All green, nature, and sustainability posts have been moved to Loving Nature's Garden

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Homeschooling Science Online with CyberEd

This year for science my family chose CyberEd science online, available through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now the news has been released that CyberEd are closing their business doors. This product is available only until December 3rd at 1pm Eastern, and only, I believe, through Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Subscriptions run for one calendar year and will be honored; sign up now and you can cover science needs until December 2009. Given that I've found a science curriculum supplier we are extremely pleased with, I am left wondering what to do.

Game Boy has been using the CyberEd Physical Science course, which is just the right level for a middle schooler. He hasn't complained at all about this course, which is a big endorsement around our house. In fact he is self-motivated; he works on it every school day without prompting from me. Of course he might rather be playing a video game, but he likes the interaction of this course. I've every reason to believe that while using CyberEd Physical Science he is tying together a lot of knowledge gained from years of TV science programs, and masses of science books he's read over and over. The only thing it is lacking is related hands-on experiments, which I can easily cover from a few of the Usborne science books I have on my bookshelves. Since Game Boy is a good way through the Physical Science course, I'm seriously contemplating signing up for the Life Science and Earth Science courses - I think he could get to the end of all 3 by December 2009.

Artist Girl, who is working at high school level, is using CyberEd Biology. What she likes about this course is that it is to the point and does not cover any excess unnecessary stuff. In fact CyberEd Biology is described as Introductory to AP Biology. I'd say that is pretty accurate. For Artist Girl it's a pretty big assignment to get through this course in one year. She knows a lot of Biology already from previous homeschool studying; it's the terminology/vocabulary that makes it challenging. With a motivated student who has a good background knowledge you can get through the course in one year. You don't have to do the whole course though. One thing you get with the course is an extremely comprehensive guide to how CyberEd Biology fits with your state standards. Let's say that guide is not for the faint hearted. What it conveyed to me however was that once Artist Girl finishes CyberEd Biology she will have covered almost all of the Kansas state requirements for Biology, a good number of the requirements for Chemistry, and even some of the Physics requirements. I had every intention of us using CyberEd Chemistry next year, but I know we can't get through the remainder of Biology and start Chemistry now and get through Chemistry by December of 2009. So much for finding a course format we like; unless Homeschool Buyers Co-op pull off some kind of alternative agreement, we'll be searching for something else.

OK, well if you like the sound of CyberEd science courses, hot-foot it over there to Homeschool Buyers Co-op and get signed up before the December 3rd deadline. I can thoroughly recommend the Physical Science, Earth Science, and Life Science courses for your independent middle schooler who likes computer based learning. The high school courses I think are wonderful, but not for everyone.

Blogging in association with - home of the Kindle.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Homeschooling Thankfulness

I am very thankful for all the wonderful things in my life: my health; my family; friends both near and far; the opportunity to homeschool my children; my adopted country and the country of my birth; this wonderful Earth we live on; good food and clean water; heat and light; books and learning; a comfortable bed to snuggle in at night; safe soil to grow food in; trees to shade me from the summer sun... you get the picture.

Whatever I may feel is lacking in my life, or myself, today I push that aside and realize all the wonderful things I have to be thankful for. Thank you for reading.

Book Sales on Black Friday

Black Friday book sales have now ended. I will bring you details of any December book sales I hear of later.

Related post: Black Friday Books

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Black Friday Books

Black Friday book sales have ended, but some of the great Usborne deals are still available
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading to you :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Holiday Survival System

My holiday gift to you is a system that can help you to survive the holidays, and also survive homeschooling, and indeed life, for the rest of the year. It's a simple system which I will call the ABC system, though it is nothing to do with the alphabet. However, it is as simple to understand as the alphabet and perhaps just as useful. I don't take credit for this system as I obtained it some years ago from another homeschooler through an e-mail list. The origins are perhaps lost in time, but I've found it very helpful and I'm grateful to the unknown inventor. Now I get to share it with you.

All you need for this system is a piece of paper and a pencil - an eraser might be handy! Mark 3 columns on your piece of paper with the headings A, B, and C. The hardest part about this is the explanation. The columns are used as follows:
  • A - everything you would do without anyone prompting you, things that are easy and on which you are self-motivated.
  • B - things you need to help to do from a schedule, plan, or person.
  • C - things you are putting aside for now.
So under A you might have things like: pleasure reading, watch TV, chat with friends. If you have good habits and are self-disciplined you might also have things like: clean the house, do the laundry, and take care of pets.

Under B you might have things like: wash the windows, get check-ups at the doctor, and practice piano.

Be honest now about what goes under column C. It can be an eye-opener. Maybe your teen is putting aside personal hygiene for instance, or maybe you are putting aside exercise, or time with your partner.

It gets interesting when you realize the balance between the different columns. For instance if you have a lot of items in column A, or a few items that you are very highly self-motivated to spend hours and hours on, it will be hard to accomplish the items in column B. If you have everyday stuff like washing the dishes under B, you are probably struggling with routines and expending a lot of energy on making sure you do things that really need to be good habits. Things in column B take energy and we can only have a certain number of things there. If your teen needs someone to get them out of bed in the morning, or your 6 year old argues about brushing their teeth every day, there is going to be no energy left over for other stuff in column B.

The most effective way to use this system I have found is to make sure you put the highest priority items that are not currently being done the way they need to in column B. The goal is to establish a habit for some of these items and thus make them easy so that they move to column A. If necessary, deliberately put some tasks aside in column C for now. For instance, if you have a sick family member, or a lot of visitors for the holidays, some items may be moved to column C temporarily. You might put cooking in column C while someone is sick and needs extra care (just eat easy food for a few days), or put laundry and cleaning in C while relatives are visiting. If you are feeding your family a lot of prepared 'junk' food it could be because you've put cooking in column C. Do you want to leave it there or move it to column B? Are there some things in column B that another family member could take care of and free you up to put more things in your B column? Could a family member who is relying on you to prompt and enforce them doing things in column B manage without your input if they had a schedule or plan?

Don't let time with your partner stay in column C if that is where it currently is, move this to column B by making a plan. Good habits can reduce stress for everybody. Have fun with the ABC survival system, or if you don't need this right now please let me know your secret!

