Tuesday, September 30, 2008

YouTube Tuesday

We can learn from this, or get frustrated by it. (4:09)

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Friday Five

1. What were some of the smells and tastes of your childhood?
Until I was 12, we lived in an apartment where the entrance was behind a deli; I remember the smell of baked shells. I remember the smell of all the grapes growing on the vines in the backyard of that apartment (yes, there was a backyard). My great-grandmother used to come and pick them with us. Once my parents got divorced and we moved into my grandmother's house, the smell of my Uncle E's Ivory Soap in the bathroom after he took a bath every night, is still something I vividly remember.

Tastes? Something I actually remembered a couple of weeks ago as my younger son asked me how we'd celebrate our birthdays in school, was Fudgetown Cookies. I couldn't find a photo of the box as it existed when I ate them, but least you can see what the cookies themselves looked like. They were scalloped shaped chocolate cookies with fudge in the middle. Yum!

Here's a cel from a commercial showing the characters they used to advertise them on TV. I can actually remember them!

In the box there were four packages of six cookies, and I'd give out two to each child in my class on my birthday (back in the day when we could still do that). They were great!

Another taste that I remember is a Marathon Bar; an eight inch long braided caramel bar coated in milk chocolate. I wish I could find a photo of what the candy bar itself looked like. Apparently there are some curly candies out there which are supposed to be similar, but the packaging, complete with the ruler on the back to emphasize its large size, was definitely part of the experience.

2. What did you have as a child that you do not think children today have?
Time for free play outside; a neighborhood of friends to call for. I also had a longer time to be a child. People don't protect their children from maturing too early these days. I played with Barbie Dolls till 8th grade. That's 12 years old. Know any 12-year-olds playing with Barbies now? (Barbie has such a giant head and big lips now anyway, who would want to bother?)

3. What elementary grade was your favorite?
Second grade, Sister Mary, St. Luke's School, Whitestone, NY. She was so wonderful I even invited her to my birthday party. She dropped a present off but didn't stay. She was so gentle and kind and I adored her. Otherwise elementary school was filled with cliques and I didn't belong. I was happy to get out.

4. What summer do you remember the best as a child?
My summers from my childhood (before my teens) are all a blur. I guess because they were pretty much all the same. My grandparents had a house on a lake in Maine, and they built another house across the road from it (we still to this day, refer to it as the "back house"). We'd go up for a few weeks every summer. Eventually my parents bought a little summer cottage on a pond in the same area, and once divorced my mother managed to hang on to it. Every single summer my mother packed us all up and we went to Maine the day after school ended in June. And we returned home to NY the day before school started the following September.

Although as an adult I can appreciate that my mother wanted to get my out of "the city" for the summer, the fact is, I was really lonely. We saw my mother's extended family there, but I didn't have any contemporaries. I am the oldest of my generation in my extended family. After me comes my brother and a slew of boys. The girl closest in age to me is nine years younger than me. There were no girls in our area on the pond either.

I was such a bookworm at the time. And I can remember my mother telling me to go outside and play. I remember thinking "doing what, and with whom? Most parents would be thrilled to have a child who reads all the time, what's the problem?" Thank goodness for my books; they kept me sane. I can look back in my diaries today and check the lists of books I read all summer. Someday maybe I'll drag one out and post it here.

I will say that however lonely I was for girls my own age, I did at all times feel very loved. When I think back to those days, especially in my grandparents' back house before my parents' divorce, I feel warm inside. I felt safe and secure and loved.

5. What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self, and at what age?
Don't read Emese's journal.

At age 14 my best friend Emese (pronounced Emma-shay) got her first real boyfriend, where making out was actually part of their regular activities. I kept asking her questions about what it was like. And she'd tell me she wished she could tell, but Jack (I think that was his name) told her not to tell me anything. So one day I said "well, what if I take your journal and read it, so this way you wouldn't have technically told me anything". And she replied "I guess that would be true!". Except that then she got all pissed off at me when I actually did it. We had been friends for nine years. She was my best friend all through elementary school. And she threw it all away on a stupid boy.

I suppose I did too. I threw it all away because of jealousy over a stupid boy. So now I'd tell myself "mind your own business." I so wish that at some point Emese would have forgiven me. I mean, she did tell me I could read the darn thing; I wouldn't have done it if I didn't feel she was okay with it. But when my parents divorced we moved a few blocks away, and we went to different high schools, so we never saw each other.

In the long run, I suppose it was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. Would I be the same person I am today if she were still in my life?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review of the Titanic Exhibit

Yesterday my 11-year-old son and I went to see the Titanic exhibit at the Hartford Civic Center. I couldn't find much online about the exhibit. The page on the Civic Center website is pretty "unappetizing" and I was concerned that it'd be a rip-off. But once we went, we found it was well worth it.

When we got there, we were handed two "boarding passes" and were told that we should look at the wall at the end of the exhibit to see whether we survive or not. We went ahead and purchased two audio tours and headed in. (The audio tours were of the wand-type, and could easily be shared between two or three people. They were $7 each.)

The first "room" was set up to suggest the docking area. Here we saw artifacts having to do with the outside of the boat, including the only piece of rope they have been able to retrieve. They also had big murals depicting people planning and building it.

So we stepped up on board and entered a hall which was set up like the hall would have been in first class, with doors and beautiful carpeting leading the way down to the next area. They had great sound effects too, with what sounded like a crowd cheering the ship off. The hall led to an open area with dozens of artifacts depicting what traveling in first class would've been like. It was fun to read about Margaret Brown who we knew about from the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown. And as students of "Titanicology", we really, really loved seeing all the genuine artifacts that they pulled out of the water.

Next was another hall which depicted third class. We saw a tiny room with two bunk beds in it, and got to hear what it would've sounded like down in the bowels of the ship, so near the motor. After that was one of the boiler rooms. They had a huge chunk of coal which they had retrieved from the site, and rows of furnaces where the coal was inserted (this was actually ingeniously presented with a short row elongated with mirrors). This is the room where the exhibit began to present information about the crash. On the end of it was a "wall of ice" which people were invited to touch, and thereby understand that most people died from hypothermia rather than drowning. (I had to swipe this photo off Google Images, since I actually adhered to the no picture-taking rule.)

The room we arrived in next started the focus on the retrieval efforts; a bunch of items in cases were in the middle of the room, and along the walls were those same items in photographs as they were found at the site of the wreckage. Finally we learned about the people on the ship. Along the walls were written the stories of various passengers, and below each story were artifacts connected to that person. It was really fascinating. They actually had vials of perfume from someone going to the U.S. to sell them, and holes in the exhibit so we could smell them!

Also in the last room were a couple of large panels telling stories of people specifically connected to Connecticut, and of course, the large wall where we could take out our "boarding passes" to find out if we survived.

It took us about two and a half hours to walk through, and we were really sad when it was over. Since they did not allow photographs, I was really disappointed not to find postcards in the gift shop. (Why doesn't anyone sell postcards anymore?) All they had was a book about the exhibit for 15 bucks. I just wanted a few photos so I passed and bought myself a pencil. My son was thrilled when I treated him to a piece of coal from the ship, which even comes with a certificate of authenticity. It was 20 dollars for a piece the size of a marble, but totally worth my boy's excitement at owning something which was actually on the Titanic.

