More Cirrus Clouds

Another bright blue sky day with cirrus clouds and 63 degrees in February. I love this weather.

Photo by ChristineMM taken 2/12/12 with iPhone4 and Instagram.

Dewitt Ray Nelson

Dewitt Ray Nelson, 49, of Wister, OK passed away Wednesday, February 29, 2012 in Wister. Dewitt was born July 17, 1962 in Corning, CA to Alvis Ray & Dena Mae (Davis) Nelson. He was preceded in death by his father; half brother, Carlos Nelson; and his grandparents.

Survivors include his wife, Kim of the home; son & daughter in law, Jeromy & Jamie Nelson of Dallas, TX; brother, William C. Scott of Tulsa, OK; sisters & brothers in law, Susan & Ken Bailey, Rebecca & Dan Eckert of Hackett, AR, Barbara & Ronnie Harris of Panama, OK, Wileata & Leon Glenn of Poteau, OK, Paula Ollar of Tulsa, OK; stepchildren, Bobby Lee Coler, Brian Keith Coler, Billy & Trina Taylor of Wister, Kris & Mariam Taylor of Ft. Smith, AR and Cherri Alexander of Wister, OK, step granddaughter, Caitlyn Ashlyn Coler; his mother, Dena Mae Jackson; 7 grandsons, 1 granddaughter, 9 nieces, 7 nephews; numerous great nieces, nephews, other relatives & loved ones; many beloved friends.

Memorial services will be 11 am, Tuesday, March 6, 2012 in Evans Chapel of Memories, Poteau, OK with Rev. Leon Glenn officiating.

Casey Edward Branscum

Casey Edward Branscum, 21, of Fanshawe, OK passed away Monday, February 27, 2012 in McAlester, OK. Casey was born May 24, 1990 in Poteau, OK to Robert Carl & Tina Rachell (Ingle) Branscum. He was a roughneck. Casey was a member of the Fanshawe Fire Department, and Fanshawe Free Will Baptist Church. He loved to hunt, fish, play baseball and was known to be ornery at times. He was preceded in death by his grandparents, Bailey & Carolyn Branscum.

Survivors include his mother & father; sister & brother in law, Nikki & Rusty Herren of Fanshawe, OK; nephews, Ruger & Levi Herren; grandparents, Daniel & Naomi Ingle of LeFlore, OK, Patsie Kuykendall of Campbell, MO; fiancé, Sierra Ward of LeFlore, OK

Services will be 2 pm, Friday, March 2, 2012 at Fanshawe School with Rev. Tracy Martin & Sam Ingle officiating. Interment will be in Hicks Chapel Cemetery, Fanshawe, OK. Pallbearers will be Adam, Jonas, Aaron Branscum, Dakota & Bubba Knight, E.T. Gibson.

The family will be at the funeral home on Thursday evening from 6-8 pm to visit with relatives & friends.

***In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Fanshawe Fire Department or Gideon Bibles.

Raising Renee Documentary Review

A few days ago I watched the documentary Raising Renee on my cable TV service provider's On Demand service. I found the movie interesting and insightful on many levels.

The film is about a mid-40's artist Beverly McIver who is a professional artist who was being lauded by the art world for her oil paintings. McIver also is a college professor, teaching art, of course. She is African-American, raised in Maryland in racially turbulent times, and is single. As the movie begins she is living alone in Arizona.

I was interested in the movie partially because it shows her painting process and told stories of her life that were the fuel for her artistic spark. The clownface paintings disturbed me until later the stories about her experience in school with taking clown lessons was explained. The film creators did a very good job intertwining her real life with showing her artwork and explaining how art imitates life.

McIver's older sister, Renee, is mentally disabled. At 48 she is developmentally like a third grader, according to Beverly. As the film begins she is still living with her mother who takes care of her as if she were a child. During the movie, Beverly and Renee's mother passes away and Renee had agreed to take care of her sister, so the next chapter of their story unfolds. The life change to suddenly shift to being a single woman living her passion with freedom to living with and helping oversee Renee's safety and welfare is shown.

Beverly has trouble continuing her old life as she knew it. If one needs quiet and peace to paint but there is a blasting TV and a lonely sister who wants to chatter in the evening, it's a hard juggling act.

A change is made to help Renee live more independently. I won't reveal it all here. I do note that the end was touching when Beverly finally has her peace and quiet, she thinks it is too quiet with just one pet cat left in the house, and she longs for company.

Also addressed in the movie is the issue of the challenge of a single African American woman raising children in the South before the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. McIver struggled to make ends meet as a maid. Beverly attended a school which she said was mostly white rich kids, across town. She later went to college where she learned to paint. The negative experiences feeling poor and judged as inferior by racist white people in Maryland is told in this story. I think McIver must be happy to sell her paintings to rich white people at her art gallery showings for $10K each!

