Thursday, June 28, 2007

Yet Another Warning About Imported Food

The ink was barely dry on my last post when I happened to see a report published today that stated that the FDA has detained possibly tainted fish from China. This fish, imported for consumption by you and me, may contain antibiotics and antifungals that are not allowed in food in this country.

Apparently the Chinese have a history of importing tainted fish to the U.S. From the article:

The use of drugs in foreign fish farming operations has long been a concern of federal and state regulators. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi recently banned imports of catfish from China after tests detected antibiotics not approved for use in farmed seafood.

"Clearly the addition of these drugs, it's a deliberate event," Margaret Glavin, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, told reporters. "If they stop adding them, the problem is going to go away."

According to the article, only 5% of farmed fish from China is actually inspected by the FDA. I'm thinking Andy and Opie were wise to spend their free time down at the fishin' hole.

Watch What You Put In Your Mouth; You Don't Know Where It's Been

I've always tried to make sure my family ate good food so they would be healthy. I make a lot of their favorites from scratch, and I try to limit the amount of junk food that comes through here. But the U.S. government is making it much harder for me to buy food that I believe to be safe for my family because it has not required labels of origin on all food.

One of the results of the global economy is that we are inundated with food from other countries, where safety standards for food are at a much lower level than ours, if they have any standards at all.

Take apples, for example. According to this article:

Fifteen years ago, China grew fewer apples than the United States. Today, it grows five times as many - nearly half of all apples grown in the world.

This, of course, is hurting U.S. apple orchards, because the Chinese can undercut them on price big-time; they pay their pickers only 28 cents an hour. But it's also hurting us, because even though we can buy apples at lower prices, who knows what's in them. Pollution in China is terrible, and the chemicals in their air and water can't help but affect what's growing there.

I've written about problems with Chinese-made medicine and pet food, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are now concerns about Chinese-grown food. But the fact is that our supermarkets are being flooded with largely unchecked food from countries all over the world, and we can't always tell where our food is from because our government is not requiring producers and distributors to label the food with its country of origin.

To play it safe for our families, we need to:

  1. Tell our legislators to require all foods, whether raw or processed, to be labeled clearly with their country of origin.
  2. Inform grocery store managers that we will choose labeled food over unlabeled food.
  3. Buy produce from local growers whenever possible.
I realize that last option will cost more money than buying produce imported from China, but as the Chinese standard of living rises and so do the wages (up from 28 cents an hour), they will charge much more for their apples. By then our apple orchards will have been driven out of business, unless we do something now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Aren't You a Bit Curious?

I must say, I'm in awe of these young homeschooling mommy bloggers who host blog carnivals while under the threat of impending surgery.....and even incorporate that event in their carnival's theme. If that doesn't get you wondering what all Shannon has over at this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, then you must not have a curious bone in your body!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Leaving Freedom at the School's Front Doors

A 13-year-old seventh-grader is sent to the school office for the crime of hugging his girlfriend in school. After agreeing that he's way too young to have a girlfriend at all, we are left with the fact that he got in trouble not because of PDA specifically, but because there is no touching of ANY kind allowed there--no hand shakes, no pats on the back, no high-fives. The school he attends is yet another place where the theory of zero-tolerance is embraced.

Zero-tolerance believers are the reason a first-grader once got suspended for pretending his chicken nugget was a gun. Zero-tolerance is loosely translated as "we can't assess anything without having to form a committee, so we'll just say no to everything."

Beyond the silliness (and laziness) of zero-tolerance proponents, what I found most disturbing about this story is this:

Hal's troubles began one day in March when he got up from his assigned cafeteria table and went to a nearby table where his then-girlfriend was sitting. He admits he broke one rule -- getting up from his assigned table without permission -- and he accepts a reprimand for that. "The table thing, I'm guilty," he said.

He has an assigned seat in the cafeteria? He has to ask for permission to get up from it? Wow---I well recall how little freedom we had in school when I was a kid, yet we had much more than some of today's kids have. Never having sent a child to school, I'm just not up on these things, I guess.

But just for the record, at our house, being homeschoolers means we allow hugging in our school, no one has an assigned seat, and no one has to ask for permission to leave their seat except our youngest, who is still expected to ask Dad to be excused from the dinner table.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Let the Pendulum Swing

A while back I wrote about a new book coming out that brings back the idea of boys being boys. Now one of that book's authors has written a piece in the Washington Post about that same idea:

We wanted to write a book that celebrated boys -- with all their differences and geeky love of knowledge, skills and stories. There just isn't anything wrong with trying to do that.
We all care about our sons -- scabby knees, competitive spirits and all. It's about time we let our schools and governments know how much we care. Let the pendulum swing.