I have to say that this exhibit was phenomenal. It was so well conceived and executed, and truly involved all the senses, which helped make it so memorable. It brought the story alive in a way that all the DVD's and books have only done in a way that we now realize was superficial.

If you are fans of the Titanic, I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Using your brain is hard work

Eight year old E: Hey Mom, I can count to 100 by 2's, wanna hear? 2, 4, 6, 8... 94, 96, 98, 100.

Me: Nice job E, I didn't know you could do that.

E: Wow, that really hurt my brain. There's a big hole in it now where I used it up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Confederate Flag Debate

When we went down south to The Great Smoky Mountains for our vacation a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see so many confederate flags. My husband took this one; the front of a truck. They seem to be on trucks everywhere down there; I saw a plain old pick-up truck with two giant confederate flags waving off the back of each side of the bed.

This was so disturbing to me. I had heard about the confederate flag being used in the south, or perhaps read about it at some point, but honestly never gave it much thought. Until it was right in my face.

For a moment I thought perhaps that I was so disturbed because we had recently visited the National Civil War Museum, and Belle Grove Plantation (a real plantation preserved from that era) on our way down south. But I really think I would have found it disturbing even if we hadn't visited those places.

I understand the south taking pride in where they live, just as I take pride in being a native New Yorker. But I can't understand their needing to do it to the point of insulting others. The implication certainly is that if they don't have a problem waving that flag around, they obviously don't give a crap about the black citizens they share the south with. Worse, it would seem that they believe that black folks should be slaves again. The fact is that there is no separating that flag from its history.

My son and I have recently studied the Civil War. One thing we discussed quite a bit was something I didn't get when I learned about it in school, and that is that the war didn't start out being about slavery. The south fought for their right to secede from the nation. The north fought to prevent the south from doing that. Once the north won, the war was redefined by the north as a fight for the end of slavery, since that was a result. But technically speaking, the flag was not a symbol of slavery to the south, but rather a symbol of southern pride.

That still does not change what it represents today. These days not even the word "nigger" can be used, when discussing the word itself. So in a country where conversations about "the n word" can't even contain the actual word, how can we possibly accept a confederate flag?

Seeing the flag waved around gave me a creepy feeling. Kind of like the drivers of these vehicles were implying "I got a gun inna back here, so don' be srewin' roun' wit me".

I understand freedom of speech. I can remember walking through Times Square many years ago with my best friend, who happened to be a gay man. Well, we passed a guy standing on a milk crate spewing anti-gay crap. He was holding his bible and screaming about how all fags were going to hell. I could not understand how my friend Stephen could remain calm in the face of so much blatant hatred. And he said that he was able to overlook it because he was glad to live in a place where people were allowed to spew that kind of nonsense; that it is better than living in a place where freedom of speech is not allowed, since likely that would include him not being able to live "out".

Yes, I understand the importance of free speech. I just wish I could be as gracious about it as my friend Stephen was. On the one hand I really want that flag outlawed. But what would be next to go...my right to have a bumper sticker which says "Human Milk for Human Babies" on it?

I have lots of bumper stickers on my car. But I've always been careful to keep them positive. The flag just seems so darn MEAN. I have a hard time with mean.

No matter the point of view of the person waving it; the confederate flag comes off as mean.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Update on CT SB 162

This afternoon I attended a meeting with Senator Tom Gaffey, of whom I am a constituent.

Senator Gaffey had his researchers there. They explained that the only real problem with the wording for §10-220 is that it could be seen as superseding some of the language that exists in §10-184. §10-184 has verbiage which makes it necessary for parents to go in person to remove their children from schools if their children are 16 or over and want to drop out. They are afraid that if certified letters are required to withdraw in §10-220, that parents whose children are dropping out will only send a letter and not show up in person so that "schools can talk them out of letting their kids drop out".

I suggested that they amend the language O'Neill wrote to include the fact that it applied to children 15 and under, but that it should still remain in
§10-220. The researchers who were present agreed that that is feasible. I also told the senator straight out that the homeschooling community will never allow changes to go through on §10-184, and that we will definitely be able to get it killed if this goes through as it currently is. He seemed genuinely taken aback to hear this.

I did have to leave early because of babysitting issues, but after lots of participation, finished up by saying that as a constituent, I was "asking, no, begging" that he not only please change the language back to
§10-220, but that he work with us to get it pushed through the senate the way we want it. And then he would finally have us all out of his hair. And because if it didn't get changed, it would get killed.

Senator Gaffey agrees that what is currently happening to the families this would help is unacceptable. I believe that he really does want to get this problem fixed.

Unfortunately Judy Aron really aggravated Senator Gaffey with her blog titled "Gaffey spits in the face..." He would not let her or Deborah Stevenson, of National Home Education Legal Defense, into the meeting today at all. It was 8 constituents. And him and his 1/2 dozen people. I personally am glad that they were not permitted to enter, since I went as a constituent, and wanted my own voice heard above the lawyers'. Today I wanted to represent myself.

I personally feel that Senator Gaffey is a reasonable man who really is interested in doing what is best for our children. And given the chance, he can be the advocate we need in the Senate to get this bill passed as originally written. Please take the time to write to him to ask him to do just that.

He was overwhelmed by the "over 400" emails he has received, and that's why he sent all of us who wrote a "canned response"; he simply did not have the time to send individual emails to that many people. So if you want to make sure he reads your thoughts, the best thing to do is write a letter to him at his home address. Since I easily found it on the internet, I don't see any harm in repeating it here and saving you the time of the search:

Senator Thomas P. Gaffey
64 Nutmeg Drive, Apt. C
Meriden, CT 06451-2887

I believe that the CT homeschooling community is now of one mind on this; we need to continue to work to get this bill passed as originally written.
We are now extremely confident that we really will have no problem getting it killed if it becomes necessary, so we may as well keep trying.

Please write to Senator Gaffey and your own senators in CT and ask them to represent us the way we need them to.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling

Carnival of Homeschooling #117, the April Fool's Day Edition has been published.

I have an entry posted in this carnival. Check it out.

What is a blog carnival?

"A Blog Carnival is a particular kind of blog community. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. It has a title, a topic, editors, contributors, and an audience. Editions of the carnival typically come out on a regular basis (e.g. every Monday, or on the first of the month). Each edition is a special blog article that consists of links to all the contributions that have been submitted, often with the editors opinions or remarks.

"There is so much stuff in the blog-o-sphere, just finding interesting stuff is hard. If there is a carnival for a topic you are interested in, following that carnival is a great way to learn what bloggers are saying about that topic. If you are blogging on that topic, the carnival is the place to share your work with like-minded bloggers."

Here is more information on blog carnivals.
Here is information on how to make a submission to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Movie Review: The Trail of Tears

We are heading to The Great Smoky Mountains in a couple of weeks, and one of the things we plan to do is visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in North Carolina. I checked out a few books at the library, but couldn't find anything inviting which discussed The Trail of Tears. So I checked Netflix, where I've had great luck with this sort of thing in the past, but they had absolutely nothing on The Cherokee Indians, or The Trail of Tears. Finally I went a head and spent a few bucks and bought this over at Amazon, knowing that my children will pretty much watch anything I put in front of them, as long as it doesn't "count" toward their allotted "TV time". It was worth every penny.

Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is not rated, but I'd give it a PG. There was one PG-13 part where a woman shared a story about a young girl being "attacked" by soldiers, who each waited their turn while the parents had to listen in the other room, but I fast forwarded that, having been prepared by pre-screening. It's unfortunate that that part was left in, as the rest of the movie was acceptable for my 11- and seven-year-olds. There was one part where the murder of a chief was described as having happened by him being stabbed five times, while the visual showed the rise and fall of sticks behind shrubs. All the realities of the story were presented in a way which conveyed their seriousness without the graphic violence.

I would definitely recommend watching this with children, and not leaving it to them to watch alone.

Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy was produced by Rich-Heape Films, which is a Native American owned production company. I therefore feel confident in the accuracy of the film. Several present-day Cherokees, including one who spoke in the Cherokee language, historians, and the narrator James Earl Jones, wove the story together beautifully. It was a polished combination of narrative, over acting in period costume.

From the back of the DVD box: "Thousands of Cherokees died during the Trail of Tears, nearly a quarter of the Nation. They suffered beyond imagination...and when they finally arrived in Indian Territory, they arrived almost without any children and with very few elders. In a way they arrived with no past and no future." I was happy when this quote came up in the movie itself and my 11-year-old said "I get that". My seven-year-old played with his cars in the room at the beginning, but started paying attention when the actual walking of the trail was portrayed.

I highly recommend this movie. It is an engaging way to learn about what happened to The Cherokees; to understand the hardship they faced and the realities of the government we are part of. I feel my children and I are better for having watched it.

And I look forward to stepping into history and learning more on our vacation.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

5 Favorite Podcasts

...in the order that I find time to listen to them.

Real Time With Bill Maher

Bill Maher is one of the most politically astute humorists in America today. His unflinching honesty and commitment to never pulling a punch have garnered him the respect and admiration of millions of fans. Each week, Bill's hilarious opening monologue, incisive interviews and stimulating panel discussion, as well as his extremely popular "New Rules" segment, serve to wrap up the week's most important events in a way that makes you think, as well as laugh. I listen to this one every week.

The Best of YouTube

This one is pretty self explanatory. They put out a new one every five days. It's what inspired me to start YouTube Tuesday.


TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

The TED Conference, held annually in Monterey, is still the heart of TED. More than a thousand people now attend indeed, the event sells out a year in advance and the content has expanded to include science, business, the arts and the global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience. It shouldn't work, but it does. It works because all of knowledge is connected. Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.

TEDTalks began as a simple attempt to share what happens at TED with the world. Under the moniker "ideas worth spreading," talks were released online. They rapidly attracted a global audience in the millions. Indeed, the reaction was so enthusiastic that the entire TED website has been reengineered around TEDTalks, with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world's most inspiring voices.

You can listen to many of the talks on their website, but I prefer keeping them on my iPod and listening while I'm making dinner or watching soccer practice.

Mr. Deity

This one started out really funny, but I'm not enjoying it as much as I used to. The irony used to be wonderful, but now it's getting silly. Mr. Deity is a semi-monthly video series (every two weeks) that looks at God and the Universe with a smile (and sometimes, a wink). It's a video podcast. You can watch them right online (on YouTube), but again, I prefer to put mine on a little credit card-sized computer to watch when I can. I do still watch it regularly, but I don't know for how much longer.

Thoughts on Photography

Exploring what it means to live a photographic life.
I don't have time to get to this one every week, but I enjoy it when I do. I love taking pictures, and this inspires me to consider it my art instead of just a hobby.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The homeschooling laws in CT may be changing

"If you're a homeschooler, you're automatically a member of the homeschooling movement. There are no requirements or membership fees, but you can't choose not to be a member either. Like it or not, if you're a homeschooler, you're part of the movement, and what you do affects other homeschoolers and your own future as a homeschooler. Being part of the homeschooling movement has many advantages and some serious responsibilities..."
..........Larry and Susan Kaseman, Home Education Magazine

There is so much chatter going on in the Connecticut homeschooling community right now. We are facing the possibility of having our rights to homeschool as we have always done, change dramatically.

People I know have been having trouble following what the heck is going on, because it is only recently that circumstances have begun to affect them personally. So I figured I'd summarize the whole thing. You can find other blogs which also do so, but mine will be a more simplified version (hopefully) and specifically for those who are arriving with no knowledge of this at all. Also, I will speak a little bit as to what the viewpoints are in the homeschooling community here.

The whole thing started because many families who withdraw their children from public school to homeschool have been reported to DCF. What specifically happens is that parents send a letter to the school informing them that their child will no longer be attending that school. But the superintendent does not remove the child from the roster, so eventually because the child no longer shows up, the child is considered truant and the parents are reported to DCF for "educational neglect". You can find a map of all the towns in CT where this problem has occurred here, and as you can see, the problem has become too widespread for comfort.

So Deborah Stevenson of National Home Education Legal Defense, (NHELD) our foremost legal homeschooling advocate here in CT, spent the last several years working to get legislation through to stop this, with CT Representative Arthur O'Neill. In 2005, 2006, and 2007, Rep. O'Neill offered some bills and amendments to get withdrawal language codified. All three years the bills were never raised out of the Education Committee and instead were allowed to die. No hearing dates were ever set for the bills.

Now in 2008 Rep. O'Neill has tried again. He invited legislators to a series of legislative forums to educate them as to why this bill was necessary and to enlist their support for it in this session of the legislature. At one of these forums, the Chairman of the legislature’s Select Committee on Children, State Senator Ed Meyer, said that he would raise the bill for a public hearing.

"The procedure after voting to raise the bill is for the chairmen of the committee to inform the Legislative Commissioner’s Office that they want the bill officially drafted in appropriate legislative language. The drafted bill is then given a number and published".[1] SB 162 basically started out saying that if a parent sends a certified letter to a school telling them they are withdrawing their child, the school must accept that letter and disenroll the child.

The first bump started at the Legistlative Commissioners' Office. SB 162 came out of that office completely transformed. Instead of changing Connecticut General Statute Section 10-220: the Duties of Boards of Education, it changed Connecticut General Statute Section 10-184: the Duties of Parents. We can now easily speculate as to how the changes were snuck in...

The next step was a public hearing. Luckily the committee Chairman, Senator Ed Meyer, was aware of the changes, and announced "at the beginning of the public hearing that the intent of the committee was to vote on the bill as originally proposed, that the committee would proceed with the hearing with the understanding that the committee intended the bill as originally proposed to be acted upon, that the mysteriously changed language would be eliminated and the original language would be substituted in its place, and that the committee likely would vote to approve the amended version of the bill containing the original language as proposed by Rep. O’Neill". [2] Many, many families showed up to support the bill in its original language, and share their horror stories in being reported to DCF. Later, on February 28th, the Select Committee on Children unanimously voted the bill through as originally written.

