is particularly helpful when my daughter goes into “brain freeze”. When she encounters something that is slightly more difficult than she is used to doing, she will often tighten up her body so much that it is almost impossible to get through to her. A little EFT tapping and deep breathing helps her relax and listen to me. It sounds strange, looks strange, but does appear to work. Why don’t you read her articles on EFT and give it a bash?

Hope you enjoyed this carnival. If you did, why don’t you link to it on your blog and submit an article for our next edition?

Is all the coddling hurting our children academically?

I saw a post by Henry Cate on Why Homeschool this morning that resonated strongly with me. Henry and Homeschool Buzz both focus primarily on the difference between the Finnish and American Educational systems.

Rightly so, as the The Wall Street Journal says:

"Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers."

However, what struck me almost more than the educational differences, were the cultural differences between the Finns and the Americans. I truly think that is what accounts for the difference in the educational systems and student achievements.

The Wall Street Journal leaves, to my mind, a telling issue to the end of the article.
Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant. While some U.S. parents fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis."

I've only lived in the US for 8 years and I am constantly struck by how babied American children are. I am always hearing of 5 and 6 year olds whose mothers still choose their clothing for them and dress them. I find it mind boggling that children that age aren't already making their own daily clothing choices and dressing themselves. I started expecting my children to help dress themselves by the time they were 18 months. By the time they were three I expected them to dress themselves, I only helped with the odd button or buckle. I provided gentle advice on clothing combinations that, as pictures from those years will show, was generally ignored.

We've been allowing our children to walk around the inside of part of our neighborhood for the last 8 or 9 months (they turn 7 in 2 weeks). Our rules are that they have to remain on the private roads and they have to be together, no solo jaunts allowed. I've lost count of the number of disapproving looks and comments we've received.

My list could go on and on, but this post is not about how we, as a family, do things.

I don't think we can expect our educational system to change, or our children to accept more responsibility for their own educational achievements until we, as parents, start realizing that children are far more competent than we give them credit.

I think that the need to coddle our children results in the craziness we see in the schools today. Everyone is so worried that their children will miss out on something that they have them doing tons of different subjects and extramurals. The problem is that the children end up knowing a very tiny bit on many subjects, but know nothing in depth.

This makes for intellectual laziness. The Finns on the other hand, do fewer subjects and almost no extramurals, but what they do do, they study in depth.

I have no experience with American High Schools but have watched two babysitters go through university. I've been struck by the amount of multiple choice exams they have. I cannot understand how you can examine someone's knowledge of a subject fully if you don't have them write about it. I've even seen a Philosophy exam done as multiple choice and not essay. That blew my mind. There is no way you can test knowledge on this subject with multiple choice, not, that is, if you want the students to have an in depth knowledge of the subject.

"Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich.,................ History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned."

I am so glad that homeschooling is an option for our family. This allows us to follow our own educational philosophy. Marc and I are firm believers in depth over breadth in education and have started this with our first graders.

This year, our focus has been on reading, handwriting, spelling, grammar and arithmetic. Anything else we do is for fun. We believe that children who are strong readers and who are able to communicate fluently and easily through the written word, will be easier to educate than children who are not.

I am constantly amazed at the homework I see my friends' children bring home from public school. They expect first graders, who are barely reading or writing, to write creative stories. They allow invented spelling. I think it is just too difficult for a child who can barely form the letters and who can't spell to write creatively as well. We're leaving creative writing until the children can handwrite and spell automatically and after we've taught them the basics of structuring essays.

That's not to say they don't write stories, they do, but on their own time, not as part of school. They write for the love of writing. They get around the handwriting issue by writing in NeoOffice as typing is currently easier for them than handwriting. I'm a martinet about spelling. I expect the children to use a dictionary to ensure their spelling is correct. Some might think I am harsh, but I worry about allowing misspellings without corrections. I think that if you misspell a word without a correction, you hardwire the incorrect spelling into your brain. I'd much rather the children hardwired the correct, than the incorrect spellings.

It's tough following a "depth, not breadth" educational philosophy as there as just so many, neat and interesting activities we could sign up for. But we hold firm. We're using these early elementary years to give our children a solid foundation in the basics and to allow them lots of free time to nurture their creative juices.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Learn Chinese in 5 min

That was the title of an email in my inbox. I was most intrigued because I tried to learn Chinese a few years ago and failed horribly. My Chinese buddies would fall over themselves laughing at my attempts to learn their language and then they'd say it was safer for all concerned if we all spoke in English. Once in a while, when they felt like some amusement, they'd ask me to say, "hello, how are you?" in Chinese, then we'd all revert to English.

Anyway, the email turned out to be a joke. I thought I'd reprint it here as it tickled my funny bone.

Learn Chinese in 5 minutes (You MUST read them aloud)
English - Chinese

That's not right! - SuTing Wong

Are you harbouring a fugitive? - Hu Yu Hai Ding

See me ASAP - Kum Hia Nao

Stupid Man - Dum Fuk

Small Horse - Tai Ni Po Ni

Did you go to the beach? - Wai Yu So Tan

I bumped into a coffee table! - Ai Bang Mai Fu Kin Ni

I think you need a face lift! - Chin Tu Fat

It's very dark in here! - Wai So Dim

I thought you were on a diet! - Wai Yu Mun Ching

This is a tow away zone! - No Pah King

Our meeting is scheduled for next week! - Wai Yu Kum Nao

Staying out of sight - Lei Ying Lo

He's cleaning his automobile - Wa Shing Ka

Your body odour is offensive - Yu Stin Ki Pu

Homeschool Bowling

Yesterday saw the end of our 12 week Winter Homeschool Bowling League at the AMF Lynnhaven Lanes.