Know Your Rights

HSLDA is reporting that here in Illinois, a homeschooling family received repeated calls, up to several a day, from local school district officials after they pulled their kids out of school to homeschool them.

In this particular case, the family sicced Chris Klicka on them and the calls have stopped. But even if you don't belong to HSLDA, you need to know your rights and fight for them. That's the only way to deal with bullies, whether they're in the school yard or the school district offices.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You Can Get Burned When You Fight Fire With Fire

Savannah and her mother are fed up with the foul language used in class by her music teacher. Their complaints to the teacher and the school administration go unheeded. So Savannah makes her grievance known in a more public way.

It seems to me that there were other avenues open to Savannah and her mother, more prudent ones that still would have been heard. A letter to the editor of the local newspaper comes to mind. But what Savannah did was over the top. The parents of small children in the audience must have been pretty upset by it. I know I would be.

A Quick Trip

Dd23 and I spent yesterday traveling to and from Door County, WI on a lovely road trip that included such essentials as McDonald's iced coffee, ice cream and fudge. Not bad considering we were only gone for 15 hours! Dd is looking to move up north (we thought we'd move up there before her but it's not working out that way), and I came along to help her look.

We talked most of the way there and back; how nice it is once our kids grow up and become our close friends!

I took some photos on the shores of Lake Michigan; however, I haven't learned how to download them from our new camera yet. Hopefully I'll be posting them soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Top Ten Tools for Homeschooling Parents

Every profession requires tools, and homeschooling is no exception. While it’s possible to homeschool your children with paper, pencil and a few good books, we homeschoolers tend to be a curious lot, always on the lookout for fun new products to add to our homeschool.

That’s why this list does not include curriculum. There are so many great products out there that I could come up with a list a mile long. Instead, I’m looking back on our family’s 20 years of homeschooling experience in order to list the top ten tools that made life easier for me as a homeschooling parent.

Let’s do this chronologically. We began homeschooling with some books, paper and pencils, and craft supplies. Each day we worked at our kitchen table; we finished our work after an hour or so, and then stacked our books and papers on a little three-shelf unit in our dining room. As you probably know from your own experience, that didn’t last long. Soon our little individual stacks began tipping over, and I got tired of picking up and sorting the mess that resulted. So I bought three plastic boxes with lids; one for me, one for my daughter, and one for my son. They decorated theirs with stickers. Today, we still use “school boxes,” as we call them, at our house. They’re big enough to hold a stack of books and papers, plus pencils and pens.

All homeschoolers learn that books reproduce like rabbits; soon we were surrounded by books, and it became obvious that we needed bookshelves. We began with one simple wooden bookshelf built by my husband, but it eventually became clear that we required something much larger. So we bought an entire wall of bookshelves. With open shelves on the top, and doors covering the bottom two rows of shelves, I could put books on the top shelves and school boxes, games, manipulatives and craft supplies on the shelves behind the doors; our room looked much neater as a result.

The very best part of this major purchase was that we were able to include a lateral file in the bookshelf system. It was a great blessing to finally be able to file everything instead of digging around for it. Teacher’s keys, achievement test results, invoices for book/curriculum purchases, the children’s completed work----all of these had been the object of frantic searches in the past, but that ended once I had a filing system right in our schoolroom. (The details of my homeschool filing system can be found in "The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling.")

Throughout our homeschool "career,"some form of plan book kept us on track. At first I merely recorded what we did each day in a simple datebook. For many years, I bought a teachers’ plan book and made lesson plans ahead of time (that’s what I did when I was homeschooling all four of my children at one time). These days I use Donna Young’s free planning sheets for my high schooler, and a planning sheet I designed specifically for my son; it includes the goals on his Individual Education Plan (IEP). Even if you’re a freewheeling unschooler, keeping a record of what your kids have been doing will be very helpful someday when you’re assembling transcripts for them.

Two tools that made our school day easier were the answering machine and the calculator. The phone always seemed to ring right in the middle of a tough math problem or when someone was reading aloud to me. The answering machine (and later voice mail) allowed us to stay on track. Keeping a calculator at our school table made it easy for me to grade problems and figure out GPA’s once my children were older.

A VCR (and later on, a DVD player) was essential to our success in homeschooling. When my younger children were little, educational videotapes kept them occupied while I worked with the older children. In addition, we were able to tap into the wealth of educational videos at our local library for the older children because we had a VCR. A while back, my teenage daughter and I watched a series on DVD about the Revolutionary War that had been originally produced for cable television (which we do not have). That series came from our public library.