Now on to the Education Committee; the committee which had refused to raise the bill over the past three years. Remember now, the hearing part was over, so the public could no longer speak to all the legislators in a public forum and on the record. NHELD encouraged the CT homeschooling community to contact co-Chairs Senator Thomas Gaffey and Representative Andrew Fleischmann to ask them to raise the bill, and the rest of the legislators on the Education Committee to ask that they pass it. We homeschoolers in CT got busy.

"Constituents of Gaffey and Fleischmann [wrote] and called asking them to support the bill. Fleischmann sent out the same noncommittal standard form letter to all those who inquired merely thanking them for contacting him and saying nothing else. Gaffey did respond to one constituent’s inquiry. He contacted her by telephone seemingly expressing his support for the bill by indicating he didn’t think there would be “any problem” with it in the Education Committee. When [his constituent] wrote him back asking him to clarify whether that meant he would raise the bill in the Education Committee and urge its adoption, however, Gaffey [did not] respond at all.

"Meanwhile, the State Education Commissioner, Mark McQuillan, provided Rep. O’Neill with a copy of a proposed bill that would substantially change Connecticut General Statute 10-184. Essentially, the bill as proposed by Commissioner McQuillan did not include the language as proposed by Rep. O’Neill. Instead, it included the mysteriously changed language that we saw prior to the public hearing on SB 162." [3]

On March 17th, Senator Gaffey stated that he planned to put before the Education Committee at its meeting the next day, Senate Bill 162 containing what he called “compromise language”. And that is exactly what he did. He proposed the language that would change Connecticut General Statute Section 10-184: the Duties of Parents, instead of changing Connecticut General Statute Section 10-220: the Duties of Boards of Education.

Taken directly from the video of the meeting (you can watch the entire thing here if you are so inclined; start at 01:01:50 on the clock, for SB 162):

Representative Bartlett:
"Mr Chairman, the proposed substitute, changes the General Statute section from 10-220, which is the way it came out of "Children", to 10-184, is that my understanding, is that correct?...Can the Chair just explain why the change?"

Co-Chairman Senator Gaffey:
"Sure. Because in the prior section that was in the bill that came out of the Children's Committee, that section does not include other withdrawals of children from school that section 184 does, such as children who are between 16 and 18 and seek to withdraw from school, or children that are between the ages of five to seven, that seek to withdraw, or the parents seek to have them not enter school at that age, but to wait until they're either six or seven."

Representative Bartlett:
"...Is the chair comfortable with the proposed language in the statute now addressing this problem that the [homeschooling] advocates perceive?"

Co-Chairman Senator Gaffey:
"The Chair had a good discussion with Representative O'Neill, to get to your first points, yesterday, who is the author of the bill that was before the Children's Committee. Rep. O'Neill met with myself, and the lawyers on the committee, they explained why they felt that the bill that came out of the Kids Committee did not reference the appropriate statute. We provided Representative O'Neill with the language that's before you, Representative Hovey in her duty as ranking member, spoke to Representative O'Neill directly subsequent to that, and Representative O'Neill said he was quote, unquote, fine, with this language. So I would presume that since Representative O'Neill is the prime mover of the legislation and as a lawyer, a very bright lawyer at that, has looked at this, and has contemplated it, as I know he always does, and then told the ranking member that he was fine with the language, that he has agreed with our staff that it made more sense to have this language fit into 184 rather than 220.

"And the nub of the issue coming out of the children's committee, which I watched a great deal of that hearing, was the fact that there was an issue on notice, and whether or not the school district was just claiming that, or the school, claiming that they hadn't received the notice. And of course we've written into this language that the notice, that would be a letter by certified mail, so that the parent would have the return receipt as evidence that they in fact, did provide adequate notice to the Superinitnedent or the Prinicipal of the school.

"So, I think we're on firm ground here, I understand that there maybe attorneys representing the advocates that want to construct a legal argument here, but this is the state legislature, it's not a court of law, and none of us are qualified are sit in interpretation of a legal argument...I understand the argument, I don't believe it's correct, and I understand and I listened to the pleas of the parents that had undergone just in some cases horrific treatment with folks from school districts, supposedly calling DCF, so DCF would visit the homes, and just incredibly horrible situations between the people at DCF and the poor parents who are just trying to homeschool their children. I was extremely sympathetic to that, if someone would suggest how to better prevent that under statute, I'm all ears.

"We actually offered to Representative O'Neill yesterday and was actually part of one of our drafts that there would be a civil penalty to a school district who did not conform to the statutes and it was thought by the good Representative that because that would cause an immediate referral to judiciary, that he would rather not persue that this year, but take it up next year when we have more time in the longer session.

"So we've vetted this pretty carefully and again I understand that some people may be concerned. I hope folks aren't concerned because it's different, a different section of statutes and a different bill. There's no conspiracy to undo what was intended, we fully are trying to meet the intention, and in fact we do under this statute, rather than under the first statute."
So they took a vote and the thing got passed on the wrong statute. We were attempting to get legislation passed to guarantee that superintendents accept our "notice" to withdraw our children to homeschool, and what we got instead is the requirement for us to fill out a "notice of intent"; something which till now had only been "suggested procedure". This means that all homeschoolers will need to inform their school districts of their intention to homeschool. If my summary is not enough, you can find more detail in what this all means to us now here.

So on March 18th the bill passed through the Education Committee. And on March 20th, Representative O'Neill sent an email to all legislators stating:

"I support the language that was reported by the Children’s Committee and which was referred to the Education Committee. Even more importantly this is the version that the home schooling community supports.

"The redraft of SB 162 done by the Education is NOT the version that I support. Although I am grateful that my request to remove the fine provision from a draft of the bill was granted, after reviewing the video recording of the Education Committee Meeting I believe that there was confusion about my position during that meeting.

"I will work to change SB 162 so that we can pass a bill that is acceptable to the home schooling community on whose behalf I, and many of you, have been advocating this legislation." [4]
So now it goes to the Senate and if it passes there, eventually the House. NHELD is telling us all to write our legislators: "Because the Gaffey version of the bill raises complicated issues, ones that most legislators have not taken the time, or probably will take the time, to go into in depth...what we would suggest as a strategy for talking with legislators is to simplify it as much as possible. We would suggest telling them the Gaffey version is not acceptable for a variety of reasons, most importantly because it does not address the issue raised in the O’Neill version. It does not require school districts to accept a letter of withdrawal from parents and does not require the school districts to actually consider the child withdrawn. The O'Neill version as approved by the Select Committee on Children does do both of those things."[5]

Which brings us to the discussion happening on the homeschooling boards. So far, the people chiming in seem split down the middle. Some believe "momentum is still in favor of getting this bill changed rather than getting it killed. If for no other reason we can capitalize on Gaffey & Fleischmann's disgusting behavior in completely hijacking our bill. I really do think that will win us sympathy votes if we articulate the situation well."

However, others are feeling very frightened to have our rights changed so dramatically: "I do agree it is easier for us to ask for SB 162 to just be killed rather than get into a discussion of changing back the language. Sad also to say now I’m in more of the mode of 'help our family' by not getting legislation for us right here and now rather than thinking about what is better for the future HSing families and families who are presently using public schools."