Bowling is a new sport to me but Ben and Shira have been crazy about it ever since they went bowling with Gan Izzy. If I am entirely truthful, the entire concept of bowling bores me to tears and I have spent the last few years studiously avoiding all mention of bowling. I'm almost, but not quite, ashamed to admit that I pay Loraina, our splendid babysitter, to take them bowling. It was a win-win situation, she loves bowling as much as I dislike it. However, the kids had this dream of the entire family going bowling together. I was snookered and didn't know how to get out of it.

Then I heard about Homeschool Bowling over in Virginia Beach and thought it would be a treat. I would be physically at the lanes, but wouldn't need to bowl, the kids could bowl to their hearts' content and I would get to chat to Lydia.

A surprising, but welcome, thing happened over the course of the league. Ben and Shira became bored with having to bowl two games every single week. They then realized that they were missing Norfolk Homeschoolers Park Day to go bowling. They were not happy about it. It didn't matter in the deep freeze that was February, but it did start to matter as the weather warmed up.

I am pleased to say that my children's love affair with bowling is almost at an end. One little glitch did arise yesterday when they received their trophies. Trophies are a big deal in their lives and receiving them at bowling did do a little to revive the love affair. We'll see what transpires. They might want to do it in winter again, but not in the good weather.

Here are Ben and Shira with their trophies.

Shira has had a huge growth spurt this winter. She's now over an inch taller than Ben. I hope that Ben start elongating soon as the poor kid is not happy about his twin sister being taller than he is.

Chag Purim Sameagh

I've always known that my children march to the beat of their own drummers. Not only have I known that, I've encouraged it. Their choice in Purim costumes bears it out. I thought it was so neat that instead of being yet another Queen Esther, Shira decided to be "The Burning Bush" while her twin figured that he could legitimately wear his robe all day if he went as Moses. A paper staff, a dishtowel and a $5 beard finished off the outfit. After Purim the beard is going to be braided and fake flames attached to the end so that he can go to his next "Treasure Island" book club meeting as Black Beard the Pirate. That was Shira's idea. She read a Magic Tree House Research Guide about Pirates and has been crazy about them ever since. I find it ironic that Ben is the one who gets to do the pirate bookclub, when she's the pirate crazy one in our family.

Shira made her costume herself. I gave her help when needed and followed her directions. Not sure she looks like a burning bush, but she's one happy little camper.

Don't you just LOVE that beard? My friend, Hannah, found it for me last week.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Beading looms

I bought a children's beading loom on a sale a few weeks before I had my surgery. I figured that weaving beads would be a perfect activity for me to do with the children while I was not able to walk around.

Turns out that I was right. Shira has taken to bead weaving like a duck takes to water. Almost all her toy animals now sport beaded collars, her dolls sport beaded bracelets and anyone who makes her happy, earns a piece of woven jewelry from her.

Today she came to me and told me that it was time to develop her own patterns. Must say that her first attempt was pretty good. She wrote "I love you" in her bracelet. It's always so good when a plan comes together.

Ben has spent the last 2 hours bending my ears about what he desperately needs for his birthday. Shira OTOH doesn't seem to know what she wants other than HO gauge trains.

Good News Thursday

I couldn't resist a second entry into
Why Homeschool's Good News Thursday.

My very dear friend, Sandi, is a curator at and director of The South African National Museum of Military History.

She wrote an email today about her amazing day and gave me permission to reprint it on my blog with a few minor changes to make it understandable to people who do not know the ins and outs of South African business life.

A bit of background. Despite the fact that South Africa has had a representative government since 1994, the lot of the average black person has not increased appreciably. They are still battling substandard education and poverty.

Here is what Sandi wrote:

You know in South Africa we have to train people in order for them to move up. We have to teach them and get them what are called National Qualification Tickets. There has been the most enormous dearth of knowledge that is common to white people that black people just have never been exposed to. For instance it takes the black youth three times longer to get car licences. The reason has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence. It has everything to do with the fact that most didn’t have parents with cars so they have never ingested the natural movements of driving most of us have. I’ve had to teach a lot of staff to use a telephone book. Had to make certain they get glasses because half of them aren’t reading because they can’t see the print.

Anyhow we have this guy who runs the gardens who I’ve thought for a long time is a brain in disguise. He has done a diploma in horticulture and knows everything there is to know about indigenous South African plants and trees and our gardens blossom. I also had a technician who due to an Aids infection has been unable to do heavy labour. So I took an R8 000 each chance on both of them. I sent them to tour guide training. Well they didn’t want to accept the gardener. But eventually let him in after I told them our organization was paying them and best they get on with the training. WELL – after a two week course and staying behind at the museum night after night after night to learn everything they could about the exhibits – out of a class of 45 guess who came first and second!!! My two staff members. The gardener came first. The Aids guy just stood and cried. It’s been his life’s dream to teach people. And he just got it. Even if he dies tomorrow nothing in my life will ever take away the memory of his sheer joy at having done what he always wanted to do and succeeding first off.

The report says both are naturals with the public and they knew their work so well they were a shaming factor to the rest of the white candidates.

Today was one of the best days of my life you know.