Brought to you by - meeting your Usborne Books needs in Kansas City and beyond (Johnson County, Kansas; Wichita, Kansas; Independence, Lee's Summit, North and South Kansas City, Pleasant Valley and Liberty, Missouri; Virginia and New Jersey).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Antsy Holiday Kids

Spot the Dog by Eric Hill at
As the holidays approach kids are apt to get antsy. All that excitement and busy parents can be a recipe for a melt-down. Whenever I think of putting up a Christmas tree with young kids around, I am reminded of Spot the dog. When Artist Girl was just a wee, little thing we had a VHS video tape story of Spot the dog at Christmas. Eric Hill's stories of Spot are simple, charming, and about things kids can relate to in their own lives. For instance when Spot is helping his mom with baking cookies and putting up the tree, he gets overexcited. What is so charming about the story (I'm not 100% sure I'm picturing the right story here), is that there is no blame put on Spot. The story simply says something about the decorations creating too much excitement and Spot goes outside to burn off his energy and get out from under his mom's feet. Which brings me to talking about antsy kids...

A wise friend of mine, a mom of three, did something wonderful for me when my kids were little. Every year she would send us a package of carefully selected items, which arrived before the holidays and was always the one package we'd open right away. For several years in a row we received Christmas items in our package. One year it was Rudolph mugs, another year a very large Santa puzzle, and a third year A Charlie Brown Christmas book. Now, at first I was a little puzzled with these gifts, and maybe not terribly thankful. Nonetheless, we used each item then packed it carefully away with our holiday decorations at the end of the season. As the years have gone by, my friend's wisdom has become more and more apparent. It's tradition stupid - I was a little slow on the uptake! What fun it is each year to unpack these special items and to take a few minutes out of the holiday craziness to sit down and enjoy them. What more could you want for occupying antsy kids than a book, a puzzle and a Christmas mug full of hot chocolate?

Now my kids are pretty grown up and they are the ones putting up the tree. They aren't so antsy any more and don't need a lot of calming from holiday excitement. I am the one who gets out the puzzle, sits down to read the Christmas books, and indulges in a little nostalgia. What multipurpose gifts our kind friend provided :-)

Brought to you by - with Christmas titles from Usborne and Christmas sets from Usborne

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alice by John Fullerton from Ballads of Bairnhood

I have a very special book - Ballads of Bairnhood, edited by Robert Ford. First published in 1894 and reprinted in 1913. It was passed to me from my mother's side of the family. Although the binding of my copy is a little worse for wear, almost all of the pages are fresh and clean. I can tell which poems were favorites with my ancestors, for those pages bear the marks of loving hands. Many of the poems relate to the loss of little ones, and many others are written in the Scots dialect and might make no sense to most of my readers. I've therefore chosen to share with you tonight, a poem that, while not one of my favorites, is enjoyable and hopefully understandable to any parent.


Where the sunshine lingers long,
Where the birds sing merry lays,
Where the brook the ferns among
Slowly steals, there Alice strays,
Culling here and there a flower
Blooming in the greenwood bower.

There is sunshine in her face
Brighter far than in the skies;
As I gaze, it's light I trace
Beaming in her deep blue eyes;
There's a song within her heart -
May that glad song ne'er depart.

Happy, free from grief and care;
O'er the meadows fair she roams,
Breathing fresher, purer air
Than to pent up city comes:
Seeing sights that pleasure bring -
Butterflies and birds a-wing.
John Fullerton

Brought to you in association with - lots of poetry and Scottish stuff.

I Did What?

What a doozy! Last night I decided to voluntarily close down my Firefox and restart my computer while in the middle of writing a post!!!!!! Somehow it slipped my mind that I was in the midst of writing. I'd been trying to get rid of open links all day so that I could reboot and save my computer from acting like it was 1985 vintage. I'd started a post of some learning links, mostly related to blogging. Here I was feeling pleased with myself for rebooting when I realized what I'd done. Duh! Whoever did such a thing? So, sorry, you will have to rely on my dubious memory to find those links again and share them with you. I think we're both in trouble. Oh well, I just had to laugh because it really wasn't that big of a deal compared to...

On Thursday night I thought I'd lost that big, long post I wrote about Mini Lesson Plans. Now that was a whole different feeling. I'd been working on that thing off and on all day, stealing a few minutes here and there from our homeschooling schedule, and agonizing over what to include. It was a case of too many ideas. My original concise post on all kinds of models had morphed into a long one mostly about model railroads. I really wanted to get some shut-eye, but not before posting that thing which perpetually seemed to be 'almost done'. Well, I did manage to get myself to the point of hitting Publish Post. As I sat back ready to admire my published work, imagine my horror to discover that it had disappeared. Argh! I was not a happy office-mate for Handyman Hubby to have. However, he sprung into action and between us, and despite the vagaries of Blogger, we found my post out there in the ether still residing among the back-key world and I was able to go to bed somewhat happier than I'd have been otherwise.

Now I just need to worry about Blogger going crazy some day and losing everything I've written. What's my backup plan? Oops, I don't have one yet and it's making me nervous :-(

Brought to you by - the home of fun books kids love to read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mini Lesson Plans

Models and miniatures are a fantastic hobby and have lots of homeschooling possibilities. Have your kids ever built a diorama, visited a model railroad exhibit, or decorated a doll's house? Many little people, and big people, are fascinated by tiny stuff. I know I certainly am. When I received a visit from Randall, who loves to write about model trains, for yesterday's Wordless Wednesday, I began to think of some of the possibilities. I've wandered the web so you don't have to, unless you insist of course!

Over on the left is The Usborne Book of Making Models. If you are interested in shopping for items related to models and model making, books, materials, etc, I've gathered these links together at the end. Read on for mini lesson plan ideas and for more details on this and other Usborne model books...

Model trains are such a favorite thing to have under the Christmas tree. Little boys who love Thomas the Tank Engine might just develop a love for model trains and railroads. There are some good articles on toy trains for children, including articles on Electric Train Scales for Children (about choosing the size of trains) and Electric Train Do's and Don'ts for Parents at For teens and adults try the National Model Railroad Association Introduction to Model Railroading. If you need to be inspired by visuals, take a look at the small layout scrapbook for lots and lots of layout plans and photos. I was particularly intrigued by the shoebox layouts.

