Monday, January 9, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: President John Adams

It's Presidential Monday again! We continue our American history lesson with the second president of the United States, John Adams.

"People and nations are forged in the fires of adversity," President John Adams.

Born in Massachusetts in 1735, Adams, a highly politically passionate man, became first a patriot and then a Federalist. Often thought of to be a better political philosopher than actual politician, he was incredibly passionate about the state of affairs of this country. He began his political career as the Vice-President of George Washington - something he felt was utterly beneath him. He felt the post was "the most insignificant office that ever then invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." His frustration notwithstanding, he still proceeded to fight for the Federalist cause.

When he became president in 1797, he turned his attention to the war between France and England. While George Washington had decided to maintain a point of neutrality, Adams decided to side and work with France. He sent three emissaries to negotiate trade, but received word that France would only comply if they were supplied with a substantial bribe.

This response led to a slew of changes and laws, including the Alien and Sedition Acts, allowing the United States to defend itself on the soil of other nations. He increased our Naval presence and began a quasi-war with the French out on open sea. France decided they were unhappy with this turn of events and extended the olive branch.

Despite several significant victories, the Federalist party was incredibly divided. This division led to Adams defeat for a second term in 1800 to the Democratic Republicans front-runner, Thomas Jefferson. Adams and Jefferson were always on opposite sides of an issue, a point that carried through to the end of Adams' life. When he died on July 4, 1826, his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives," not knowing that Jefferson had died at Monticello just a few hours earlier.

Thanks to for the information on this blog!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: Creativity

With all I have to learn about teaching and homeschool and parenting and children, I have decided to make Sundays all about family and children for School House Sundays! Yesterday, I read an amazing article on creativity and education, so I want to explore why teaching creativity is so important.

I have been trying to incorporate creative projects and assignments into my son's homeschooling. I would like to say it was because I knew how important creativity is to the developing mind, but I just thought it was more fun! Why read a boring textbook when we can create lapbooks, write stories, paint a picture, or sing a song! Because I was brought up very traditionally in terms of education, all of these things did not feel like teaching to me. Creativity was to be for after-school activities like band, theatre, or French Club. Classes are supposed to be hours of drill and kill, memorize, write, research, and then spit it back out. So having these fun assignments felt like I was somehow cheating him out of a real education.

I could not have been more wrong.

Creativity develops good critical thinking and analysis skills. It shows children how to think outside of the box and be willing to question the accepted norm. A child who thinks creatively is much more likely to resist peer pressure, stay in school, and have more stress-reliving coping skills.

The most important aspect of creativity is the process and not the results. In our society of teaching to the test, getting the right answer,and  keeping our eyes on the prize, anything that emphasizes the means and not the end is difficult to support. However, study after study supports that creativity is so important for proper brain development.

So, how do we develop creative thinkers?

Encourage child-led free play. Play dates and lessons and sports teams are all important and have their place in a child's life. The structure of these activities, however, limits creativity. Having time set aside with no agenda, no electronics, and no adult direction will dust off those creative thinking skills that we are all born with.

Have supplies on hand that encourage creative thinking. Art supplies, dress-ups clothes, musical instruments, empty boxes of all shapes and sizes,  water and sand tables, colored paper, and anything else you can think of to encourage imagination and out-of-the-box thinking. My oldest is very analytical. He never really did that I-know-it's-a-doll-just-pretend-it's-a-space-alien-type of play. He  would just look at you and say, "It's not a space alien. It's a doll." Imagine my absolute delight when, after just a couple of months of homeschooling and more creative thinking opportunities, he was using an empty sandwich baggie box as his grenade in a first-floor guerrilla war scenario.

Encourage activities that have no one "right" answer. Remember, it's all about the process. Many board games and card games have specific rules that have to be followed for a specific outcome. However, games like Pictionary, Guesstures, and Mad Libs all offer ways of being creative within a set of rules. In fact, often the more creative, the more likely you'll win!