For me the major emotional element in the film was about Renee and her disability. The film can't help but make you wonder how our society is to care for adult aged disabled persons (since the old institutional system started to get phased out in the 1960s). This issue touched close to home as my nephew is 12 and has Autism and still does not speak and is unable to communicate much and also has developmental issues. (The last I heard he tested at an age three level but I'm not sure what the latest tests have revealed.)

I have been asked to be my nephew's guardian if anything were to happen to my brother and his wife and I said yes (although no legal paperwork was ever written or signed). My husband's reaction to that request to me was, "Do you have any idea what that really means should you say yes?" Yes, I do. I can't imagine me doing it, but if that situation ever arose I would rise to the occasion as best I could. Someone has to do it!

It is important to me that disabled people have as independent a life as possible and a high quality of life and be kept safe, it just takes a lot of work for someone to do. Compromises are often made to see that the one needing the most care gets it.

A note to parents: I feel this is a good movie to show to your tweens and teens to show what the life of a person with this type of disability is like. This is a big issue and one that makes for interesting discussion with your kids. What are your values surrounding this issue? Does someone you know have a disability like this?

Be cautioned it is said at one point that Renee gets raped after opening the door to a stranger. This is not graphic but it is discussed. My personal opinion is once the tween years hit and it's time to start discussing human reproduction and values around sexuality it is time to also tell kids about the violent crime of rape.

Both boys and girls need to have real information about rape and to see for themsleves that it is a terrible violent crime which is not something to be joked about. (If you are not aware kids today joke about rape and some kids in schools play Rape Tag at recess.) We need to speak frankly and directly about rape and call it what it is: a rivolting violent crime that is not fodder for jokes or games.

Rolled into this should also be a talk about sexual harrassment with words and also with inappropriate touch. Girls should be taught to not take that kind of abuse from boys in the community or at school. Boys should be taught to not disrespect girls by doing those things.


Raising Renee official movie website

Beverly McIver's offical website

Wordless Wednesday, Night Before

We've lost our Internet connection for the week and we're expecting to be snowed in tomorrow... so I'm posting this Tuesday eve in advance of the storm... just in case. Gotta be prepared.

Spring Lacrosse Has Begun

I am busy with younger son (age 11) doing spring lacrosse.

For reasons I will not get into here he is only doing a two day a week clinic, so this is not a burden on our family's time as it has been in the last years. With that said, I wish my son was doing more. Comparing the programs available here in Texas to what he had in Connecticut I now realize we had it really great back in Connecticut. The lacrosse programs for kids here are smaller, less available, and the supply for the program does not meet the demand.

Update: Okay upon reading the above, I sound pretty ungrateful. Actually I am grateful that something exists, and my son is grateful. Something is better than nothing. I am glad that some volunteer work to put this program on. While my family does not help with lacrosse we are spending a lot of time helping the Boy Scouts and the rowing team and my husband's also helping homeschoolers by teaching a stock market class. We can only take on so much, so with lacrosse we need to lean on others to provide the program.

Photo by ChristineMM 2/24/12 with iPhone4 and Instagram taken in The Woodlands Texas.

Debra Ann Hale Blake

Debra Ann Hale Blake, 52, of Poteau, OK passed away Monday, February 27, 2012 in Fort Smith, AR. Debra was born January 15 1960 in Poteau, OK to Willie Lee & Ada (Sharp) Hale. She was a housewife. She was a very active member of Trinity Baptist Church where she cooked often and taught Sunday School. She was preceded in death by her parents.

Survivors include her husband, James of the home; son, Benjamin & Blair Blake of Poteau; daughter, Andrea & Brian Branam of Poteau; brothers, Carrol & Dona Hale, Andy Hale of Poteau; nephew, Micah & Elizabeth Hale of Fayetteville, AR; 4 great nieces and nephews.

Services will be 10 am, Thursday, March 1, 2012 at Trinity Baptist Church of Poteau, OK with Rev. LeRoy Billy & Rev. Jim Cook officiating. Interment will follow in Fairhill/Knothole Cemetery, Cameron, OK. Pallbearers will be men of Trinity Baptist Church. Honorary Pallbearers will be Paul Tolbert, Mike Dorey, Jim Craig, Randy Duncan.

The family will be at the funeral home on Wednesday evening from 5-7 pm to visit with relatives & friends.

In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to Trinity Baptist Church.

Is There Room for One More?

Recently I was skimming through some media mentions of Sons of Norway when I came across a short piece in the Las Vegas Weekly. Specifically, it was their annual "Rivalry Issue" and I was surprised to see Sons of Norway mentioned (in the article's third slide).