Working with scale trains is a great exercise in math, design, art and electricity. You'll be planning track layouts, costing a variety of designs, learning electrical safety, and building scenery. For your scenery The Usborne Book of Making Models, pictured above, contains ideas and step by step instructions for making a tunnel, as well as bushes, shrubs, trees and paths.

I've always enjoyed visiting model railroads. It took a good bit of searching to find a website that lists places to visit - check out, their list looks to be comprehensive and current... unless of course you know different! I'm lucky enough to live close to a very absorbing little model railroad store. At the Show Me Railroad Company they make their own limited edition HO scale rolling stock right in the store. It's a kind of mini rail wonderland with large layouts in several scales, and lots of tiny items to explore. If you don't have a miniature railroad museum, like the Twin City Model Railroad Museum, or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum nearby, visiting a store or a model railroad club could be the next best thing.

If you want the tradition of a train under the tree, it's worth spending some time reading to make sure you choose something suitable. Alternatively, if you're not sure you have an enthusiast, do what I did. Choose the least expensive little battery-operated train set you can find and assume it will get broken. Guess what - we've had our little plastic Santa train set for probably 9 years now and it's still as good as new! It was the right choice for us; neither of my kids has developed an enthusiasm for model railroads, at least not yet anyway.

Writing about mini lesson plans is almost as fascinating as doing them. I have a lot more to say but I'm out of both time and brain juice, so for now I'll say, "to be continued"... I will update later with links for those interested in shopping and continue in a separate article for mini lesson plans with other kinds of models beyond trains.

Places to shop for model trains and related items:
What do you say? Do you have a train under your tree, a favorite train-related resource, or a train story to tell?
Brought to you in association with with Christmas train choices and plenty of Brio items.

Learning Links

Web page tabs are stacking up fast again and it's time to share learning links. Here are some great links that are laying around unused by me and you might as well have them :-)
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a vast collection of information on their website. Your family might like to join in with Project Feederwatch. Check out their wonderful Homeschoolers Guide to Project Feederwatch. I love our little feathered friends; anyone else wish they could fly?
  • My bloggy friend Janet at Adventures in the 32-Aker Wood pointed me to I Love Mountains. Janet lives right next to a place where a mountain top is being removed for coal mining. Understandably she has had quite a lot to say about this recently. I'm still trying to process all of it. The I Love Mountains website allows you to track companies who are cutting off mountain tops and see whether the coal from these mines is being used by your local electricity supplier. Personally I do love mountains and I'd like to do something to help... still thinking about what that should be.
  • If you want to find bloggers who live close to you, is a great resource. I guess they know from your ISP address where you are located and they serve you up local blogs with the highest rated at the top. What a useful little tool if you want to locate others nearby who share your interests.
  • Watch out for the computer virus that comes in an e-mail and pretends to be UPS or FedEx trying to deliver a package to you. Read about the UPS/FedEx Delivery Failure Virus at Actually my computer virus checker detected this on an e-mail I received this morning. If you've not received it yet it's likely only a matter of time!
  • A week or so ago I somehow managed to discover something called Reborn Baby Dolls. These are baby dolls that ladies spend hours hand painting and crafting so that they are VERY realistic baby look-alikes. Although some of them are almost freaky, I can't help but admire the craftsmanship and patience that goes into these. Not only does the skin look very realistic, but they are weighted to resemble real newborn babies. You can read about reborn baby dolls and there are plenty of websites to browse, including, WhoopsyDaisyBabies, and ButterflyBabiesbyBecky. If you were just wondering what to do with your spare time, take a little crawl around these sites, or look on e-bay for reborn dolls. Let me know what you think.
Brought to you by - meeting your Usborne Books needs in Kansas City and beyond (Johnson County, Kansas; Wichita, Kansas; Independence, Lee's Summit, North and South Kansas City, Pleasant Valley and Liberty, Missouri; Virginia and New Jersey).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WW Whiteboard Schooling

Scribbit's Message Board

Scribbit, one of my favorite bloggers, goes out of her way to help people. Her latest way to help is her Scribbit Message Board post. If you have a promotion that you want to mention on her blog, this is the legitimate place to do it. Pop on over there and follow her directions to notify others of your giveaway, promotion, coupon etc.

I told you there was a reason she's a favorite blogger with me!

Brought to you by - the home of books kids love to read.

More Carnival Stuff

More selected links from today's Carnival of Homeschooling:
  • Got books? Got so many books you need to organize them? Need a plan? How about Christina's 100 Tips and Tools for Managing Your Home Library. I must admit to finding lists rather overwhelming, but I'm sure I could at least pick out a few tips to implement.
  • Got a quirky kid? Worried that you he/she will be labeled a Weird, Unsocialized Homeschooler? Being a bit of a square peg myself, this article resonates with me. After attending school from age 5 to age 23, I can't say I learned a single significant thing there about how to succeed socially.
  • Christine has what looks like a very entertaining cup game that could get brains in gear.
OK, I give up, there are so many great links. There's no point in me creating a duplicate of the carnival over here. Want more? Go and check out the 151st Carnival of Homeschooling.

Brought to you by (currently offering 20% off and free shipping) - check out their very cute, organic selection.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Fellow bibliophile Tami has done a great job of the 51st Carnival of Homeschooling. Tami chose a cooking theme and even managed to fit my submission on The Birds and Bees into that theme, which I am impressed about!

My favorites from today's carnival:
more later...

Brought to you by - meeting your Usborne Books needs in Kansas City and beyond (Johnson County, Kansas; Wichita, Kansas; Independence, Lee's Summit, North and South Kansas City and Pleasant Valley, Missouri; Virginia and New Jersey).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Artist Girl on Homeschooling

I thought it would be fun to ask Artist Girl for her take on homeschooling. I made up some questions for her, which she has answered for us below. If you are curious, and have another question to ask of a homeschool teen, feel free to post it in the comments.