So as you are busily scheduling every activity under the sun to develop your child's body and mind, don't leave out a good chunk of time to concentrate on the process and not the end product. They are only children once, so let them just play.

Thanks to and for information for this blog.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: Psychopaths vs. Sociopaths

I love science. No matter how much you learn, there is always something new being discovered, re-worked, changed. Love. It. So, for the Year of Knowledge, I decided to make Saturdays to be my Super Science Saturdays! Today, we will look at a topic that caught my attention while watching an episode of Criminal Minds: What is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

First, let's start with how they are the same.  They are both diagnosed in the DSM-IV (Also know as the Bible of Psychology) as a subset of the larger psychological disorder: Antisocial Personality Disorder. As such, they are going to have quite a few similar traits. Both sociopaths and psychopaths have a high disregard for others, others' rights, and others' feelings. They have a pathological disregard for rules and laws and feel no remorse for their actions. They are also known to have bouts of anger, rage, and violence.

So if they are so similar, and listed as subset of a larger disorder, are they really different? While some psychologists will use the terms interchangeably, most do agree that the two disorders do have several important differences. Looking at each one individually will help to highlight these differences.

Psychopaths are often charming and personable. They have learned how to mimic "normal" behavior and can adapt to the situation they are in. They are often able to hold jobs, have long-term relationships, and are educated. They are master manipulators. When committing a crime, they are often very detailed and controlled.

Sociopaths, however, appear in behavior as almost the complete opposite of psychopaths. They are very nervous and easily agitated. They are often uneducated and unable to maintain relationships or work. They often exist on the fringes of society. They actually appear to be "crazy" to those around them.

The biggest difference between between psychopaths and sociopaths is etiology, or the cause of the disorder. Psychopaths have an underdeveloped part of the brain that controls emotion and impulses. They are born with this disorder. Sociopaths, however, often have suffered some sort of trauma or abuse that then creates the psychological pathology.

As with most things in psychology, this topic is still debated. However, the next time you are watching some forensic show or movie, you will know with certainty what the difference is between a psychopath and a sociopath.

Thanks to for the information found in this blog!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: Orlando Bloom

It's the first Friday of the year, and today is Famous Friday, the day of the week where I will learn about people, places, or things that are famous, or in some cases, infamous. While this won't be some random celebrity blog, for today, I thought I'd pick someone who has a birthday this week. Imagine my disappointment when Orlando Bloom came up. Yes, that was sarcasm.

I married a geek. Because we have been together for over 17 years, I have picked up a lot of geek-like tendencies, although I try to deny it. When The Lord of the Rings movie first came out, I was very insistant that I would not see it. I had read the books in middle school, and I did not want to go through that fresh hell again.

And then I saw with Legolas, and I didn't care if it was a movie adaptation of the New York City phone book, I was going to see that movie.

My beautiful Legolas is actually Orlando Bloom. Born January 13, 1977 in England, Orlando had an interesting upbringing. Although told he was the son of Harry Bloom, his mother's husband and Jewish South African, he discovered after Harry's death, his actual biological father was his mother's business parnter and family friend, Collin Stone. Collin eventually adopted Orlando.

One of the more interesting parts of Orlando is that he overcame a significant learning disability, dyslexia, in order to become very successful in school and to pursue a love of acting and performing. And as we see from his stream of successes, the dyslexia has not slowed him down.

What successes? Did I mention Legolas? Lord of the Rings? Sheer epicness? You need more?

Orlando has performed in Pirates of the Caribbean, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and New York, I Love You.

Oh, and he's going to be reprising his role of Legolas in the upcoming movie, The Hobbit. Fan girl squeal!

Besides all of the great movies he has been in, and the wonderful actors he worked with, he is still a very grounded person. He is a soccer fan and dog lover. He even rescued a dog while filming Kingdom of Heaven. He is also intensely spiritual. He is a practicing Buddhist and evironmental activist.