The piece discusses both of the Las Vegas Lodges, Vegas Viking and Desert Trolls, as well as how they both promote Norwegian heritage and culture in the greater Las Vegas area with events, lodge programs and lutefisk dinners. It then goes on to ask the question "is this town big enough for both?"

Rarely has such a short article given me cause for such pause for thought. Should any city have more than one Sons of Norway lodge? I've heard arguments on both sides of the issue.

Some say that any given city should only have a single lodge because it provides a focal point for Norwegian heritage and culture. Those who ascribe to this line of thought believe that having two or more lodges in a city fractures the efforts of everyone involved, creates unnecessary competition and dilutes the message of Sons of Norway. Essentially the argument is strength in numbers; that all Sons of Norway members in a city should work together toward common goals, and for a common purpose.

However, those who are proponents to the idea of multiple lodges within the same city believe that more lodges means a wider reach for the organization, while allowing each lodge to be unique and offering different pursuits to members with different interests. In essence it's still the argument of strength in numbers, however in this case, the strength is a little different (variety as opposed to unity).

In my humble opinion I think both arguments have their merits, but I think there is a third option. Why not take the best elements of both and build a hybrid model?

In the interest of full disclosure, I live in a metro area where there are as many as 10 lodges (depending on how you define "metro area") with five of them in the same city. But I think that what the lodges here have done is a great example.

You see, while each lodge has it's own identity that's made up of its strengths and pursuits, be they lodge programming, community involvement, fundraising, etc., they also work together for common goals. Thanks to a "Joint Committee" that is made up of members from each of the lodges, all the lodges in the Twin Cities can work together towards common goals, assist one another when needed and pool their resources together to increase their effectiveness in promoting and preserving Norwegian heritage and culture.

Overall it's been an effective way to consolidate our efforts when appropriate, while allowing each lodge to maintain its own identity. It's something I think could be very beneficial to any city where more than one lodge resides. If you'd like to learn more about how lodges can work together or start their own Joint Committee, contact the Sons of Norway Headquarters at 800-945-8851.

With Las Vegas as the current example, I think they are going to do just fine! If you are a member of either Vegas Viking or Desert Trolls, leave a comment. I'd love to hear about how your lodges differ and how they work together.

Homemade Yogurt

Before moving to China, I would have never known that I could make my own yogurt.  How did I miss this?  Of course, here in China milk is much more expensive to buy than it is back at home (in the US).  For many of you, this will be a great money-saver!  I am not happy with the "runny" yogurt options available here in China, and I wasn't having much luck finding yogurt without added sugar.

So then I found THIS great tutorial by The Frugal Girl

My directions are NO DIFFERENT.  I'm only sharing my version because I found it difficult to sort through all of the text to understand the process.  Once I got it down, it really is a no-brainer!  What can I say... I'm very visual!!  So here is my attempt to make it super simple for those of you more like me!  PLEASE refer to  The Frugal Girl post if you want more details I'm not sharing here.

I've made this now 4 times, and I have had awesome results EVERY time!

- 1 gallon of milk (less fat, less thick your yogurt will be)
- 1 cup of good quality, plain yogurt, unopened
- Air-tight containers (I'm using recycled jars and Tupperware)
- Large, thick-bottomed sauce pan
- Whisk
- Thermometer
- Cooler
- Measuring pitcher (to help you pour into jars)

1. Make sure your jars or containers are clean and well sterilized.  You will end up with 4 quarts of yogurt (a gallon), so 4 1-quart jars would work perfect.

2. Pour milk into a thick-bottomed sauce pan.  Heat over medium-high heat, while occasionally stirring with a whisk, until you reach 185F-190F (85C-90C).  As you can see, a meat thermometer works just fine.  I used a paperclip to hold it on the side of the pan. ;) 

3. Once at temperature, transfer to a sink with cool water.  Allow the temperature of the milk to drop down to 120F (50C).

4. At 120F (50C), whisk in 1 cup of good-quality yogurt until well blended.  I save a small jar of yogurt from each batch I make to use for this purpose.  If this is your first time, you can use a store-bought yogurt.

5. Transfer some of your yogurt to a pitcher to make it easier to pour into your jars.  I do this in the sink to avoid making a huge mess!

6. Fill your jars or containers.  See those two jars I've set to the side?  They still smelled of spaghetti sauce... ack!  I don't think spaghetti-flavored yogurt would be too popular in our house!  And please.. disregard the mess of milk in the photo.  I over-filled my pitcher making it difficult to pour without the mess.

7. Skim the milk froth/bubbles off of the top of each jar/container...

... and your jars will end up looking like this!  Now add the tops and tightly seal.

8. Transfer all of your jars/containers to a cooler that you have filled with a gallon or so of hot water.The Frugal Girl's directions say 120F, but I just use the hottest water I can get from my sink.  I figure that has to be pretty close since it is too hot to put your hands in! Make sure your cooler is in a warm place in your home, away from cool drafts.  