Now I have a cleaner – a raw, very raw Zulu cleaner who is learning computers. She has learnt to draw tables and drew one up for her work roster. She is now copying the titles of books for labeling the spines for the library. When I say raw – she is raw. No matric. Not even a standard 6. She is going on a starter computer course this year and wants her Microsoft M3 or something. And she’ll get it.

Sometimes going to work is such a good thing.

Good News Thursday

Why Homeschool has started a Good News Thursday.

I LOVE this idea. Today, while I was reading Drew Curtis' Fark I came across an article on seeing eye ponies.

"She may be just 60cm high, but Panda the miniature pony is fulfilling a tall order – as a 'guide horse' for the blind.

The two-year-old was taught by her trainers to help blind people in the same way as conventional guide dogs.

She stops at kerbs, spots uneven pavements and crosses busy roads. She can get in and out of a car, go up and down stairs and is completely house trained."

I'm not sure if this is what Why Homeschool meant about good news, but I certainly felt uplifted reading about another way a blind person can be helped to live a "normal" life.

My late father, Geoff, was legally blind and I saw first hand how tough it is to be blind in this world. My hat is off to all those hard workers who train seeing eye animals.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Perfect, totally perfect.

That was Shira's pronouncement about dinner. LOL. Marc's working late tonight and I had absolutely no inspiration for dinner, so I asked the chicks for their preferences. Shira asked for a tomato and basil salad, a red pepper and a banana smoothie. Tomato, basil, cracked black pepper and a smidgeon of EVOO happens to make Shira's favorite dish.

As soon as our pansies are over their best, we plan on filling the planters with basil plants. The basil is going to be Ben's and Shira's summer project. They have promised to water the containers through the heat of summer. I, in return, have agreed to find ways to include basil into our daily diet.

I took such pleasure watching her eat her salad. You could see the enjoyment in every mouthful. I can only imagine how much she is going to enjoy it when we can buy summer tomatoes.

Ben also thought his dinner was perfect, though he was the only one who thought so. LOL. Loraina made him some gluten free flatbread from Gluten Free Gobsmacked. We love this recipe. It takes 16 min from start to finish and you would never guess that it's gluten free. I used it to make him a wrap with tomato, onion, basil and a smidgeon of mayo. He also asked for fried eggs. To be specific, he asked for eggs that you make in a frying pan where you can see the yolks in the middle of the whites and where you can cut the yolk and make it run. He cracks me up. No matter how often I tell him those are fried eggs, he still insists on giving me the description just to ensure that he gets the right ones. To finish it off, he had a banana smoothie.

I used to love double thick malted shakes, not that I drank them at all often, but when I did, it was sheer heaven. I am sad that my children are never going to experience that particular bit of junk food so I set about making a healthy, gluten free, dairy free, soy free version.

My banana smoothie isn't exactly the same, but I think it tastes even better than the double thick malted shakes I used to love so much. In case you feel like treating yourself, here's the recipe.

Banana double thick smoothie
1.5 cups ice cold water,
2 cups ice cubes,
4-5 very ripe bananas,
3 medjool dates (more if you like food sweeter),
3/4 cup raw cashews
3 tablespoons of flax seeds (optional).
Blend very well.
Makes four 8oz servings

This isn't a low cal food, but every ingredient is good for you. It makes a wonderful desert, or hot afternoon treat.

I must admit that this turns out better when you use a high powered blender like a Vitamix. I couldn't imagine my life without my beloved Vitamix. The standing family joke is that if we ever had to evacuate our home, I'd grab my Vitamix before my children.

I was on a roll wrt smoothies today. I made the children a great one at lunch time. It was too sweet for my taste, but I've noticed that since I've been following Eat to Live I've lost my taste for sweetness. The kids had no such complaints. They inhaled it with gusto.

Tropical smoothie
1 orange
2 bananas
1 cup frozen pineapple
16oz frozen mango
2 tablespoons flax seeds
cold water
Blend until smooth and enjoy.
makes three servings.

Yikes, I was proof reading this post and realized that I almost OD'd my kids on bananas today. They had bananas with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oh, well, they aren't going to be short of potassium today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers - Inaugural Edition

Welcome to the March 17, 2008 edition of carnival of cool homeschoolers.

Lydia presents Colonial Williamsburg and Home Educator Week posted at Little Blue School
Lydia shows how a simple field trip can be taken out of the ordinary and turned into an extraordinary experience by the application of a tiny bit of creativity.

Renae reflects on the need for nature in her and her son's lives>The Barefoot Boy posted at Life Nurturing Education.

Mark Monaghan links to a very thought provoking video that shows us how tough our job is going to be to ensure that our children are competitive on the global stage The need for eLearning posted at eLearning

While I agree that the figures are alarming, I am not convinced that Mark's answer is the correct one. I think that to truly make our children competitive on the world stage we should help them become truly creative thinkers. I'm not convinced that computers are the be all and end all in education.

Tea Party Girl's submission ties in well with Mark's.
she writes a very provocative post about why she will train her daughter to hire servants. I completely agree with her on this topic. I see my job as a homeschooling mother to educate my children so that they can earn far more by the labor of their minds than the labor of their bodies.

If we do not pay attention to the figures in Mark's post and think of ways to help our children be globally competitive, they may end up being the people who do the cleaning.

Laura over at We Don't Buy It talks about the importance of make believe violence in her post.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I struggle with how our culture has become obsessed with not allowing our children to have any form of play that might remotely be construed as being violent. I've had moms who I respect be upset because my children have a water gun and a sabre.