It's not just all sunshine and fainting fans for this actor, however. He's had quite a lot of pain in his life - literally! He has broken both legs, his left arm, his nose, his back, and his skull three separate times. Most of the injuries came from playing sports or, in some cases, from being a guy (Really, Orlando? Climbing to reach a friend's roof terrace and falling three floors?).

Orlando Bloom is a normal guy, with a lot of passions, a lot of talent, and a lot of determination.

And did I mention we get to see him on the big screen as Legolas again? Swoon.

Thanks and for all of the yummy info!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: How to Hang a Picture

Originally, Thursdays were going to be People, Places and Things Thursdays but as those things could easily fall into Wildcard Wednesdays, I decided I needed a day dedicated to learning how to do things. So, for my first How-To Thursday, I present: how to hang a picture.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

I am the first to admit that my home skills are a little, well, rusty developing nonexistent. Let's just say they need improvement. However, I actually can hang a picture. On drywall.

However, I currently live in a house that was built in 1921, which means plaster and lath. Just try to put up a couple of pictures has led to several chunks of plaster on my floors instead of my walls. I actually have only three pictures up. Total. In an 1800 square foot house. Yeah.

From what I can find, there are several different ways to hang pictures when you are dealing with plaster walls.  I'll try a few and see which ones work the best.

According to This Old House, there is no good way to hang anything on plaster walls without causing chunks. (Gee, that was helpful!) Their recommendation is to use the 3M adhesive wall attachments to save those walls.

From a blog called Things Your Grandmother Knew, one great way to get those family pictures up is by heating the nail before hammering it in. It did not say how to heat the nail, though. Hair dryer? Matches? Lighter? The little blow torch I bought when I thought making creme brulee would be fun and was so, so wrong? Hey, at least I know not to toss a few in the microwave. They'd get way too hot. (She is kidding, right?)

Another blog, Home Remodeling 101, says masking tape will work.  Simply put a small piece of masking tape at the spot you'd like the nail to go, gently drive the nail in, then remove the masking tape.

The last idea, from a blog called Interior Decorating Tips, is the most creative. Heralding back to the day when plaster was the norm, they suggest using picture railing to hang pictures. There is a cute picture of how to do this in a bedroom that I love. They also suggested putting the nails into the picture rail and using wire to hang pictures from different lengths. I wonder if I can be that decoratively brave?

Hopefully, this has helped any of you who have ever dreaded the thought of hanging a picture on a plaster wall. During my next stretch of free time (ha!), I think I may give a few of these a try. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: Freezer Cooking

Today is Wildcard Wednesday! Anything goes! Wednesday will be the day that I randomly choose a topic that I have been interested in knowing more about. Today's topic is Freezer Cooking, AKA Once A Month Cooking.

Now wait, you say. Haven't you been freezer cooking for a while now? Not a while, but, technically, yes. I started freezer cooking in late November 2011. However, I mostly just downloaded a monthly menu, picked out about 10 meals (AJ and I are picky eaters, so I would be hard-pressed to find a 30-day menu that had 30 recipes we liked.), and downloaded all of the directions. I've decided to become brave and, gulp, create my own, Pantinas-family-friendly menus.  Which meant research.

First, let me explain exactly what freezer cooking is. For those of us who have long, crazy days during the week, cooking dinner can seem almost insurmountable. Enter delivery pizza. And Chinese. And drive-thru burgers. And... well, you see where I'm going. This habit is not good for the waist, the heart, or the wallet. When the hubby made a crack that we should just write a check to JJ's Pizza Shack as if it's a monthly bill, well, I knew it was time to change.