CT Homeschool Network (CHN) just announced a "Take Action Forum": "Attorney Deborah Stevenson and Judy Aron [of NHELD] have been invited and have agreed to discuss with us all that's going on with SB 162. You'll be able to ask all your questions. Our goal is to unite the homeschool community so that we may stand uniform in our correspondence with our Reps."

To me, this sounds like a meeting to convince us all to keep working for the original wording of SB 162. And I have a couple of problems with this. First, I don't think CHN should be taking a political stand on this issue; they should present speakers to address the issues of both sides (fighting for a change back in language vs. killing the bill altogether). And from the meeting announcement, it sounds like they are in fact, taking a stand and advising people what to do rather than working to "inform" and "empower" as their mission statement says.

Second, to be honest, I have lost confidence in NHELD. I left the Education Committee meeting on March 18th with a hard copy of the revised language. I was appalled to read and understand it when I got home, since I understood what it meant to ALL homeschoolers, and not just people who wanted to withdraw their children from public schools. However, NHELD's statement, released that day, mentioned only what the change in language meant to the enrollment issue; it did not mention what the damage could be to the rest of us at all. It was not until March 21st that NHELD released an "Updated Interpretation of the Gaffey version of SB 162" acknowledging that they did not realize the entire ramifications of the bill until someone else pointed it out to them.

I myself would love to hear a balanced discussion about the realities of what can occur. I had originally thought hearing Deborah Stevenson speak in person would be enough, but now I'm realizing the importance of both sides being heard. So I continue relying on the opinions of people on the homeschooling lists. My own tendencies keep oscillating. If this bill goes through as it is currently written, it will be the beginning of oversight in a state which has been entirely free of it. But if we don't manage to get it changed and push it through, we will only have the same problems when we try again next year. Plus future homeschoolers will continue to be harassed.

[1] http://nheld.com/sb162Notice021808.htm
[2] http://nheld.com/SB162UPDATEONPUBLICHEARING.htm
[3] http://nheld.com/sb162UPDATE030608.htm
[4] http://nheld.com/StatementAONeill.htm
[5] http://nheld.com/SB162UPDATEDINTERPRETATION032108.htm

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A stack of books to read

My stack of books to read keeps getting larger. Between PaperBackSwap, a book sale at my local library, and an interlibrary loan which I have to pick up tomorrow, I'm having a hard time keeping up.

I'm in the middle of Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books. So far I am really enjoying it. I'm about 3/4 through, and it is really making sense to me. So E and I have put aside the Now I'm Reading books and have picked up some Dr. Seuss. He is thrilled to be reading "real" books, and even managed to sound out "wonderful" this evening. I am just about to get to the part where the author suggests how to incorporate writing into the reading experience, but so far so good!

Teaching the Three R's Through Movement Experiences is something I requested through interlibrary loan, and which arrived much more quickly than I though it would. It will be interesting to see where it came from; last time I requested a book through interlibrary loan, it came all the way from Florida! I like to borrow the more expensive books this way to be sure they are something I want to spend the money on purchasing for my permanent library. I'm hoping this book will give me ideas for helping me encourage my kinesthetic learner. So far he's been happy with some manipulatives, but he really likes to move. I 'm really looking forward to getting my hands on this, but would like to finish the other one first. On the other hand, I own the other one and can come back to it. So, we'll see what happens.

Nonviolent Communication has been on my wish list at PaperBackSwap for months, and I finally got it! I first heard about it through a Leader Program with La Leche League. The woman who was recommending it could not speak highly enough of it. The description from Amazon.com:

Do you hunger for skills to improve the quality of your relationships, to deepen your sense of personal empowerment or to simply communicate more effectively? Unfortunately, for centuries our culture has taught us to think and speak in ways that can actually perpetuate conflict, internal pain and even violence. Nonviolent Communication partners practical skills with a powerful consciousness and vocabulary to help you get what you want peacefully.

In this internationally acclaimed text, Marshall Rosenberg offers insightful stories, anecdotes, practical exercises and role-plays that will dramatically change your approach to communication for the better. Discover how the language you use can strengthen your relationships, build trust, prevent conflicts and heal pain. Revolutionary, yet simple, NVC offers you the most effective tools to reduce violence and create peace in your life—one interaction at a time.
I have to admit it's closer to the bottom of the pile now, since I own it. But I do look forward to reading it.

One book which I'm anxious to read for myself is Maiden, Mother, Crone. The Myth & Reality of the Triple Goddess. Although I do not believe in a goddess as a deity, I am interested in learning more about her as she pertains to the goddess in each of us, and the stages of life that we go through as womyn. Hopefully this book will bring some of that to me. This also came via PaperBackSwap much sooner that I thought it would. It looks like a quick read, so I might pick up this one after The Three R's.

These days I don't spend much time on fiction. I belong to a book club which makes me read one at least once a month, but I'm about to leave that group. Once in a while I pick up a two-week book from the library. I guess I do better with fiction knowing I have a deadline; otherwise I get distracted with all the non-fiction stuff I want to learn!

I don't remember how I came across this, but it's called The Dawn of Amber. I read the original Amber Chronicles, by Roger Zelazny, when a friend introduced me to them in college. I had enjoyed a few fantasy novels before them, but frankly, these changed my world. They put the ten books into one now, and call it The Great Book of Amber.

Well like I said, I don't remember how I found out about The Dawn of Amber, but I read the reviews on Amazon and decided I had to read it even though most die-hard fans of the originals think it stinks. An excerpt from the Amazon site:
Fans of the late Roger Zelazny's popular Amber series should flock to this workmanlike, authorized prequel, the first of a projected trilogy, by Betancourt (Infection and three other Star Trek novels). Betancourt captures the fantastic nature of the original and peppers his story with Amber-familiar terms...The narrative may lack the sparkling wit of its predecessors, but the cliffhanger ending should leave the faithful hungry for the next installment.
Even crappy Amber is Amber. It will be good to be reading about Corwin again. I just have to wait until my husband finishes it and lets me have it, first!

There are many more books on my pile, but I will stop here for now. Maybe more another day. Perhaps instead of sitting here blogging about them all I could read one...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling

Carnival of Homeschooling #115, the Oh, The Things That You'll Do! Edition has been published.

I have an entry posted in this carnival. Check it out.

What is a blog carnival?

"A Blog Carnival is a particular kind of blog community. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. It has a title, a topic, editors, contributors, and an audience. Editions of the carnival typically come out on a regular basis (e.g. every Monday, or on the first of the month). Each edition is a special blog article that consists of links to all the contributions that have been submitted, often with the editors opinions or remarks.

"There is so much stuff in the blog-o-sphere, just finding interesting stuff is hard. If there is a carnival for a topic you are interested in, following that carnival is a great way to learn what bloggers are saying about that topic. If you are blogging on that topic, the carnival is the place to share your work with like-minded bloggers."

Here is more information on blog carnivals.
Here is information on how to make a submission to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Products being advertised in children's books

I'm on the mailing list of Commercial Alert, whose mission is "to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy." I get very little mail from them, actually, but did get something interesting today:

HarperCollins Children's Books recently announced plans to publish a new series of books targeted at 8- to 12-year-olds featuring a character called "Mackenzie Blue."