Laura writes:"Jones started out his talk speaking about kids playing super heroes and rescuing and how this type of play allows kids to feel more powerful than they really are in their lives. It allows them to be in charge and have mastery over objects and ideas. Then, what if your kids are the monsters? Yes, what then?! Well, as he said, you can't play good guys and bad guys, if you don't have bad guys. And this is where nice, normal kids are trying out the things they will never be. THEY'RE PRETENDING!!" Thank you Laura for this very important post.

I want to live at Tracy's homeschool. Her children get to spend days as Thing 1 and Thing 2 and they get to host spy camps. Dr. Seuss Was On The Loose posted at So Much Fun We Don't Know We're Learning.

Rose is a homeschooler after my own heart. She has a great rant about how her children don't learn because she is an "uncredentialed teacher" An Uncredentialed Day posted at Learning at Home.

My son Ben, thanks Dana for this submission. We plan on spending a fun afternoon playing with the circuit she describes Principled Discovery Saturday School: Make your own simple circuit posted at Principled Discovery.

Not June Cleaver over at
These go to Eleven
rants about the importance of allowing children to play. Cool mom that she is, she sees no problem with children running on the top of the hay bales that make a maze, rather than running in the maze. Her children are not going to be consigned to inside the box. Way to go!

Kris at Paradise Found
tracked down a book to teach her son how to build an underwater robot.

Wendy over at Contentment Acres is one of those strange moms who actually allows her children to play in mud puddles.

Chris over at A Mountain Homeschool talks about the importance of making time for culture in your homeschool.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


I'm struggling to understand people's fascination with pets. Why would you want yet another living creature who is dependent on you for food and nurturing? Why would you want a creature that can't take itself to the potty? Or if it can, needs you to clean up it's litter box?

Our entire family is allergic to dogs and cats so those animals are out as pets, much to my children's dismay and my eternal gratitude. (must admit, that I do adore cats, but right now another creature for whom I am responsible will kill me off).

Ben and Shira want a pet badly. They, for some reason, do not think that Beanie Baby stuffed animals do the trick. I've told them that they can have any animal they wish as long as it isn't a rodent,bird, reptile, fish requiring heating or any animal to which one of us is allergic. (I stuck that one in because I mysteriously develop allergies to animals that are not on my list).

I can sort of understand why people would want a cuddly, furry cat or dog. They snuggle, they are affectionate and they have personalities. However, they need to be walked, no matter the weather. They need an inordinate amount of training. When that's all done, they can't ever have a conversation with you and they can't ever take care of themselves. To my mind it is like signing up to have pre-potty trained toddlers forever. Who in their right mind would sign up for that?

Then we have pets that live in bowls or cages. If I can't understand why you would want a cat or a dog, this category of animal totally bemuses me. The only "benefit" you get from them is a stinky house. I want to hurl when I walk into homes with caged animals as the smell permeates the house.

I think that if you want something cute and furry you should visit a taxidermist.

If I can't understand why people want pets, this latest pet craziness is even more incomprehensible to me. People take their pets on vacation, they put them into doggy day care and send them to spas. News Alert people, these are animals, not people. I applaud whenever I come across an hotel that bans animals. There is nothing worse than checking into an hotel only to have your allergies flare out of control. Leave those creatures at home or in kennels please people. Get a life, develop relationships with people, not with those proxy people you call pets.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What more could a girl want?

A lot, but what I had today is a good substitute. The chicks and I spent the day snuggled up together, eating hummus and carrots and watching the original Dr Who and Star Trek Voyager. I had such fun explaining why the special effects were so cheezy on Dr Who. They have watched the latest incarnation of Dr Who and were struggling to reconcile the original series with what they knew. I love cheezy sci-fi and I think that Ben and Shira might just learn to love it as well. They were screeching with laughter over the giant squid Kroll.

I couldn't get over Tom Baker has changed. I was recently watching him on Monarch of the Glen where he is a fat old man. It was a hoot watching a young Tom Baker as Dr Who.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I am watching way too much TV. The kids are at co-op and I can't get around so here I am stuck on my bed. Instead of using the time to read meaningful books, I am idly surfing the net while watching abysmal daytime TV. I'm watching Nanny 911 so that I can feel good about myself. I feel so self righteous and supermommish when I watch those horrors on Nanny 911. While I was watching Nanny lay down the law, I saw an ad for Match.com.

I have Match.com to thank for my current life. Marc and I met on Match.com on the 20th of September 1999. It was love at first telephone call and we married in January 2000.

I often think about dating rituals and marriage and have come to the realization that all my friends who met online appear to have stronger marriages than most of my friends who went the traditional route.

My theory is that those of us who developed our relationships online never had the physical to contend with. If we spent 2 hours talking, we spoke for two hours., We didn't have physical cues to cloud issues so we had to be careful how we chose our words. If we had gone on a physical date for 2 hours we wouldn't have spent the entire 2 hours talking.

By the time Marc and I met IRL in November 1999 we probably knew each other better than most couples who had been married for years. We certainly spent more time talking than most couples.

We laugh over how our IM dating has carried through to our married lives. If Marc sees me online on iChat or Skype while he is a work, he'll ping me a message. We've even been known to lie in bed, side by side, and have and IM or email conversation.

I'd love to hear stories from other online couples.

Are marathoners nuts?

I've always believed that you have to have something wrong with you to subject your body to the stresses of marathon running. I just saw an ad for Aleve that confirms my opinion. The ad features a female marathon runner who says that she wouldn't be able to get through her day after a marathon without Aleve. Why on earth would you do an activity that hurts you?