With some halfway-decent organizational skills, a clean kitchen (which I know may be the hardest part of this!), and one day a month (or two days, as we do a paycheck's worth of dinners instead of one month), you can cook all of your dinners AT ONCE for the rest of the month. Then, on a crazy school/work day, you pull a dinner out of the freezer, let it thaw, then toss it into the oven. A bag of veggies and a couple of glasses of milk, and boom, a healthy home-cooked family dinner every night. Even I can do that, and I hate cooking.

So, how do you go about creating this miracle? Listed below are the steps that I have found helps in the organization, creation, and success of freezer cooking.

1. Download Evernote. Evernote is a free program for your computer and/or smart phone that saves any information from the internet that you select. In other words, a web clipper! If you are on Pintrest, this would work, too, but I like the utility of Evernote so much more.

2. Next, you need to research once a month recipes or freezer cooking recipes. Not just any old recipe from a cookbook will necessarily do. Somethings just don't freeze and reheat well. If you enjoy cooking and want to experiment with some of your favorites, by all means, give it a whirl. Personally, I like it when others have done the work for me. Get more recipes than you think you'll need. I would recommend double the amount you plan to make.

3. So, why so many recipes? Specifically for this step: check your favorite grocery stores for sales. If you have carnivores in your house, you know a big part of your grocery budget goes towards meat. If you have a large variety of recipes, you can pick the ones that have meat on sale.

4. Create a master ingredient list. There is a FABULOUS site called that has one of the best files for helping you combine all of the ingredients from all of these recipes to make grocery shopping less of a headache.

5. Go grocery shopping. Sorry, but nothing can make this any better.

6. DO NOT cook the same day you go grocery shopping. I did this the first time in November, and not only did I not want to look at food again, I was a bit, shall we say, snarly by the end.

7. For this next step, you need a place that you can spread some papers out. Print out all of the recipes you plan on making as well as this wonderful sheet from, another FABULOUS site for freezer cooking advice. To me, this is truly the hardest part. I'm not one who can successfully get the main dish and the side dishes to all be done at the same time. Take some paper (I rip regular sheets in half to keep from wasting paper) and label at the top, one for each sheet: Chop, Dice, or Mince; Brown; Boil (Spaghetti or Rice); Pre-Heat Oven; Mix.

8. Personally, I number each recipe and just work with the numbers, but the hubby likes to know which recipe we are talking about, so we abbreviate the titles. Either way, go through each recipe and add to your paper lists any steps that go with the sheets. These are the majority of the early steps you will do. There should not be too many more steps on each of your recipes outside of these.

9. Take that wonderful sheet you got from and start ordering your steps. At this point, the order is going to depend completely on your recipes and your cooking skills. I like to brown meat on medium, so I know I have time to do all of the chopping and mincing while that is going on.

10. Make sure to follow the freezing directions exactly as they have been printed! Sometimes you can combine meat and liquid, sometimes they need to be bagged separately. Know ahead of time!

11. Finally, create labels (or, as in our family, Post-Its that hang out on the freezer!) that have the directions for cooking on the day you want to eat the dinner. Some require fridge thawing, some require microwave thawing, some can be cooked straight from the freezer.

Following this method, I just organized the freezer cooking we plan on doing for tonight for the next two weeks. I'll let you know how it worked out for me. If you decide to give this a try, please leave me a comment and let me know how it worked for you!

Thanks to and for their fabulous advice, recipes, and printables that made my life so much easier!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: SEO

So, today is Techie Tuesday. While I love almost all things technology-related (iPhones and iPads, blogs, tweets, and Facebook, and anything that makes my life more organized!), I often don't understand how it works or why it works. There are some things I may not be using at their optimum potential! So Tuesday is my day to learn about the wonderful world of technology. So let's start with something I've heard a lot about, but don't completely understand: SEO.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a hot-button word in today's online world. Those who know how to use SEO can pretty much write themselves a check, there is so much work out there. So what, exactly, is it?