Although touted by the publisher for teaching kids about protecting the environment and promoting global understanding, the Mackenzie Blue series actually aims to be a vehicle for delivering commercial messages, through product-placement hidden advertisements, product tie-ins, and affiliated multi-media corporate sponsorships. The author of the series, Tina Wells, is chief executive of Buzz Marketing Group, which specializes in marketing to children and adolescents.

Book publishers should not be exploiting children for commercial gain. Books should educate and entertain children - not encourage them to buy a particular brand of shoe or soft drink.

Please click here to tell HarperCollins not to publish "Mackenzie Blue" unless all product placements and tie-ins with external advertisers are removed.
Well, when I read the press release which the email links to, I did not see any mention of product placing directly within the books. It just seemed to me that the marketing to go along with the books would be ala Hannah Montana; merchandising pushed to the max. And while I don't condone that, as homeschoolers it is easy enough to protect my kids from it.

So, before I shot a letter off to HarperCollins, I did a google search on "Mackenzie Blue". Surprisingly, the top response was for a rock band. I checked out their website and wrote them an email letting them know that their name is being used and they might want to look into it.

I then waded through the myriad of listings which simply spewed out the press release, and after following through on many links, did eventually find a page which talks about product placement within the stories themselves. From The New York Times (registration required to follow the link and read the article in its entirety):
In “Mackenzie Blue,”... a new series aimed at 8- to 12-year-old girls from HarperCollins Children’s Books, product placement is very much a part of the plan. Tina Wells, chief executive of Buzz Marketing Group, which advises consumer product companies on how to sell to teenagers and preteenagers, will herself be the author of titles in the series filled with references to brands. She plans to offer the companies that make them the chance to sponsor the books.

... Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said she was not concerned about a possible backlash against corporate sponsorship in books aimed at such a young audience. “If you look at Web sites, general media or television, corporate sponsorship or some sort of advertising is totally embedded in the world that tweens live in,” Ms. Katz said. “It gives us another opportunity for authenticity.”
So basically the idea is that it's out there anyway, so why shouldn't HarperCollins profit from it too?

The woman who is writing this book is not even a writer, she is chief executive of a marketing group!

I did actually go back to Commercial alert, and send my email off to HarperCollins, after altering the wording of the "form letter" to include the fact that I am a homeschooler and plan to advertise this over-the-top marketing to every homeschooler I could get to listen. So please, email HarperCollins, or sign up with Commercial Alert to use their simple form letter, but please do let these vultures know we are not surrendering our kids so easily. Then be sure to spread the word to all of your homeschool groups so they can write too. As homeschoolers we are the conscientious ones; we are the ones who actively work to protect our children.

I always thought that as a homeschooler it is a little easier for me to protect my kids from mainstream marketing, but the truth is, had I not gotten this email from Commercial Alert, I would never have known that this is a threat. It's getting so exhausting to stay a step ahead of all the predators out there!

Here is a link to an article I found worth reading regarding this emerging problem.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A knock on my door today...

from a Jehovah's Witness. Oh, the irony!

I get frustrated, but I still choose tolerance.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Anti-gay Christians

I am on a homeschooling yahoo group here in Connecticut, which has almost 600 members. It is mostly used for people to post activities that other homeschoolers might be interested in, with a smattering of threads about curriculum and educational philosophy.

Well today, someone listed this:

I’m pleased to forward information below about the 15th annual True Colors conference, coming up next Friday and Saturday, March 14 & 15, 2008 (there’s also a Pre-Conference Professional Institute on Thursday, March 13). True Colors organizes the largest sexual/gender minority (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or GLBT) youth issues conference in the nation, with over 3,000 attendees expected in 2008.

The theme this year is “A Global Perspective”, and there will be over 150 workshops and activities for youth/parents as well as professional audiences (educators, clinicians, etc.). Hosted this year by UCONN/Storrs, the conference is co-sponsored by many of the University’s schools and cultural centers, along with the State of Connecticut, American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other organizations.

*HOMESCHOOLING PARENTS* who are not requesting CEUs are eligible to ATTEND FRIDAY and/or SATURDAY at YOUTH RATES--homeschooling youth are already eligible for youth rates, of course (in addition to being the mother of a homeschooled child, my partner Robin McHaelen is also the Executive Director of True Colors)! :o) Just indicate when you register that you are a homeschooling parent requesting the youth rate.

True Colors’ Mission: “True Colors works to create a world where youth, adults and families of all sexual orientations and gender identities are valued and affirmed. We challenge all forms of oppression through education, training, advocacy, youth leadership development, mentoring and direct services to youth and those responsible for their well-being.”

For information on conference rates, registration, presenters, workshops, activities, etc., go to www.OurTrueColors.org.
And one of the group members responded with this:
Is this some sort of joke? I sincerely hope so. This is one of the bigger reasons I pulled my kids out of school, to keep them away from the sick minded warped main stream population. Gross!!! Why would anyone want to bring their family anywhere near that kind of influence.

Niki in CT
despite the fact that the group guidelines specifically state (among other things):
  • If a post doesn’t pertain to you, just hit delete!
  • We do not wish to engage in heated debates. Stating your opinion on a topic is fine, as long as it is respectful and considerate of the other members...
Well, despite the fact that I am not willing to spend the time looking through all the archives of things she's written to confirm this, I feel comfortable guessing that this Niki is a Christian, because this kind of language is really consistent with too many other Christian homeschoolers I've met. I have not spoken out strongly against Christians because I hate to alienate some of my readers, but enough already!

I've been listening to these podcasts, which actually started out on YouTube by a guy named Pat Condell. As an atheist, he's been giving me a lot of food for thought. Just this morning I listened to this:

Well I have to admit that I'm starting to actually agree with him. I'm tired of pious people (starting with family members). They are infiltrating our entire government and way of living, and they are about the most unkind and prejudiced people I meet. It's time to stop putting up with them, because they do not make any effort to get along with non-Christians!

Just the other night I went to a homeschool meeting and someone there said something along the lines of having problems with the principal of her local school being gay. Well, not wanting to cause a ruckus, I did not comment on it, but you know, I'm starting to really feel like I need to start calling moral bigots moral bigots, right to their faces.

This is all so tiresome. Even Gandhi wrote: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

I didn't answer Niki's post, despite my desire to, because the list owners did address this hatred (despite being Christian themselves) and asked that the conversation discontinue. And it did mostly, until a gay woman responded eloquently and without malice.

I wrote what I hope was a supportive email to her off-list, but was very happy to see someone defy the wishes of the moderators and post a supportive response. An excerpt:
It is actually people like her [Niki] in my opinion that cause outsiders to say we should not homeschool our kids unless we are educated.

I have told myself to ignore everything from this poster because she writes like a little girl responding with a knee jerk response- not caring about what comes out of her mouth.

I have never met her, never want to, but this is not the first post that I have found offensive.

Had to write you. Try to breathe deep and know that many of us were offended by her comments...and we are accepting of all forms/types of families...well, that is not true, personally I have a very difficult time accepting families that promote inacceptance.
I didn't want to alienate myself, so I wrote to the gay woman off-list. Next time I will have the courage to do it on-list.