Carnival of Homeschooling - Spring into Action

Kris in TN has just published the "Spring into action" edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

She's categorized submissions by Language Arts, Math, History, Geography, Fine Arts, Thoughts for the homeschooled parent and last but not least, Homeschooling in California.

My Curmudgeon post made it into the Language Arts category.

One of my favorite entries for this carnival was from Sister Lisa at The Homespun Life. She talks about a great game to teach sentence structure.

An entry that fascinated me was made by Chris, a homeschooling dad in the mountains of Georgia . He came across predictions from 1900. It's a fascinating read. I found it more fascinating because I recently read an article on predictions for the next 50 years (of course, I can't remember where I found it so I can't link to it). It's always interesting to me to see how well, or not, the "experts" predictions pan out. I'll never forget that Bill Gates predicted that we'd never need high powered personal computers.

Going to a tea party

Shira's book club at our co-op is reading the Felicity series from American Girl. This month they are reading, "Felicity Learns a Lesson". In the book, Felicity has a tea lesson so today the book club girls are having a tea lesson. Shira is beside herself with excitement. She's dressed in a pretty dress and cardigan with the straw hat she made in a previous book club meeting. (hope the child doesn't freeze to death) and is waiting impatiently for co-op time. I'm sending her to co-op with my camera so that she can take pics of all the little girls having their tea party.

How different boys and girls are. The little girls are having a genteel tea party while the boys are learning to be pirates while they read Treasure Island.

Petrified forests and volcanos

Ben and Shira have suddenly developed a fascination with petrified forests and volcanos. We have tons of books on volcanos and I even remember some of what I learned about them in high school, however, my knowledge on petrification is zero. I also don't have any books on the subject.

This morning, serendipity showed her beautiful face when an email from Currclick arrived in my inbox. I'd never heard of this company before and am not sure how I managed to get onto their email distribution list. I suspect it has something to do with a lapbook template I bought a few months ago.

As luck would have it, they were advertising an e-book with instructions to make a 3-D layered volcano diagram. Seeing as it was on sale for a mere $2.95, I bought it. I've just glanced through the book and am very excited, I see a wonderful project in our future.

Of course, I can never restrain myself when on book sites, so I went browsing. What was the next book I found? Yes, a book on petrification. This short e-book on Ancient Botanicals looks like a winner.

I love books that have suggestions for activities that come with the information. It saves me so much time as I always try to include some hands on activities with new information. The blurb promises, "You will Learn basic information about fossilized leaves, fossilized flowers, ferns, cones & seeds, follow step-by step instructions with photographs on how to make a “Fossilized Leaf” skeleton using Japanese beetles, make a fossilized plant strata, make a fossilized fern in plaster, and a fossilized panel." Best of all, it only cost $3.85. So for under $7 I have found two books that look like they are going to give us hours of learning enriched fun.

I'll report back once we've done the activities.

Rest in "Peeces"

The chicks spent yesterday afternoon with Lydia, Benny and Sadie. Lydia hosted an Egyptian party for the kids. They mummified Barbies, made sarcophagi and ate Egyptian food. ( truthfully, from what I heard, Shira age Egyptian food and the others refused to try it. That's par for the course. Shira has yet to meet a vegetable that she doesn't like and Ben has yet to meet a dish of food for the first time without pronouncing that he doesn't eat it).

Shira ran upstairs when she returned to show me her mummy in its sarcophagus. She was very excited by the secret message she wrote that went under her mummy. It was in English and in Hieroglyphics and read, "Rest in Peeces".

I did a little gentle probing and discovered that since her experience with death is limited to what we've learned in The Story of the World , she truly thinks that when you say "Rest in Peace" you mean "rest in bits and pieces". She showed me the jars that contained her mummy's internal organs. Yup, mummies do rest in bits and pieces.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cheering up, 6 year old style

Candles play a large part in my children's lives and in Shira's in particular.

They live for lighting Shabbat candles and Chanukkah is a real fire hazard in our house as we don't limit ourselves to one chanukkiah per person.

When it comes to birthdays in the family we have multiple candle lighting ceremonies. On their birthdays, they light candles for a week. Last year I felt like i was baking cupcakes daily during that week. Oh, wait, I was, sometimes I baked them twice daily because we believe in birth weeks, not birth days. We had a week of parties. Their birth week is a month away and they can't wait.

On Marc's or my birthdays they get to have candles on their cupcakes and they like to do at least 2 different candle lightings for us. Last year on Marc's birthday we even had a celebration while he was at work. We turned our breakfast into a birthday party for daddy and didn't think it strange in the least that he wasn't with us.

Shira likes nothing better than to lie in the tub with a candle burning in the background. In fact, whenever she deems herself stressed, she takes herself off to have a long soak in my tub. She runs a deep bath, lights a lavender candle, switches on Lev Tahor and sips concord grape juice from a plastic wine glass. (ooh, I am a bad, bad mom to let her drink the grape juice from a plastic wine glass. LOL. Plastic is so bad for you.)

She's been very worried about me since the surgery and this week she made me a treat. She made a plate of fruit and veg and placed candles in the bananas.

She had a very earnest little conversation with me about how the candles will help make me feel better.