Q. What is the best thing about homeschooling?
A: I would have to say the ability to plan your own schedule, whatever works for you. Of course, sleeping in is nice too!

Q. How do you imagine your life would be different if you didn’t homeschool?

A: Definitely a lot more stressful. I also wouldn’t have as much time or energy for my hobbies, like art and pets.

Q. What would you say to a parent who is thinking of homeschooling, but is worried they can’t do it?
A: I think they should try it before they give up, even if it’s just for a few days during summer break. Believe it or not, I hated the idea of homeschooling when it was first suggested to me.

Q. What is the worst thing about homeschooling?
A: It’s harder to see your friends that are still in school.

Q. What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned this year?
A: I’m not sure I could answer that question, as I learn plenty interesting things every day. However, I really enjoy learning how chemistry affects our everyday lives on the atomic level.

Q. Do you think everyone should homeschool?
A: Some people aren’t home enough to homeschool, through no fault of theirs. I’m certain there are also kids that enjoy school. Homeschooling isn’t for everybody, although there are probably a great many people who would do better if they were homeschooled.

Q. Which subject do you enjoy the most?
A: I enjoy all my subjects in different ways; but if I have to pick favorites, currently I like Math, Japanese, and Biology. Not necessarily in that order.

Q. Do you think there is a limit to what can be done with homeschooling, or with what you can teach yourself? Is there anything you are missing out on by homeschooling?
A: Sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’m behind where I should be (to prepare for college). That’s why I rely on my parents to keep me on track.

Q. What is your favorite learning resource (software, book, textbook, video series, website etc)?
A: I am pleased with the methods I chose for learning my different subjects. I have to say though, the cake goes to Teaching Textbooks. I think I’ve come further in math with them this in-complete school year than all the rest of my life put together.

There you have it, a teen take on homeschooling. It's nice to have confirmation that the benefits of homeschooling are not just a fantasy of mine! Now, what is your kid's take on homeschooling?

Here's another homeschooled kid interview - a interview with a homeschooled 11 year old.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Children's Party Cooking

Children's Party Cooking and other related books at
On my kitchen bookshelf are several cookbooks that have stood the test of time. In the days before video games (for my kids, but not necessarily for the rest of the world) a favorite activity in our house was to peruse the beautiful, colored, photos in cookery books. Pictured on the left is Children's Party Cooking, one of our favorites, which I was rather astounded to find at I mean, this book was published in the UK in 1993, yet there a good number of copies listed for sale used on here in the good ol' USA.

I'm not necessarily recommending that you rush off and get yourself a copy of this book. For sure, it is a fun book. What I want to alert you to is the power of the imagination that comes with a book like this. We have several other cookery books that have been favorites for just as long. What's different about this book, it's secret if you like, is that kids tend to be fascinated by both attractive food and birthday parties. Combining them in a book allows a child to create dreams. With most of the other cookery books I can think of, a child just dreams of a meal. A party daydream is MUCH more fun! I'm pretty sure that women's magazine editors tap into the same thing when they publish meal ideas for Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They're not just selling you a vision of food, but allowing you to create in your imagination a wonderful family occasion. Whether or not the real occasion will resemble the fantasy one is beside the point from the publisher's point of view. After all, if they hooked you, you bought!

Well, while I'm at it, I may as well give you the two for one deal here. Delia Smith's Christmas is quite possibly the adult equivalent. It's a little pricey, but both of the above books contain tried and true British recipes, with mouthwatering colored photos - at least all the recipes I've tried worked just fine - if that is any comfort. Of course you could save yourself a few bucks by reading cookery blogs and recipe websites and get almost the same experience. Maybe I'm a traditionalist, but to me sitting back with a book, my imagination, and a cup of tea is somehow rather different than browsing the web. It's also much nicer to get excited and take a book to mom, hubby, daughter, friend etc than to yell out, "Hey, I found this great recipe, come on over to the computer and see it!"

May all of your party planning be a fun escape for you!

In association with - home of the Kindle.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Favorite Blogs

I've decided to celebrate my first three months of blogging (my first post was August 13th, 2008) by saying thank you to the special bloggers who's words I enjoy reading every day. Many of my bloggy friends are regular visitors to my little blog, but others are likely much too busy with their large readership to come over here. Nonetheless, I enjoy you and I want you to know that. This list of blogs is by no means a complete list of blogs I read regularly; I already have over 80 rss feeds in my Google Reader. Just because you don't see your name here doesn't mean I don't read you and appreciate you!
  • Janet at Adventures in the 32-Aker Wood is very supportive of other bloggers. She is a regular visitor not only to my blog, but to a long list of blogs. I enjoy her mix of humorous stories and thoughtful commentary at her blog and I'm always thankful to receive a comment from her.
  • LindaB over at Occasional Scotland reminds me of the beauty and humor of my first home country with her not-so-occasional photographs. Thanks LindaB for making my day a little brighter with some not-so-gloomy views of Scotland!
  • I have to say that Peak Oil Hausfrau is not a laugh a minute. Her job is to remind me that we need to care for the Earth for the sake of ourselves and future generations. Life could change; we all need to think some about being prepared. I am more prepared from reading her posts and from keeping up with her adventures in solar cooking and her regular thoughtful postings.
  • I've long admired, well OK for 3 months, both Michelle at Scribbit and Julie at Homeschooling Ideas. Each of them was very gracious and supportive toward me with my early blogging questions and I enjoy keeping up with what they have to say.
  • Tonia at Study in Brown conveys her graciousness and love through her blog. She has recently committed to following her heart to meet the homeschooling needs of her family. Tonia, you have my admiration.
  • Holly at Unschool Days seems to have a wonderful pace of life, following her daughter as she explores the world. I enjoy sharing your adventures and your journey Holly.
  • Little Window Shoppe does a wonderful job of showcasing small businesses. I love the graphic they made up to present my book business. Emily the Editor is gracious to work with and asks nothing in return while offering much. I'm not much of a shopper, but I must say that two of today's posts have really caught my attention. Fingers crossed that I win the free limited edition blog template!
  • Last, but by no means least, Crunchy Chicken puts the mental in environmental. Crunchy has a good sense of humor, sets interesting challenges, and gets great discussions going. I may not be up to freezing my buns off, but I am inspired!
  • Oops, I can't believe I forgot to mention my friend at Home Spun Juggling. JugglingPaynes, I voted for you in the Best Homeschool Blog Awards, though I'm not going to tell you in which category. Actually I've not finished voting yet, so I'd better get my skates on! I enjoy your art and your humor :-)
If I've chosen you as a favorite please feel free to take a copy of the above graphic and display it on your blog with a link back to this post or to my blog. However, this is totally optional.