The computer has been part of our homeschooling effort for the past 13 years. At first we used it for educational games, such as “Oregon Trail” and “Dr. Brain.” As the children got older, they wrote their term papers and essays on the computer, which is good practice for college and future jobs. My youngest son, who has developmental delays, learned so much from games that used repetition to help him practice the basics, such as counting and the alphabet. I used the computer to design my teens’ high school transcripts, and to make customized worksheets and sight word cards for my youngest.

My most recent acquisition is something I should have bought a long time ago: a copier. When I think of all the hours I spent over the years collecting dimes and driving to the public library so I could photocopy reproducible worksheets and maps, I can’t believe I waited so long. What a blessing it is to have a copier in the house! These days they’ve come down so much in price that they’re irresistible; mine cost me less than $200 and it is also my printer.

To summarize, here are nine of my top ten tools for homeschoolers:

1) school boxes
2) a wall of bookshelves
3) a lateral file
4) a plan book
5) an answering machine or voice mail
6) a calculator
7) a VCR or DVD player
8) a computer
9) a copying machine

As for the tenth tool, I’ve saved the best for last. It’s prayer. We would not be homeschooling today if it weren’t for prayer. Panicked prayers, hopeful prayers, and prayers for patience (lots of those prayers) -----I’ve prayed for guidance before buying curriculum, before joining homeschool groups and before teaching hormonal teens. All ten tools have been blessings to me as a homeschooling parent, but the most important one by far is prayer!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Manipulating Public School Children

I think we're all pretty much aware that children in public schools are often not taught that there are two sides of an issue. This article, written by a group of Maine fourth-graders, is certainly evidence of that. Even though there are many prominent scientists who disagree with the global warming theory, these children have been taught that global warming is not only a certainty, but imminent:

Have we ever wondered what life might be like in 50 to 100 years? We might have imagined big robotic cities and flying cars, but I bet we didn't imagine huge cities and tall skyscrapers underwater. Well, that's what life will be if we keep burning fossil fuels without thought.

Let's scare these poor kids to death with a theory, and then put a guilt trip on them about whose fault it is that this is happening. Nice. Just one more reason to teach your kids at home.

As for the commenter at that article site who suggested that homeschooled kids merely parrot their parents' attitudes, that is a gross generalization, but even in the cases where it is true, our society is better off with citizens who have a variety of opinions than citizens who have all been taught the party line, don't you think? Groupthink is the antithesis of free thought.

The Wedding

We had a great time at our son's wedding over the weekend. (I hope to post some photos soon.) Ds22 arrived in town on Wednesday and we had a nice family dinner with just the six of us (dd23 drove in for it). Then on Thursday, ds22 drove to Milwaukee to pick up one of the groomsmen whose car was in the shop; he stayed here until the wedding.

On Friday everyone rehearsed for the wedding ceremony, which was nice, and then came back here for dinner, nearly 30 people in all. Then came the big day, and the ceremony went off without a hitch. That's saying something, considering my husband comes from a long line of church fainters, and the groom also inherited that trait. But he was so happy to be finally marrying his bride that he did just fine.

It's a weird thing to see your child getting married, especially when he's the first of your bunch to do so. All these things go through your head, like thinking about when he was born, what he was like when he was little....all that sentimental stuff. Fortunately, I wore waterproof mascara, so there was little evidence of my emotional state during the ceremony.

Dd16 was one of the bridesmaids and she looked beautiful; dsds14 was a groomsman. He did a great job, although he felt the need to turn and give us the thumbs-up several times during the ceremony, just to make sure we noticed how well he was doing. :) Dd23 looked very nice in a new dress, and very relieved that she was not the one getting married, lol.

The reception was a lot of fun. We got to see relatives we hadn't seen in a while, and that was so nice, although we didn't get to spend enough time with them because so much was going on. I chose Paul Simon's "Loves Me Like a Rock" for the mother/son dance, and people said we danced ok, although no one offered to submit our names to "Dancing With the Stars." It was fun seeing our sons dance with our daughters; we also have a great video of our dsds14 leading the conga line around the room.

Yesterday we all attended church together: our family, the bride and groom, and the bride's family. That was nice. Then they all headed off to St. Louis; I sent ds22 off with a weepy good-bye. I think he's getting used to that, lol. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the post-wedding silence. It was a very nice weekend, that's for sure.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Imperfect Homeschooler, June 2007

The June issue of "The Imperfect Homeschooler" newsletter went out today. You can view the entire issue here. At the bottom is a link if you'd like to subscribe to the RSS feed for the newsletter archives, so you can access each one as it comes out. Better yet, you can find the newsletter in your email box each month by subscribing here.