More about me

Welcome to the party!

Ultimate Blog Party 2008

I go by the name of Love 2B Homeschoolers; welcome to my place. So why should you care about me and what I think about things? Well, that's what this post is for. There's a glimpse of me on the sidebar to your left, but I thought I'd take some time to elaborate on it. Then if you find that I'm someone you can relate to, you can stop by again.

So my "About Me" reads: I'm a liberal Sagittarian, city-girl moved to suburbia, minivan driving, married, soccer mom, who is joyfully attachment parenting and homeschooling two boys, aged 11 and 7. And here's the elaboration:

I'm a liberal...

Though I don't believe I'd ever have an abortion, I like the fact that I can.

I'm a fag hag, currently without a fag (AIDS hit me hard). I loved having gay friends, and totally miss them. My life is just such that I don't run into many these days. If you ever have the chance to be friends with an out gay man, I highly recommend it. They are the best girlfriends in the world. Seriously.

I reject religion, though I am very spiritual. And I belong to a womyn's group which meets once a month where we talk about such things.

I was on vacation during the primaries, but my absentee ballot was for Obama. I originally thought I'd vote for Clinton, but I now feel she'd be business as usual. Obama offers hope. By the way, I'm really annoyed with the fact that Barack Obama is referred to as Obama, and Hillary Clinton is always referred to as Hillary. Sexism prevails.


Full blown 100%. Here's a decent description, although I'm cutting out a couple of things which don't apply to me:

Sagittarians have a positive outlook on life, are full of enterprise, versatility, adventurousness and eagerness to extend experience beyond the physically familiar. They enjoy traveling and exploration, the more so because their minds are constantly open to new dimensions of thought. They are basically optimistic, and continue to be so even when their hopes are dashed. Their strongly idealistic natures can also suffer many disappointments without being affected. They are honorable, honest, trustworthy, truthful, generous and sincere, with a passion for justice. They are usually on the side of the underdog in society they will fight for any cause they believe to be just, and are prepared to be rebellious. They balance loyalty with independence.
One very characteristic trait I have is that I stick my foot in my mouth often. I'm overly honest, and sometimes hurt people's feelings. I'm very quick to apologize though!

city-girl moved to suburbia...

I grew up in Queens, New York. My husband and I moved to Connecticut when we were about 30, I think. I went to School of Visual Arts (college) in Manhattan. I went to Studio 54 with my gay friends, and hung out on Long Island listening to New Wave in places like Spit and Paris, New York with my boyfriend, who later became my husband. B and I went to lots of concerts, especially at The Ritz in The Village, and also enjoyed giant margaritas with cute little plastic dinosaurs in them at a place called Continental Divide.

After graduating college I worked in Manhattan for a couple of years (computer graphics layout). I got married in 1991 and when my husband was offered a job with Caldor in Connecticut, we jumped at it. I never wanted to have my kids grow up in New York. So now we live in the suburbs.

minivan driving...

Well, we live in the suburbs, don't we? I drive a Honda Odyssey. I've been a die-hard Honda owner since my first Accord when we moved to CT and I got a job (never needed a car in New York!). My Odyssey has a soccer ball stuck to the top of the antenna, and a bunch of bumper stickers on the back. Yes, I sell a bunch of them; click on my LuminociTees logo on the right sidebar to see them.


It will be 17 years on May 25th. Holy cow! And we were together for seven years before we got married. So on May 25th I will have been with the same man for 24 years. Wow that's mind boggling. I am 43 though, and consider myself blessed that I found a man worth staying with for all this time. B is a gem. He is a really good, decent man, and the love I see in his eyes melts me.

soccer mom...

I'm about 60 pounds overweight, so I am very willing to drive my kids any darn place they want to go to exercise, even if it means sitting in the rain in my comfy folding chair, or freezing my butt off in the indoor soccer arena which is never heated.

who is joyfully attachment parenting...

Home birth, family bed, extended nursing, sling carrying, La Leche League Leader for four years. That sort of thing. Now that we are older, it mostly refers to our discipline style. Maybe it also refers to the way we eat. We follow the dietary guidelines of Weston Price the best we can, and eat very very few processed foods (at least at home).

and homeschooling...

We are unschoolers. Or as I like to call it, self-directed learners. I wrote about what I consider the difference to be, here.

I adore homeschooling. I can't imagine shipping my kids off to someone else every day, and missing out on all their adventures and challenges. I have another blog, which is a day in the life type-thing, which you can read here if you are interested in what our homeschooling looks like.

two boys aged 11 and 7...

So happy to have boys. They are both so different, and I adore them immensely.

So that's me. Hope you found some of you in all this, and decide to return sometime soon!

Friday, February 29, 2008

10 Favorite Quotes...on trust

If we are bound to forgive an enemy, we are not bound to trust him.
...............Thomas Fuller

Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath.

Never trust the teller. Trust the tale.
...............D. H. Lawrence

You don't repair that relationship by sitting down and talking about trust or making promises. Actually, what rebuilds it is living it and doing things differently.
...............Patricia Hewitt

For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe.
...............H. L. Mencken

It takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it.

Trust him not with your secrets, who, when left alone in your room, turns over your papers.
...............Johann Kaspar Lavater

I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don't trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.
...............Charles Dickens

Who can I trust? You have to invest in somebody and chances are you're probably going to invest in somebody who's going to deceive you. I've been conned a couple of times, but now I'm a little more savvy.
...............Maggie Gyllenhaal

Someone who thinks the world is always cheating him is right. He is missing that wonderful feeling of trust in someone or something.
...............Eric Hoffer

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling

Carnival of Homeschooling #113, the Political Parties of Our Government Edition has been published.

What is a blog carnival?

"A Blog Carnival is a particular kind of blog community. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. It has a title, a topic, editors, contributors, and an audience. Editions of the carnival typically come out on a regular basis (e.g. every Monday, or on the first of the month). Each edition is a special blog article that consists of links to all the contributions that have been submitted, often with the editors opinions or remarks.

"There is so much stuff in the blog-o-sphere, just finding interesting stuff is hard. If there is a carnival for a topic you are interested in, following that carnival is a great way to learn what bloggers are saying about that topic. If you are blogging on that topic, the carnival is the place to share your work with like-minded bloggers."

I have an entry posted in this carnival. Check it out.

Here is more information on blog carnivals.
Here is information on how to make a submission to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rating blogs and movies

I saw a rating posted on a blog I read pretty regularly, and clicked on it to rate my own. This blog was given a rating of PG. Want to know why? Because the word "gun" appears in it, once. You can go back and read that post here.

I found this really curious since my other blog got a rating of G despite my using the word "gun" there too. Here's the link to that post.

So obviously the rating is not accurate, even just for so-called "bad" words. The site where you can find out your rating says nothing about how it is formulated. It also doesn't say how many posts back they go in their search for bad words. The utility checked my site way too fast to have gone back through all my old posts, so I'm guessing they only check the "home page" of a given blog. The word is in the title of one of my posts, and therefore in my archives; so the word "gun" appears in the code of my home page.