Read my book reviews. In association with - home of the Kindle.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Power of Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a neat little tool for the website and blog owner. I won't attempt to explain what Google Analytics does, because Google have cornered the market on doing a good job of that. I will, however, let you know that daily perusal of Google Analytics will not only tell you where your visitors are coming from, and whether anyone at all likes your writing enough to come back, but it can lead to a good few, free laughs!

One of the categories of information provided by Google Analytics is Keywords. You get details of the words people punched into their search engine, which turned up your website/blog and caused them to visit. Am I weird to be fascinated by this? I don't know, but I think it's useful information. For instance would you ever have guessed that the most common reason people reach my blog here is because they are searching for Wizard of Oz Lesson Plans? Try it, search on this phrase, or something similar, and my humble, little blog comes up on the first page of Google results! Well, that may be surprising, but it's not terribly amusing. Hold on, just getting to it...

Here is a list of the more unusual keyword combinations that have found my blog in the three months that I've been blogging:
  • as i go a wandering - I hope they got there.
  • flintstone's premiered-1960 - I don't remember mentioning the Flintstones!
  • "hedge apple" ethanol - wonder what they were planning...
  • 10 nice people attributes - apparently people don't know what qualifies as nice any more!
  • 47d608ad36f318f572b6b4c232 - well, no clue on this one.
  • arr where's me booty - not on my blog for sure!
  • canada economy materialism - did I talk about this?
  • galaxy bits - was this the candy/chocolate galaxy, or are we falling apart?
  • google analytics zero views - I guess someone wanted to know how to make their blog invisible, which brings us to...
  • guide to become invisible - I'm lost for words!
  • i admire you for raising your children - thank you, I appreciate that.
  • it's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht robbie burns - my favorite - who ever typed such a search term?
So, have people used weird search keywords to find YOUR blog? For personal security purposes it might be worth knowing!

Brought to you by - the home of fun reading for kids.

Learning Links

Formerly called Bits and Bobs, Learning Links is my new title for the chaos brought to my computer by manic web surfing. It's happened again, those Firefox tabs have multiplied and I now have 23 windows open, each with at least 5 tabs - that is an estimated 200 or so websites up. It's time to pass along some great learning links, in no particular order, below:
  • Fish school - lesson plans for goldfish. Watch Comet the goldfish make goals, swim the slalom, and do the limbo. What a cute, little, well trained guy!
  • Do a college search at - I've looked for college information before and this is the nicest site I've seen for finding information. It's very comprehensive, readable and nicely organized, with information that includes majors available, fees, and scholarships.
  • British citizens may want to know about the petition to stop Sharia law (Islamic/Koranic law that dictates women cover their faces and that a hand is removed for certain crimes) from being legal under arbitration. I know, it sounds very highly surprising that there could be a loophole to allow this to happen in England (I'm not clear on whether this is just England, but Scotland has it's own law system so I'm guessing that it does not apply to Scotland), but I have checked it out and it's no joke. Read more about it at The Times Online.
  • A topic worth a whole post, which I don't have time to write about today, but luckily another homeschooling mom did (she did a muuuuch better job than I would)! Resistance: a communication tool. Every parent and homeschooler has encountered resistance in their kid/spouse etc. This is an extremely thorough and thoughtful article that I think every parent needs to read. Really, make sure you check it out, your stress level will thank you!
  • How your categories and tags help or hurt your blog. I searched around and this is the best of the articles I found on effectively using tags/labels. "A great blogger will take the time up front to plan out the blog's categories..." Ummm... I'm not a great blogger yet I guess. I'll work on it!
  • - the place to find and submit to carnivals. Think outside the box - you might find a whole new set of readers.
  • Wow, this site is beautifully laid out and jam-packed with links to help bring history alive! Check out George Washington's Rules of Good Behaviour, Writing the Declaration of Independence, and, for my British friends, The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots. I must add this site to my right-hand homeschooling links menu!
  • Take a look at the wonderful, homemade, books, and more from a homeschooling family working with autism, visual-spatial learners, unschooling and foster/adoption. I love how they made books where the child is the star and somehow pasted amongst bison, bears and wolves.
There are many more learning links for me to post. Later... Do let me know your favorite!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Old Cowtown Museum , Wichita, KS

It's Not Fair!

It's not fair, just when I thought I couldn't take up any more of my time reading blogs, leaving comments etc, I discovered the Homeschool Blog Awards today over at Home Spun Juggling. Now I really can't vote based solely on whether I've ever heard of any of the blogs in a specific category, I really have to be thorough, and fair, and read all the blogs to find my favorite before I vote. Argh!

So far I think I've managed to cripple my computer loading up just half of the blogs in the very first category. It's total agony. I've read two blogs that are new to me so far and I love them both! My gosh, there are so many talented writers out there. I feel exceedingly surprised, and grateful, that anyone at all comes here to my humble little blog to read and comment when they could be off elsewhere reading stuff that is much more amusing, much more nicely arranged on the page, and probably more informative.

So, a big thank you to my loyal readers who keep me writing, and make this blogging lark enjoyable. Hopefully you won't all be lured away after you visit the Homeschool Blog Awards!

The Birds and the Bees

Over at you can find this book used for $0.01.
Just for Janet over at 32-akre wood, I thought we should talk about the Birds and the Bees today. I don't mean the kind with wings, which I do dearly love, but the awkward question kind that kids are prone to ask while standing at the supermarket checkout. Why do they choose that precise moment? I even have the answer to that! Just so you know, this article is PG - no references to body parts will be made, unless you include feet. Update, update, I did mention the word womb. Read on...