Back in the day, we'll call it the 90s, when this little thing called the internet was just starting to take off, companies were working hard to find ways to keep track of all of these web pages that were being developed. If they could be categorized, it would make slogging through literally millions of web pages a little easier. Welcome into existence web crawlers. These programs were designed to "crawl" through the web pages, looking for specific words or phrases, and indexing them based on these search parameters. They would then list these pages in order of who used the words or phrases you were looking for the most. It's called a relevance search and involves incredibly complicated math that I will not go into here, but it made academic research (its original intent) much easier.

By the end of the 90s, some forward-thinking business people realized that, the higher up a page was ranked in this index, the more traffic it received. Think about it. How often have you Googled something and gone beyond the first or second page? So they created a marketing strategy called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

The way SEO works is by using common words and phrases within the text, and sometimes even within the HTML source code, to get the attention of the crawlers. The more often it is used and the "higher" up (title, first paragraph, pictures, etc.) on the page it is, the higher it will be ranked by the crawlers. So if, for example, you were selling a better mousetrap, you would use the word "mousetrap" everywhere - in your title, several times within the opening paragraphs as well as throughout the text, and have a picture (or 2 or 3) of a mousetrap that is labeled "mousetrap." Simple, right?

Well, not exactly. Like anything in marketing (or in life, really), SEO can be both good and bad. White hat SEO is when you use this technique smartly, fairly, and ethically. Black hat SEO is creating pages specifically to get a higher traffic count with no redeeming information. Often, these pages have their words heavily embedded into the HTML source code. It's unethical, and sites have been blocked from big search engines, such as Google and Yahoo!, just for doing it.

Although many marketing companies, especially those who specialize in online marketing, know how to and often do use SEO, even they will say it should never be the only tool in your marketing tool box. SEO will help to get some traffic through the door, but most sites actually get MORE traffic from being linked from other sites. Plus, once they get there, you should probably have something worth seeing, or you won't have return viewers!

So the next time you read an article, or a job description, that mentions SEO, you will now know a little bit more about it. It's not as big and techie and as scary as it sounds.

Thanks to Yahoo! and Google for all of the information I found (after slugging through a gazillion ad sites!) on SEO.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: George Washington

Today is the first Monday of the new year. Mondays for me are the Presidential Mondays as, I will admit, I never really much paid attention to politics in school, especially when it was about a bunch of old white dudes. My goal is to learn more about the men themselves who became President to try and figure out how we got to this place in our country. So, let's start at the beginning!

George Washington was an uneducated middle child who was good at mathematics. His rise to politics is fairly well-known and taught to children everywhere when President's Day in February rolls around. But there is more to good old George than just an Army General who later became our first President.

Washington was actually not a big fan of politics. He was interested in fairness and equality, and he felt that political factions would do more harm than good. After turning down the opportunity to become King (which, you've got to admit, is a big thing to turn down - I wouldn't have been able to do it!), he was dragged out of retirement to create this new-fangled kind of government called a democratic republic. Despite his desire to remain out of the political arena, he was voted our first President - unanimously.

The first thing he did was to assign Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to his cabinet. Today, that would be the equivalent of placing Newt Gingrich next to Michael Moore and telling them to play nice. He truly believed, however, that these two men represented the best ideas of both sides of the political debate (at the time, the Federalists, who believed in a large Federal government and the Democratic Republicans, who believed in less Federal government and more States' rights), which, to Washington, was important for integrity and fairness.

He tried to leave the office after one term, but was unanimously elected again. He continued to tread carefully, balancing interests for all the people of this fledgling country. He did, however, utilize his power to act independently of Congress when it came to all things military, both foreign and domestic. His days as a general served to make him a force to be reckoned with when rebellions popped up. He also had the military sense to declare the United States neutral in a war between England and France - despite misgivings from some members of Congress who felt we owed France for their help in the Revolutionary War (and probably wanted one more dig at those damned British red coats!).

Washington left the office after two terms, exhausted from the political parties' constant battles and petty fights. He died three years later.