Conversations like these with my children often make me realize why and how the ancients started religions. I can see how candle light and the lighting of candles could easily take on a strange esoteric meaning for my kids. We've been having some great discussions based on Prometheus and how the ancient Greeks attributed the advent to fire to his theft of it from the gods. I thought this was a great way to jump into Jewish mythology. The story of Prometheus was a great lead into the story of Moses and the burning bush. They saw how unlikely it was that this story has its roots in fact. It's a slow process but I truly think the children are starting to understand that the stories of our culture are as based in mythology as the stories of the ancient Greeks were.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers

At a dear friend's suggestion I have started a new blog carnival. Meet the Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers.

I am going to attempt to make this a weekly carnival full of links to homeschoolers who do cool things with their children, think cool things or just are cool people.

Are you running an awesome co-op? Are you teaching a class that has the participants begging to attend daily? Do your children wake up before dawn and beg to start school? Did you let your children spend the day playing in the mud just because it rained and you called that school? Is your family homeschooling while trekking through Outer Mongolia? Do you encourage your budding dress designer to wear her creations, even though they make you cringe? Whatever makes you cool, we want to hear about it.

I just don't understand modern medicine

I was watching an interview yesterday with a doc on the side of the drug companies that make vaccines. He was responding to the recent ruling where the feds admit that vaccines aggravated autism.

He said that there was no proof that vaccines caused autism. The interviewer asked him if there was proof that vaccines did not cause autism. He was taken aback and it appeared in his mind that just because the proof of a cause was lacking that it meant that it proved that vaccines did not cause autism.

Until recently there has been no proof that food allergies cause rhematoid arthritis so the docs have insisted that there is no link despite thousands of anecdotal cases of people with RA going into complete remission once they took their food allergens out of their diets.

A small new study has just been published that shows that docs have been looking in the wrong place for the connection between food allergens and RA. Before, they always looked in the blood, this study found that “the intestinal fluid of
people with RA had higher levels of antibodies to proteins from
cow's milk, cereal, hen's eggs, codfish and pork than that of people
without RA.”

It’s early days still and more research has to be done, but it is good to see that medicine is finally catching up with what some people with RA have known for years.

I am always amazed at how rheumatologists are quick to give their patients truly dangerous drugs, drugs that have horrendous side effects and at the same time, they refuse to countenance the idea that simple dietary changes might make a difference. I often think that I have completely misunderstood that old maxim that is always quoted, “First do no harm”.

Last July, I was in agony. I could barely walk on my feet, they hurt so badly. My hands were so weak and painful that I couldn’t open jars and I struggled to cut with knives. My fingers were turning into claws.

I saw a rheumatologist and he wanted to put me onto methotrexate. I refused and said that I was going to try dietary intervention first and then if that didn’t work, I would consider his drugs.

I went to a wonderful nutritional doc, Dr Joel Fuhrman for treatment. Dr F. is the author of many books, the most well known being Eat to Live. I had been following his Eat to Live plan for about a year at that time and had successfully brought my BP down from 170/150 to around 90/60,

Dr F put me on a boot camp version of his Eat to Live plan. I cut back on the fruits, increased the leafy greens and in particular the more bitter of the cruciferous veg, upped my fish oil to 9g a day, stopped eating my beloved sprouts and became consistent about taking a probiotic daily. (that’s a very abridged version of the plan. Email me if you want more details).

Within weeks all my pain had disappeared and I my hands were useful again. I still have some deformity in two fingers but other than that, there is no evidence of what I looked like less than a year ago.

Last month, before I had my knee surgery, I had my inflammatory markers checked. Every marker is at a perfect level, there is no evidence of inflammation anywhere in my body.

I can’t but wonder what my life would have been like if I had done as the rheumie had suggested and started on Methotrexate. I would be worrying about cancers, would fee like shitl and if the people I have spoken to who take the drug are anything to go by, the disease would not have reversed. Here I am, I did not pay a single penny on drugs, just changed the way I ate and I have never been healthier in my life.

Cantankerous Curmudgeon

I realized today that I am turning into my grandfather. Grandpa Brian was always on the lookout for sloppy diction or grammar. At least I always thought he was on the look out for them. Now I tend to think that he didn't look out for them, they just felt like nails on a chalkboard to him. He couldn't help being cantankerous about them when he came across them.

I had tons of diction and grammar bugbears when I lived in South Africa and thought when I moved to a purely English speaking country (though I suppose that is a debatable point now with all the Latino immigrants), that I'd hear less sloppy diction and grammar.

Turns out I was wrong. If anything, the grammar and diction is worse in the US than it was in South Africa. Today I heard a radio ad for a "Winner sale". Turns out it was for a "winter sale". What is so difficult about pronouncing that "t"?

Americans seem to truly dislike the sound of the "t". For years I thought the talk show host was Sean Hannidy. I only realized he was a Hannity when I saw his name in print.

When my kids were tiny, I took great care to correct them whenever double "t's" turned into double "d's". This resulted in a very funny situation. Both kids became adamant that words like "middle" were actually pronounced "mittle". It was only when they learned to read that they believed me.

I think that I am going to hurt someone if I hear anyone say, "Lay it down here" or "I'll just lay down". Please learn to use verbs correctly!

From where does this saying, "I'll hit you upside the head" come? It's as bad as the South African one, "I'll hit you through the face.". At least I know that this is because Afrikaners translated directly from Afrikaans into English.

Not a day goes by that I don't see an egregious grammatical error in a respected newspaper or in a novel. Don't editors edit any more? What happened to style books?

I worry about this current generation. All too many teachers, both school and homeschool, appear to believe that grammar is a skill that children will learn through osmosis when they read books. I don't agree that this is so and anyway, unless these children are reading pre-1950 literature, I they don't have many good role models.