Thankfully for Janet The Queen popped the question in the secure environment of home. Unfortunately for Janet she just wasn't very prepared. Not that I'm criticizing because she did manage to field the question when it was passed off to her by the Mountain Man. Well done Janet, but so that you can be prepared for the future, because of course these kind of questions have boomerang capabilities, let's get some ways to handle this down pat so that you can be a star instead of a fish with your mouth open! I'm treading on wobbly territory here so let's hope I don't dig myself a hole, or end up with my foot in my mouth, so to speak. Just so you know, this article is PG. Um... is there a parrot around here, I think I said that already.

The book pictured above is one that made it onto my bookshelf way back when my eldest was an innocent 5 year old or so. Imagine that, I actually planned ahead! But is this book any good and what does it contain? Would I recommend it? For me, I count this book in the parental reassurance category. Like the books on how to play all kinds of games with your baby, it's a book that seemed like it should belong in my home. I mean, every parent needs one of these so that they'll know what to do. Right? Whether or not you read it or use it is kind of irrelevant. It's there in the way that an emergency supply of large bandages is. The chances are that if you need it you'll be too busy calling in the emergency services, or your frantically struggling unprepared brain cells in this case, to go and pick up any book. Get it, read it, you'll know what kinds of questions kids ask, you'll know what parents are supposed to say at each and every age and then you can proceed to immediately forget all the details and fly by the seat of your pants when little Johnny pops the question. I mean, parental self-help books are great, but who actually remembers all that stuff you're supposed to do when they actually need to use it? Certainly not me! I promise I am going to tell you why kids ask at the supermarket checkout. If you're still reading, so far so good!

On to what I do actually recommend to prevent those awkward moments. This is where I realize that I have an overactive imagination. Pictured on your left is See Inside Your Body, a fantastic, flap-ridden Usborne book that arguably every family should have a copy of. But wait a minute, where did the picture of baby inside mom go to? I was convinced it was in there. I checked every page, I even read the contents: your amazing body; eating and excreting; breathing air; pumping blood; bones and muscles; brain power; the senses; drinking and peeing; body words. No, absolutely NO reference to the reproductive system, not even in the body words. Well, what about The Usborne Complete Book of the Human Body? Surely that contains graphic images. Well, actually no, it doesn't. There is one double page spread entitled conception and birth which shows no body parts. It does talk about how the man and woman get together in a very tasteful and factual way - "they fit together" and the names of various organs are in that section. Then there's a double page spread on babies in The Usborne Internet Linked Children's Encyclopedia, which has a few drawings of disembodied wombs, 4 sentences about birth, one of which is "It makes the mother tired.", and 5 sentences about making a baby, with no organs described or named. Tasteful is the order of the day and I'm not sure these would be enough to give The Queen the information she needs to prevent further questions.

What I'm trying to say here is that personally, like Janet, I've found simple and factual to be the best approach. Having a book around the house which shows some basics may prevent questions in the first place, or at least give a parent the few sentences they need and provide a safe environment for conversation. I took another look at and Where Do Babies Come From?, a Dorling Kindersley book, might fit the bill if you want a book that is solely focused on this topic. If you really tell some truth and don't say "from under a cabbage leaf", or "the stork brings babies", the chances are your kids will be grossed out. But I can assure you, they don't seem to be in any way damaged by it. Something simple like "the man and the woman get together and make a baby, which grows inside the mom's womb and when the baby is big enough it comes out a special passageway", seemed to work for us. Come to think of it, I'm sure I did learn something from that book pictured way up at the top. It was to ask first where the question came from so that you understand what the child really is asking. It's helpful to make the answer as short as possible, either that or start into a long discussion that goes something like this, "Well, I'm really glad you asked that. First of all the man and woman must get to know each other, to know that they get along together...", if you're lucky little Mary's eyes will glaze over as she foresees a long lecture which will require more of her attention than she is prepared to give right at that point. When she beats a hasty retreat you can head for the bookshelf and start frantically studying for the next time she tests you.

And why do kids ask awkward questions at supermarket checkouts? Have you ever read the front pages of the magazines on display there? They are real vocabulary builders. And if your kid chooses that awkward moment, it's OK to say, "I really want to answer your question, but let's do it later because I'm busy packing groceries right now." The trick is to be like a boy scout and be prepared. You've read this article so, well done, now you've got it covered.

By the way, I'd be happy to field any questions, read your funny stories, or answer more questions about any of the above books. If you have a story you want me to link to let me know.

From my readers:
  • Alison of Everyday Best recommends It's So Amazing. You can see in an inside view by following the link, or pop over to this other homeschooling Alison's blog if you want to leave her a question.
  • Kat recommends Golden Book How We are Born, which appears to be out of print. have a few used copies available through their marketplace. Check the comments if you want more details of why Kat likes this book.
Brought to you by your independent educational consultant with Usborne Books at Home - home of a choice of over 1,300, wonderful, engaging, colorful books kids love to read. And in association with, with parenting books to answer all your questions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

From Refugees to Heroes

I don't want to imagine what it would feel like to have to flee my home because my life was in danger. Still, I imagine I might survive many things provided my family was intact. As a subscriber to blogcatalog I was asked to take part in Bloggers Unite, today, November 10th and blog about the plight of refugees. Knowing how devastated I'd be if this happened to me I could hardly refuse. So here's my post. By the way, Refugees United provides a way for refugees to find missing family members while remaining anonymous.

Blogcatalog have set up a nice page with suggested links to organizations and information about the plight of refugees. I took a look and picked out the following as my favorites: Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and stories of refugees at The British Red Cross site. I also want to mention stories of refugees who are making a new life in the USA and who wrote their own stories as they study English in a local USA college. Obviously though we can't rescue every refugee and bring them to the USA. Displaced people need water, food, shelter, a way to reconnect with seperated family members, and, additionally, their dignity.