Washington was an honorable man who always strove for balance and fairness. He was the first, and probably only, President who could claim a desire for bi-partisan politics - and mean it! Our current President and future Presidential hopefuls would do well with brushing up on the tireless efforts and leadership of our first President.

Thanks to of the University of Virginia for my information in this blog!

Author's Note: Originally called our government a democracy, when, in actuallity, it is a republic, or, more specifically a democratic republic. I changed the original post to correct the mistake, but want to give a shout out to one of my favorite people and readers, Julia Wilson, for catching the error and keeping me on my toes!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What This Homeschool Professor Learned in 2011

So, August 2011 began our first year of homeschooling with our oldest son, AJ. It has been an ... interesting ... learning experience. So, what did I learn in 2011?

1. Homeschooling, is really, really, REALLY hard. Not the subject - it's first grade work, so I think I can handle the material. The discipline is hard. Starting and maintaining a routine. Sticking to the goals that have been set. Not turning over, sleeping in, and thinking, eh, we don't need to do school today. It's such an easy trap! While I'm glad that we don't have that crazy, hurried mornings we used to in order to get my slow poke of a boy up, dressed, fed, and on the bus, there's also no post-bus nap. I know that makes me sound like a weenie, but we do have a new baby that is still not sleeping through the night. I'm exhausted!

2. There is NOTHING linear about homeschooling. This is both a good and a bad. The bad part is that all of my careful planning went out the window within the first weeks of school. The good is how much we have learned about AJ - you know, the person we are doing this for? He has an incredible math brain. We're starting second grade math this week, and should be starting third grade math sometime in April. He LOVES science, especially about space. We were learning animals, which he liked, when something about space came up, and boom, we did space for the rest of the year. He has become an incredible reader (Thank you, Saxon Phonics!), but can't spell his way out of a paper bag. How many other parents get the opportunity to be this involved in their kids' brains?

3. Homeschooling is NOT about books. My kid is smart. Not bragging - he's not going to be some 14-year-old college graduate or anything - just stating a fact. Because of that, it is really easy to get caught up in all of the books to cram as much knowledge as that hungry little brain can absorb. But some days, homeschooling is about field trips where we get to teach our little brother what we learned about how a pumpkin grows. Sometimes it's about going to the store and watching Mama use a calculator as the number gets bigger and bigger the more stuff that goes in the cart. Sometimes it's about a beautiful fall day outside, being quiet, and counting the bugs found under the rock.

4. I would never, ever, EVER do it any other way. Despite the false starts and frustrations and worries, seeing him be proud of his accomplishments, hold conversations with adults about some pretty deep topics, and not be stressed about all of the other debris that goes along with public school makes it all worth it.

The Year of Knowledge: New Year's Day

An interesting fact - humans have only been celebrating "New Year's Day" on January 1 since 1582. 

The earliest records we have of celebrating a new year occurred over 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon. It was celebrated much later in the year than when we now celebrate - the first new moon after the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring, in March.

Later, the early Roman calendar was only about ten months - 304 days. Needless to say, this calendar didn't really line up with the stars, so good old Julius Caesar in 46 BCE decided to add Januarius and Februarius (January and February to us Americans) to the calendar year.

JC was also the first to decide on January 1st as the official New Year day in honor of the Roman god for which January is named - Janus. Janus was the god of beginnings with two faces - one looking forward to the future, one looking behind to the past. Seems like a perfect concept for a New Year. The Catholic church had different ideas, of course. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII made the official decision to put it back to January 1st. Before that, in ACE, New Year's was celebrated on a religious holiday (sometimes Christmas, sometimes the Feast of Annunciation).

As an additional fact, making New Year's resolutions also started with the Babylonians. In order to curry favor with the gods and start the year off on the right foot, they would resolve to pay off their debts and return used farm equipment.

Guess I'll be needing to return that tractor this year, huh?

Thanks to for the info!