(Psssst! The August issue will include a contest where everyone wins, so if you're not already a subscriber, you might want to sign up now.) ;)

Sad News

Yahoo is reporting that Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, is in a coma and near death. Her husband and four of her children are at her bedside; the fifth is en route from the West Coast.

Mrs. Graham's books have meant a lot to me and many other women. Prodigals and Those Who Love Them is a classic that has comforted countless mothers of rebellious children. Footprints of a Pilgrim is the inspiring and colorful story of her life. Her published poetry speaks volumes, as collected in books like Sitting By My Laughing Fire and A Quiet Knowing.

Mrs. Graham and her husband have been married for nearly 64 years. I'm sure many people are keeping them and their family in prayer tonight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Danger in Our Yards

I was trolling the real estate blogs (yes, I know there's only four days until the wedding, but I was just taking a little break....geez!) when I stumbled onto this post. How scary is that? Yes, liability is an issue, but how awful would it be to know that someone died after doing this on your property?

Please share the link to that post with your friends; we don't want to publicize it around young people, but we do need to be aware of this and take precautions. And note these statistics cited by the blogger in a comment below her post:

  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that one in five American teens have used Inhalants to get high.
    According to Stephen J. Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership for Drug-Free America, 22% of 6th and 8th graders admitted abusing inhalants and only 3% of parents think their child has ever abused inhalants.
    An analysis of 144 Texas death certificates by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse involving misuse of inhalants found that the most frequently mentioned inhalant (35%) was Freon (51 deaths). Of the Freon deaths, 42 percent were students or youth with a mean age of 16.4 years.
    Suffocation, inhaling fluid or vomit into the lungs, and accidents each cause about 15% of deaths linked to inhalant abuse.
    National Institute on Drug Abuse's ‘Monitoring the Future' study reveals that inhalant abuse among 8th graders is up 7.7% since 2002.
    55% of deaths linked to inhalant abuse are caused by "Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome." SSDS can occur on the first use or any use. The Inhalant causes the heart to beat rapidly and erratically, resulting in cardiac arrest.
    22% of inhalant abusers who died of SSDS had no history of previous inhalant abuse. In other words, they were first-time users.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Heads Up: Autism and Vaccinations

If you hurry*, you can catch an interesting discussion over at They're discussing the relationship, if any, between vaccinations and autism. A first-ever vaccine court will begin this week, and the commenters over at are divided about the value of this court and what good, if any, will come out of it.

I grew up in the kid-saturated Chicago suburbs in the 1960s, and I never knew anyone with autism. But today, I know several families with autistic children (including my second cousin's). I cannot imagine what they go through, and I say that as the mom of a child with special needs. Whatever comes of this court, I hope some of the questions posed by these parents are answered.

*Note: threads at only stay up for 48 hours.

Friday, June 8, 2007

One Week to Go

Don't know how much time I'll have for blogging this next week as we've reached the one-week-until-the wedding mark. Ds22's wedding is next Saturday; since he's the first of our kids to get married, we're kind of dealing with things as they come up because we've never done this before. For instance, while I did remember to buy waterproof mascara, dd16 now informs me that I need a lighter shade of pantyhose because my usual shade of Dark-Enough-to-Cover-Four-Pregnancies'-Worth-of-Varicose-Veins is too dark for my dress. Details, details.

By this time next week we'll be getting ready to do the rehearsal dinner, which is at our house, which is still up for sale. It would be just our luck that someone will want to see the house that day. But I have to stop worrying in advance about these things...each day brings plenty enough to worry about (hmm, where have I heard that before?)

Homeschooling and Job Interviews

Ds22 called today with the good news that he has been offered a job with the publishing company affiliated with our church. He is very excited, not just because he can now quit his lawn maintenance job, but because he was praying for a job with lots of interesting work, and this one sounds like it's just what he wanted.

Interestingly, the topic of homeschooling did come up in the interview. He was asked if he felt that being homeschooled up until college contributed to his college grades (he just graduated magna cum laude). He replied that he thought it did because I held him to a high standard, adding that I covered many of his papers in red ink. I cannot deny this; dh tells me my red pen is a weapon. He is right, of course, but I always felt that it would be better for my kids if I made them toe the line in the 3 R's; I wasn't that strict on the other subjects because they were more subjective and usually interest-driven.