The previously mentioned Women's Commission... are starting an initiative today called Beyond Firewood: Fuel Alternatives and Protection Strategies for Displaced Women and Girls. Apparently refugee women and girls who go out searching for firewood are in personal danger. Aid food that is provided needs cooking and fuel is a limited resource. Obviously it's in everyone's best interest if they are able to conserve fuel by using alternative, fuel-efficient cooking strategies. Being as I support the use of stick fueled rocket stoves, solar ovens, and other fuel-saving alternatives I thoroughly approve of this initiative.

Now onto the hero part. Last week I had the honor of meeting a real live hero. Yohannes Gebregeorgis is one of 10 nominees for the CNN heroes award. As a political refugee from Ethiopia, he arrived in Texas in 1981. After putting himself through college and obtaining a graduate degree in library science, Yohannes worked as a children's librarian in San Francisco. In 1988 Yohannes started the non-profit organization Ethiopia Reads. He began working with others who care about children in Ethiopia and opened the first ever free public Ethiopian children's library in 2003. Yohannes told me last week that a second Ethiopian children's library has now been opened. My favorite of all is the donkey mobile library, which takes books out of the city to children who know how to read but have never held a book. You can read more about Yohannes at CNN, vote for Yohannes and/or other heroes at, and see a picture of the donkey mobile library at Ethiopia Reads.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers

I did my first submission to the carnival of cool homeschoolers and the carnival is up at:

My regular readers will have already read the post I submitted, but do go and check out the other cool links to homeschoolers blog posts. There are also details of two other carnivals - one for homeschooled kids' blogs and the other for homeschool kids creations.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Grumpy Today

I'll admit it, I'm a little grumpy today. I don't consider my blog to be my favorite place to vent, but I'd like to know what you think. Maybe this does even have some relevance for homeschooling, at least my kids and I are certainly learning stuff here!

As the owner of a small business I need to find ways of getting out into my community and meeting new people who may be interested in working with me. If you are in sales one of the established ways of meeting new people is to do vendor events - fairs, festivals, bazaars and marts. Yet the more I do this the more I'm realizing that there are a bunch of folks out there who feed off the fees of small business owners like hungry sharks sneaking up and taking bites. The question is, is this reasonable, and if not what should small business owners do about it?

I'll give you an example. Last night I paid $85 ($60 table fee and $25 donation to a PTA auction) to attend an event which I was led to believe was established and had PTA support. I was quoted estimated sales of $500-1,200 per vendor for the previous year's event. I don't expect any kind of guarantee on my sales at an event like this, but I do expect the organizer to be responsible for generating traffic. Needless to say attendance at this event was far below what I'd been led to expect and there are plenty of clues to convince me that it wasn't a whole lot different the year before. My loss from this event turned out to be $63, and that's before I event count mileage or business overheads. Now the thing is that this event was a success for the organizer. There were 15 vendors there, which generated around $1,275 in fees for the PTA. I can't imagine that the PTA put out more than $275 in costs for photocopying and signage, therefore they made a nice little profit of around $1,000, meaning that for the organizer this was a success and they'll be happy to do it again next year, assuming they can find vendors.

No doubt I was not the only vendor who was disappointed with this event, but the thing is that there are a seemingly unlimited supply of small business owners, many of them in their first year of business, looking for events to do. Where's the incentive for an organizer to change their behavior when they can just go out and find a whole new set of businesses who will take part?

Well, the lessons my kids are learning from this may not be the ones I'd had in mind when I started up in business, but it's certainly learning. What do you think? Should a vendor expect a fee that is in line with the traffic for an event? Should organizers get away with raising funds at the expense of a different set of vendors each year? Is there something I should be doing to change this?

Friday, November 7, 2008

M is for...

the letter game, passed to me by Janet over at Adventures in the 32 Aker Wood. Janet passed me the letter 'M'. What fun! Ten things I love that start with 'M', in no particular order:
  1. Mountains, marshes, moss, meandering, and maps, especially the meandering, which makes the maps handy.
  2. Music - I simply can't imagine life without it.
  3. Mothers and mummies - I'm thankful for the long chain of women passing back through time.
  4. Meat free meals and mints.
  5. Mice, moles, mongrels and magpies - gotta love those adorable, scruffy, brown-eyed mongrels.
  6. Media, magazines and mail.
  7. Merry Christmas, magic, moonlight and mangers - we all need a little magic in our lives.
  8. Memories, macaroon, Mull and Mac... - it's the Scot in me.
  9. Marriage - I wasn't good at being single.
  10. Mercy, The Matrix.

Want to play? Leave me a comment and I'll send you a letter to play with. Yes, I cheated a little and put more than one similar item on each number in my list. What is life without stretching the rules just a tad!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's Our Country

I have now voted and can no longer say I have no voice and no involvement. I think it’s time to think about what to do next. This time it’s not a case of “the election is over, let’s all go back to business as usual”. I don't think any of us have missed the reality that there are major issues to be handled. A charismatic leader is a vital part of a country's success, but it is OUR country and I think we are responsible for a lot more than watching TV and deciding who to vote for. Still, most of the problems we face are very complex. I can't say I have a grasp of something I should be doing on a daily basis. I do hope not only that there are experts out there who can determine what will work, but that the experts can be listened to and evaluated and actions taken. Is this a case of not knowing the answers, or of not being able to implement the answers? What roadblocks are there? Are you apathetic, just distracted by your own daily challenges, or can you simply not figure out what it is you can do to help? Or are you already doing something but you think others need to too?

Lisa over at BlogHer wonders what we are going to do to change our community. Whether you live in America or not, what are you doing, or what do you plan to do?

Do you think it's enough to just care for your family and let the government take care of the rest, or do we all need to be doing something? If we need to be doing something, who will tell us what that should be? Are you getting a clear message on changes you should make, or is this just someone else's problem? Where should we look for anwers?

Maybe you are a homeschooler. As homeschoolers I think we already are engaged in a way that some other people are not. Perhaps we see problems with an emphasis on learning facts at the expense of learning to do something useful and be part of a community. Maybe we wanted to remove our kids from the materialism and peer pressure that goes along with being part of a group at school. But, if our economy is built on spending, what happens if we all become frugal? I've been thinking about this a lot lately and I'd like to explore the topic further in the weeks ahead.