I like the idea of using a rating system for blogs, despite the fact that my children do not yet read any. But I think if this rating system does get used, it will have to be more of a self-rating which we impose on ourselves. If this were the case, I would rate this blog PG, but not because of the words, but rather the subject matter. I talk about what I think about things, and even though my language might be rated G, the subject matter may very well be rated higher.

On the other hand, I have read blogs where the subject matter is rated G and the language is R. This is unfortunate because my children will never be allowed to read the blogs of some of their friends' families. Some people just have potty mouths.

With ratings, we also come up against the problem of what some people think deserves a G rating compared to what others think.

My husband and I recently watched a movie called This Film is Not Yet Rated. We checked it out because I was interested in learning how movies earn their ratings, or more specifically, who is deciding that stupid, dummy, idiot, and other such words deserve a G rating. (Although I am very liberal, I am super conservative when it comes to exposing my children to things before they are ready.)

Well the movie never specifically addressed that. Unfortunately, the movie came from the viewpoint that some movies are getting unfair ratings of NC-17 when the film makers feel they should be getting R ratings. There was also the ridiculous statement that a war movie should be rated PG instead of PG-13 because "kids shouldn't be protected against the realities of war". So this documentary wasn't getting to the facts I wanted to hear in the way I had hoped it would get there.

Nevertheless, it did show how utterly ridiculous the whole rating system is. I really can't write a better review than this portion of one I read on Netflix:
"The very nature of the uber-secretive MPAA makes any documentary on the rating system difficult and one-sided. This is because MPAA refuses to stick up for itself, as to explain itself would only make them vulnerable. And as they are already unquestionably accepted by the industry as THE standard and have the decision to enormously and financially affect 90% of movies released today, lacking any opposition, what would they have to gain? The average person believes the ratings system is mandated by some level of government anyway, why let them know who controls what millions and millions of people learn by means of movies every year?

This movie reveals the kinds of numerous fabrications, doublespeak and antidemocratic processes that can only happen when the 6 largest conglomerates of U.S. media come together and decide who gets rich and what ideas are "safe". Watch this if you are not afraid of naked people [there are many] and feel responsible enough to choose what your own children watch, and not what a bunch of white Californians with no children (ages 5-17) think they should see."
The bottom line is that it's important to watch where your children wander; you can't trust others to keep them safe, because we all have different versions of what safe means. In the movies or on a blog.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is your blog easy to read?

For me, life before kids was spent in the graphic design field. Even as a kid myself, I had a good eye for what "worked" and what didn't. These days I have a friend who tells me that I'm good at knowing where things should go on the page when I scrapbook.

Several years ago I created a website for a business for myself. Later, I took the knowledge I had gathered creating my own website, and created one for CT Homeschool Network.

Now, as the list of homeschooling blogs I read increases, I'm finding that several of the lessons I learned in web design are also important in the blogosphere. Although there are lots of blogs that will tell you how to increase visits to your blog, and how important it is to have great content to bring people back, I have yet to find one which discusses how important the look of your blog is to bringing people back. Or more specifically, how the readability of your blog determines whether people come back. So I thought I'd discuss it a bit and point some things out that most people wouldn't think of if they weren't specifically in the design field. Because regardless of content, if people can't read your blog, they won't come back.

Type should ALWAYS be on a white or VERY light background. This is because it is very important to have enough contrast between your copy and your background so people can read the copy comfortably.

Here's a sample of poor contrast. I'm not providing any links here because some of these are from blogs of people I know, and I don't want to cause any hard feelings. If you click on the sample it will enlarge and you will see how difficult it is to read. Especially because the type is not black, but gray.

There is actually a cool website out there where you can type in your blog url and it will tell you whether your copy has good contrast or not. It's here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and type your blog's address in to see whether your blog is easy on the eyes.

The body copy of your blog should NEVER be reversed. That is, white type on a black background. Or any light colored type on a dark background. Yeah, it might look cool, but only at first glance; it's really challenging to read. In the design industry it is rarely used for copy heavy work. Reversed type is strictly for headlines. It really bums me out to be only 1/2 way through a blog and have to give up because the type starts swimming before my eyes. So while black or other dark colors might be a great way to show off your photos, if you plan on writing much about them, and hope that visitors will actually read all of what you write, make your background white and your words black.

Use a sans serif font for your body copy. San serif fonts do not have the little lines on them, as in the type I have used on this blog, while serif fonts have the little lines on them, like this. (Here's a good photograph clearly showing the difference.) Newspapers and magazines use serif fonts because they are easier to read at smaller sizes in print. And although there has been some debate about it, the consensus seems to be that sans serif fonts are easier to read on monitors, with Verdana and Helvetica (Arial) being the easiest. Here's a sample of serif being used in a blog so you can decide for yourself. Keep in mind that if you are insisting on using a serif font, you should make sure it is pretty large. Smaller fonts start breaking up on screen.

Be careful of photos in the background. This one is self explanatory once you see it. And since I don't know this person, I'm posting the link. There is no denying this blog is difficult to read.

So now that I've covered the basics of readability, I thought I'd include a couple of other things, which are simply annoying and often cause me to leave.

Do not put music on your blog. First, it's really annoying. These things startle the heck out of me and if I can't find the off switch PDQ, I am so out of there. Second, and more importantly, you cannot put music on your website unless you are paying royalties to whomever owns it: "...people just don't understand the copyright laws. Period. At best, people think it's OK to play a MIDI version of "Stairway to Heaven" but wrong to play the original Led Zeppelin recording." Find this quote amidst an excellent, short, and very understandable article about music copyright laws here.

Easy on the cookies. I use Firefox to browse, and it's set up to ask me to accept cookies every time, and I'm always appalled when I find a blog out there which wants to place six, seven cookies on my computer. Excuse me, but why the heck does a BLOG want to follow me around? Okay, I'll accept a cookie from your visitor counter, but that's pretty much it.

And finally...Keep it brief. There are some blogs which ramble and ramble. Look at your stats and see how long people are staying on your blog. If it's only one minute then you have confirmed that no one read anything past the first line of each of your 30 paragraphs. Or maybe just the first eight in their entirety. If you want people to invite you back, don't overstay your welcome.

So there you have it. Ways to keep people reading your content. Do you think this will help you with your blog?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling

Carnival of Homeschooling #112, the One Room Schoolhouse edition, has been published at Homeschool Blog Awards.

What is a blog carnival?

"A Blog Carnival is a particular kind of blog community. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. It has a title, a topic, editors, contributors, and an audience. Editions of the carnival typically come out on a regular basis (e.g. every Monday, or on the first of the month). Each edition is a special blog article that consists of links to all the contributions that have been submitted, often with the editors opinions or remarks.

"There is so much stuff in the blog-o-sphere, just finding interesting stuff is hard. If there is a carnival for a topic you are interested in, following that carnival is a great way to learn what bloggers are saying about that topic. If you are blogging on that topic, the carnival is the place to share your work with like-minded bloggers."

I have an entry posted in this carnival. Check it out.

Here is more information on blog carnivals.
Here is information on how to make a submission to the Carnival of Homeschooling.