I'm relieved that the subject of homeschooling came up in this interview and did not hurt him. Several years ago, dd23 applied for a job with a large company in our area. She aced all of their tests, and was doing very well in the interview until the interviewer asked her where she went to high school. When she said she was homeschooled, the interviewer immediately thanked her for her time and sent her on her way.

To say I was ticked off is putting it mildly. I finally had to decide that the interviewer had cost his company a good employee and it was their loss. (Dd23 went on to work for another large company for over three years, where she was promoted twice and given a lot of responsibility.) I could not believe someone would have that kind of prejudice against homeschoolers, especially against one who had just passed his silly tests with flying colors. Again, their loss. That company, btw, was called First Card and is now called Chase. My Chase card has been collecting dust ever since. Not that I hold a grudge or anything ;)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Fun Online Calculators

There's a Starbucks just a few blocks from my home, and I am always amazed at how busy it is. The drive-through seems to have a perpetual line, even at odd hours of the day. As someone whose body no longer tolerates coffee, I admit I'm a bit jealous. But I also have to wonder how people afford so much $3-per-cup-and-up coffee.

I am apparently not the only one who's curious about this. Hugh Chou also wondered this, and he did something about it. He came up with a web page that calculates how much people spend on expensive coffee in a year or over several years. He learned that some people spend literally thousands of dollars per year. Do they realize what they could do with the money they'd save if they drank the home-brewed stuff instead?

Hugh has designed a lot of other calculators that our teens can use to figure out cost savings on things like not buying pop at a restaurant or skipping the gourmet muffins at places like Panera Bread and Starbucks. Some of us SAHMs can appreciate the "Two Income vs. One Income" calculator. And Hugh's math games are great for kids of all ages. For his full line-up, check out his calculator page here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I Hit the Mother Lode of Workbooks

Today I found some great goodies for Dsds14. Even though we do a lot of hands-on learning activities that he enjoys, he loves workbooks, too. There's nothing he likes better than yelling very loudly, "Yes! I did it!" when he finishes a page.

Since he is still very into Spider-man and Scooby Doo, I was quite tickled to see these new workbooks and flash cards at my local Dollar Tree. I've found a lot of great "school" things there in the past, but today takes the cake. At $1 each, how could I go wrong? We'll have a lot of fun with these.

Monday, June 4, 2007

So Punny

Got this funny punny email forward---I should try some of these on my kids.

1. A bicycle can't stand alone... it is two tired.
2. A will is a dead giveaway.
3. Time flies like an arrow... fruit flies like a banana.
4. A backward poet writes inverse.
5. In a democracy it's your vote that counts... in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.
6. A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.
7. If you don't pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.
8. With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.
9. Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I'll show you A-flatminer.
10. When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.
11. The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine was fully recovered.
12. A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France, resulting in linoleumblown apart.
13. You are stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.
14. Local Area Network in Australia... The LAN down under.
15. He broke into song because he couldn't find the key.
16. A calendar's days are numbered.
17. A lot of money is tainted: 'Taint yours, and 'taint mine.
18. A boiled egg is hard to beat.
19. He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
20. A plateau is a high form of flattery.
21. The short fortuneteller who escaped from prison... a small medium at large.
22. Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.
23. When you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.
24. If you jump off a Paris bridge, you are in Seine.
25. When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.
26. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
27. Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
28. Acupuncture: a jab well done.
29. Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet.

NOTE: No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hillary Needs Homeschooled Help

I'm thinking Hillary Clinton needs to hire a homeschooler to help her with her sets; what do you think?

Something is Very Wrong

There is something very wrong in a world where mothers are so stressed out that they forget they have a child in their car and leave the poor thing to die in the heat; this just happened for the second time this week in Europe.

Yes, we live in hectic times, and everyone is very busy. But when things get this bad, it's time for people to take a good look at how they live and whether it's worth the price. I can't help but think the world would be a better place if people spent less time earning money to live a certain lifestyle and more time together being a family.

Back in 1980, when I was young and dumb, I was offended when we applied for the mortgage for our first home, and the mortgage company would not consider my salary part of our income; at that time, they only counted the husband's salary. But a few years later, banks and mortgage companies began including the wife's salary in their determination of how much house a couple could afford; house prices soon began the incredible ascent that has just leveled off over the past few years.

Now most families are two-income couples. Back then that was not the case. Many people call this progress. But how can we call it progress when parents are so pressed for time and stressed out that they forget where they left their little ones and leave them to die in their cars?

I think everybody needs to take a break and read Margin by Richard Swenson.