What would a better America, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Germany, Poland, Brazil, Guatemala, Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium or India look like to you? In the last two weeks I've had visitors from all of these countries. I'd love to hear what you think. Where should we be focusing our energies?

What do you have to say :-)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Voting Story

Being a new American citizen, this is my first election to vote in. What an election to choose (well it wasn't that much of a choice for me as becoming a citizen is a lengthy process)! Nonetheless I did have the choice to apply for citizenship and I am excited that I am now part of the American political process, for better or worse. As far as I remember the last time I voted in something equivalent was when Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party won the UK general elections and Margaret became Prime Minister. That was more than a few years ago! I have been impatient for this whole election to be over and so I voted last Friday at an advance voting location. I have to say that despite the one hour wait it turned out to be a very pleasant experience.

When I arrived at the advance voting location and joined the line I had no clue what the wait time would be. However, the couple who stepped up to join the line after me, and others in front, who all joined in the conversation, soon let me know that the wait would be about an hour. OK, that was a little longer than I'd expected - I'd been thinking more about 30 minutes would be a reasonable wait. Since I was already there and had no clue what the lines would be like today, on election day, it seemed easier to wait it out. I'm glad I did because I was able to take part in my good deed for the day.

Soon after I began waiting I noticed an elderly couple - the lady was in a wheelchair and the gentleman who was pushing her wheelchair was looking at the line with a perplexed expression on his face. Their voting cards were sticking out of the gentleman's front shirt pocket. They looked at the line for a few minutes then moved off to stop at some benches for a rest. The lady behind me, who was obviously a very friendly kind of person, and I began to talk about this couple. "Surely someone nearer the front would let them into the line!", I exclaimed. My line neighbor said she'd go off and talk with them. She relayed to them that they were welcome to go in front of us and to just sit on the benches until we were close to the front. Thus began a very pleasant chance to converse with some American neighbors.

At this point I'd be hard-pushed to say exactly what we talked of, but for that 40 or so minutes, while we waited to cast our votes and exercise what is arguably our most important right as citizens, it didn't matter who the candidates were, or how we were going to vote, we simply enjoyed the camaraderie of some fellow human beings.

As the results come in tonight I hope that each of us will be able to think of the fact that we are all imperfect human beings on a quest to do our best for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, and our country. May all of the next President's mistakes be small ones!

Aesop's Fables

Aesop's Fable print at
This week's Carnival of Homeschooling follows an Aesop's Fables theme. What a fun way to organize the entries :-)

I'm rather fond of Aesop's Fables and apparently I'm not the only one! I've recently been writing about leveled reading books over at UsborneReading. Coincidentally several of Usborne's early level reading books feature beautiful adaptations of Aesop's Fables, including The Fox and the Crow, The Fox and the Stork, and The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. Usborne also publishes an attractive gift hardback Aesop's Fables book which is perfect for bedtime story reading or for reading at grandma and grandad's house.

If you want to read Aesop's Fables without illustrations they, and many more classic folk tales, are available for free at Enjoy!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Somethin Fishy

When it comes to the election, this year you might be excused for thinking that somethin fishy is going on, at least if you read the news report about the dead goldfish who was offered the vote in Illinois. Of course I'm not sure why someone would use the name of their goldfish to register a telephone line - that seems a little fishy to me!

Let's hope we won't hear any fishy stories of voting and counting on Tuesday. The only fishy stories I want to hear are to do with cute, little, goldfish.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lessons I Learned From My Goldfish

Fish School at
Children can learn a lot from pets; in fact we all can if we stop and think about it. Most of the lessons seem simple, but perhaps they are actually profound.

The very first pet I ever part-owned was a goldfish, won at a carnival, and proudly carried home in a plastic bag. I was very, very excited about having a pet. After we got home Goldie was temporarily housed in a bucket until we could get to a pet store to secure an appropriate glass globe bowl for him. Once safely installed in his bowl, Goldie was overfed and under-cared-for to a dramatic extent. It's a testament to the toughness of goldfish that he lived for what seems to me like a long time (most likely several months), rather than a mere matter of hours. So what exactly can I thank Goldie, and the string of pet goldfish who followed, for?
  1. There's stuff around us that we can't see. Somehow Goldie's bowl if left uncleaned would start to grow green algae. It was a great mystery to me how algae could appear apparently from nowhere. My parents' explanation that algae could come out of thin air seemed like magic, yet it taught me that there are great mysteries all around us and we can't always believe our eyes.
  2. It takes energy to maintain a steady state. Goldie's bowl did not stay clean without effort on the part of my parents. I'm ashamed to say that when I was a child the way we cleaned out a goldfish bowl was as follows: on a weekly basis goldfish and water were tipped into our dishwashing bowl; the bowl was cleaned out with a cloth or sponge; fresh tapwater was put into Goldie's bowl; Goldie was caught in a jar or mug and emptied back into his nice, clean bowl. You'd have thought he'd be happy at that point.
  3. Living things need clean water that is not polluted with chemicals. Abrupt change leads to shock. Since we'd paid no attention to getting rid of the chlorine in tap water or to getting the water up to room temperature Goldie was rather shocked on return to his bowl.
  4. Alcohol makes you go kind of crazy. If Goldie's shock on return to his bowl looked like it was too much for him, the usual remedy was to add a few drops of brandy to his water. I kid you not! At that point he would zoom around his bowl at hyperspeed and either recover, or deteriorate quickly and be destined for flushing down the toilet.
  5. We feel better if we take deliberate action, no matter if it is inappropriate and futile, rather than watching something go wrong while we fail to act. I'm sure that the brandy did not help Goldie one bit, but I hated to stand and watch him wobble around the bowl in his "nice, fresh, water" and felt that I should be doing something to help. Pleading with my parents caused them to bring out the brandy. At that point I felt I'd done my best to help him (or subsequent goldfish) whatever the outcome.
Apparently I could even have learned about operant conditioning by training Goldie. As it is, today while thinking about the Earth and our finite resources I was reminded of Goldie and his life in the goldfish bowl. I'm satisfied that goldfish toys would have been an unimportant distraction from the important things in life.

Thank you Goldie for some very important lessons and I'm sorry that I did not take better care of you :-(
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