To this end, I truly believe that good, old fashioned grammar programs need to be reintroduced into the education of our children. I am currently learning grammar formally for the first time this year. The children and I are doing Jessie Wise's, First Language Lessons. Last week we started learning to diagram sentences. Homeschooling rocks. Moms get a way to learn subjects they wish they had as children.

Gracious Guests

Circumstances have dictated that Ben and Shira have to attend a birthday party without a parent present. This is the first for all of. I can't believe how nervous I am about them going to something filled with sugar and excitement without me.

We've just had a good old role playing tutorial about how gracious guests behave. Cross your fingers that my little munchkins remain gracious guests despite all the excitement of a party.

Celiac Disease

I find it interesting and weird to see how many people define themselves by their diseases. Everyone in my family has celiac disease. What it means to us is that we avoid gluten in our diet and life goes on as normal.

I belong to a large, international email list for people with celiac disease. When I read posts on this list I realize that this is definitely not the case with many people with celiac disease. So many people appear to let this little dietary hiccup take over their lives. Before I go on, I belong to this list, not to talk about our disease, but to find out news about products which suddenly become unsafe and to find out about good restaurants that are safe for us in various cities.

One of my biggest bugbears is a post that I see with startling regularity. Someone will want to know how to get their medical insurance or the IRS to pay for their gluten free food. My other one is how people see the gluten free diet as restrictive and how they worry about what they are going to eat.

I just don't understand why people feel the need to duplicate the Standard American Diet (SAD) when they go gluten free. Instead of concentrating on all the wonderful, naturally gluten free foods, they insist on trying to make fake versions of the hideous baked goods that flood the American market. Then, because it is expensive to do this, they expect someone else to foot the bill. WTF? You insist on eating an unhealthy diet and then think that it's medically necessary and someone else should pay for it?

A post came through to the list a few weeks ago that had me totally floored. This woman was complaining about how refined the gluten free flours were and how gluten free baked goods were not vitamin enriched. She felt that it was a slight to the celiac community because gluten containing breads etc are vitamin enriched, but not gluten free ones. In her mind gluten free foods should get the same treatment in the interest of fairness. Ahh, fairness, that's a topic for another rant on another day.

Do these people have no concept about good nutrition? Stripping food of it's natural nutrition and then adding in synthetic vitamins does not make it healthy. Why not eat unprocessed foods the way nature made them? Instead of eating a gluten free slice of bread that contributes nothing but calories, why not eat an apple, brimming with phytonutrients?

Whenever I come across someone newly diagnosed with celiac I try to explain to them that we have almost unlimited food choices but that we willingly limit those choices every day. When we discover that we have celiac disease, we are just changing how we limit our choices. It is impossible to eat every food available to us, so we have to self select. What's so hard about changing the selection? I wish people would stop seeing a gluten free diet as restrictive.

What my disability means to my kids.

Ben and Shira have no memory of having a mom who was like everyone else. They are used to a mom who has osteonecrosis, who has to use crutches more often than not, who cannot run and jump, who is blind in her left eye and who has to wear dark glasses all the time because of a blown pupil.

I think I have the only kids in the world who beg their mom to use her disability Scootie to get around the neighborhood and to not use the van. We look like a little SE Asian family.
The three of us pile onto the Scootie and off we go around the neighborhood. The highlight of the trip is when I allow the children to do the steering and to beep the horn. The real treat is if I sit outside the garage and allow them to drive up and down the quiet road behind our house.

Scooties are wonderful things.

Shira and I have discovered that it is a huge amount of fun if I hold onto her while she's on her plasma car and I drive my Scootie at full speed (which is not very fast LOL). The Plasma Car is so much lower to the ground than the Scootie that the Scootie's top speed of 13 mph feels really fast.

My disability has turned them into activists. They were involved with my campaign to get handicap ramps built into the sidewalks in our neighborhood. You should hear them when they spy a sidewalk without a ramp. They become very indignant.

It's also forced them to become more responsible than other 6 year olds as they often have to be my legs and sometimes my eyes. We're lucky that we live in little old Norfolk. We're surrounded by independent stores, not big box stores. I can pull up outside the pharmacy and be comfortable that my child is safe while he goes inside to have a prescription filled as the pharmacist knows my family and I can see the door the entire time. Ben and Shira get a real kick out of having to sign their name in cursive when they pick up prescriptions.

They love doing a grocery shop at the Organic Food Depot. They make out the list at home and then do the shopping. The highlight of course, is getting to pay for the groceries.

I've noticed that they are so much more empathetic than most children their age. My heart swells with pride when I see them naturally holding open doors for people who need help, or offering to reach things on shelves. Better still, I love how they see no difference between a disabled person and a person who has full use of her body.

I started writing this blog post to try to find the positive things about having a disabled mom. I've been feeling exceedingly guilty for these past 6 weeks since I fell and broke part of my knee. I feel like I've short changed my kids because I am yet again stuck in bed and not able to do what I want to with them. However, as I wrote it, I realized that in a way my health problems has not been an issue as the three of us have worked ways around it and we still have loads of fun.

Purim costumes

Purim is just around the corner and we're busy choosing costumes. I am so glad that I suggested to the children that they should decide what wear. They are so much more creative than I ever could be.

Their current favorite idea is for them to go as Moses and the burning bush. Ben's Moses is a no brainer. Ben loves the blanket I turned into a "monk's" robe for him. He hates dress up costumes but loves his soft, blanket robe. He told me that he is going to wear underpants (a huge concession) and his robe. We could add a light sabre and he could be a Jedi knight or he could just go sans light sabre and as Moses. I'm loathe to give him a staff because a 6 year old boy and a staff are not a good combo.

As soon as Shira heard that Ben was going to be Moses, she decided that she was going as the burning bush. I must admit to being very proud of my daughter. Most of the little girls in our acquaintance are going as Queen Esthers or brides. I hope that her ability to swim against the tide lives on till adulthood.

4-H and fibre arts

All the homeschoolers I know are uber crafty. Everyone always seems to have a piece of knitting, crocheting or embroidering in their hands. They talk of spinning and felting. I feel so craft challenged. It's not that I can't do these things, it's just that I don't feel a need to do them.

The other day I thought I'd do some crochet work. OK, so now what? I don't wear sweaters, nor does any member of my family wear sweaters. That ruled out a sweater. How about a felted purse? Colyn across at Apron Strings made an absolutely beautiful felted tote that inspired me. The only problem was that I have no need of an extra tote. I went on and on through the list and realized that I didn't want or need anything crocheted. Since I didn't need anything, I couldn't see the point in doing any crocheting. Same went for knitting and sewing.

Looks like I am going to continue to be the lone uncrafty homeschooler in our group.

Ben and Shira are desperate to learn to knit, crochet and sew. Both have made hats with those knifty knitter thingies and as I wrote on my blog the other day, Shira is learning to sew. The problem is that their mom is just not inspired to teach them.

Yesterday I happened on the perfect solution to this little problem. Shelley, a very talented and energetic homeschooler in Norfolk is starting a 4-H club dedicated to fibre arts. I quickly signed up the sprogs before all the spaces filled up. I even offered to be a volunteer, but as Marc said, what use will I be at a fiber arts club. I think I'll be the crowd control volunteer.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Math in our Homeschool

We've developed a great math system in our homeschool. We use Professor B for concepts and some drill and Big Math Time for additional drill.

What drew me to Prof B was the lack of manipulatives and fancy colors. It's a simple, computer based program that scripts the story for the teacher. Every concept is taught by means of a story which makes it so much easier for the child to grasp and process as children have already been taught how to listen to stories. He also does a masterful job of building connections between concepts, thus further enhancing the learning. This means that all concepts are connected and flow into one another, no fragmentation like I saw in the other math programs I looked at.

On his website, Prof B says:
"- Kindergarten and first graders mastering the lower/higher addition/subtraction facts and reading numbers in the hundreds of trillions (fifteen-digit numbers).
- Second graders mastering all multiplication facts and long division.
- Fifth graders mastering “seventh grade math.”
- Fifth and sixth grade classes in the most disadvantaged communities outperforming ninth graders on statewide algebra exams."

I am seeing the truth of the first grade claim and will soon be working on second grade with my kids. I get such a kick out of them adding and subtracting 15 digit numbers with nary a blink. I couldn't believe how easy it was to teach place value. I think it took around 10 min. For years I've read plaintive emails from homeschoolers who have battled to teach place value to their children. I've heard stories about houses, visitors and hotels - and even stranger things, all manipulatives that attempt to teach place value. Prof B uses none of that. His lessons build slowly and deliberately so that when you approach the concept of place value, most of the concepts needed to understand place value are already in place.

The program works exceptionally well with my very verbal daughter. The stories mean something to her. My math whizz son is always a step ahead of what I am explaining. Prof B's methods have given him the tools to work things out for himself.

I must be sounding like an advertisement for Prof B, but I can't help myself. I truly love this math program.

Watch One, Do One, Teach One

My kids have boundless self confidence. The latest example is tickling me no end. Last week Shira asked me to teach her to sew. We cut out a dolly from felt and I taught her how to sew a running stitch. She did her running stitch around the doll's outline and then because the stitches were rather large, I had her do another round.

The doll looked cute once it was finished. However, in her mind, she is now an expert. She is busy making herself another doll and has plans to teach our sitter how to sew tomorrow. I love it.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever.

Last week I received a care package of gluten free, casein free and soy free goodies from McGovern's Organics . This was the first time since I went GFCF 3 years ago that I tasted cookies and cakes that tasted as good as, and in fact better than, any gluten containing baked goods I had ever tasted.

I loved the chocolate chip cookies so much that I have just ordered 4 dozen of them. What makes them even more appealing is that the McGovern sisters only use the highest quality organic ingredients and they haven't jumped onto the "Oats is safe for celiacs bandwagon".

We found out to our great dismay, when we ate Dr Lucy's GF cookies , that we are celiacs who cannot tolerate oats.

I've been mulling this oats business and am very confused. The current recommendation is that it is safe for celiacs to eat certified GF oats, but only a max of 1/2 a cup a day. Am I the only one who finds this particularly odd. It's safe, but if you eat more than 1/2 cup a day, then it isn't? Doesn't ring true to me. I think that celiacs should continue to avoid oats.

More and more gluten free goodies are being made with oats as this makes the cooking process easier. All it means for us is that we have to read labels even more carefully than before and that we can't trust "gluten free" labels.

Of course, I shouldn't even be having this discussion. I should be eschewing all baked goods and living on unprocessed fruit and vegetables like I do most of the time. Right now I feel like some indulgence is called for. The knee surgery I just had was more painful than I could possibly have imagined and I think that McGovern's Organics chocolate chip cookies are just what the doctor ordered.