The water only looks murky because some of my jars were sitting in milk.  You may also notice I covered the jars with some plastic wrap before adding the lid... just in case the lids were smelling a little spaghetti saucy!  Because I didn't trust my Tupperware containers would be safe in the water, I was sure to stick something underneath them so they were not submerged.

9. Close the cooler and leave your yogurt there for 3 hours.

10. After 3 hours in the cooler your yogurt will begin to set, but will still be a bit runny.  At this point, transfer it to the fridge.  After a few hours your yogurt will be ready to go!

11. Remember I mentioned saving a small jar of yogurt to use as the "starter" for my next batch?  I make sure to mark it and tuck it in the back of the fridge.


The Frugal Girl offers some instructions for making vanilla yogurt on her post, if you are interested in trying that as well.

Now.... Want to know what I'm doing with my yogurt??  I'll have another post to share soon with those details!

Happy Yogurt Making!!!

The Writings of Marcel Duchamp

“Can one make works which are not works of art?” ~Marcel Duchamp

An education begins with an introduction to the basic building blocks of any field. In fifth grade we have enough understanding to grasp the reality that in history there is both a recent past and an ancient past. We learn about the main events, the big events that changed our world. It’s all about times and places and dates and circumstances. All this history gives us a foundation in order to later comprehend the ideas behind the events. What moved these men to do the things they did that so shaped the future they had as yet not seen? Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Marx and Engels, Lincoln, Lenin… What were the ideas that so impelled them?

Art history is no different. Our training in the arts may begin with learning about the basic materials and tools artists use and principles about color, line, perspective. The next level includes becoming familiar with the artists, the times in which they lived, the work that they produced. Whistler, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Rodin, Mondrian… Each has a style, and each a place in the grand scheme of things. But so often we simply stop there. We learn that Dali did melting watches and works that were weird, and that Picasso painted the Guernica as a statement about the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. But what were the ideas that impelled them?

Many artists have left behind not only their art, but also writings about that art. Kandinsky wrote, among other things, a book called Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Paul Klee left us his Pedagogical Sketchbook. In my hand is a book titled The Writings of Marcel Duchamp.

Duchamp, whose Nude Descending A Staircase created a sensation when it was painted in 1912. His Urinal, a shocking piece of found art when first shown, has been proclaimed by some as the most significant piece of art in the 20th century. Duchamp’s work foreshadowed the conceptual artists and happenings which would catch up to his ideas a half century later.

This blog entry is a review of The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson. The cover of the book features Duchamp’s "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even" which is on display in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The piece, sketched in 1913 and produced over a period of many years, ended up getting cracked on delivery. It is a large glass and therefore fragile, but substantial enough to withstand the shocks it experienced, as we ourselves often are in life.

The first portion of this book of Duchamp’s writings is about this piece, also referred to as The Large Glass, and I feel confident in saying that the multitude of meanings contained therein are completely veiled to the one who has not taken the time to access his notes on the project.

Something of a flow chart is here on pages 20 and 21 with some of the following text inscribed in boxes: Motor with Quite Feeble Cylinders, Wasp Sex Cylinder, Cage (contains filament material), Desire-Magneto, Capillary Tubes, Architectonic Base for the Bride, Oculist Charts, Oculist Witnesses, Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, Water Wheel Mill, The Milky Way, etc. etc. The notes are full of playful suggestiveness and eroticism, even when there is nothing really erotically charged in the piece itself to the uninstructed viewer.

Duchamp’s experiments with chance are equally fascinating. The chapter on his 1914 Box begins with the Idea of Fabrication. “If a straight horizontal thread one meter long falls from a height of one meter onto a horizontal plane distorting itself as it pleases and creates a new shape of the measure of length.” Many of the notes are incomprehensible, and others impishly humorous, perhaps not unlike Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

The various elements of the Bride Stripped Bare include notes on dust breeding, sieves and funnels, pistons, weights, waterfalls, and the famous chocolate grinder. “The chocolate of the rollers, coming from one who knows not where, Would deposit itself after grinding, as milk chocolate… The grinder is mounted on a Louis XV nickled chassis.”

More than half the book deals with The Large Glass. The following section of the book deals with Duchamp’s transformation into Rrose Selavy. (eros c’est la vie) Much of this chapter is in French and the reader is encouraged to look elsewhere for more about this segment. The Man Ray photo of Duchamp as Rrose probably says enough. Much of the chapter includes explanations of Duchamp’s wordplay in his notes. Straight translation fails to convey the subtleties.

The following chapter is an essay titled ‘The Great Trouble With Art In This Country,” a portion of which details how Nude Descending a Staircase was not influenced by Futurists like Severini but was more about deconstructing forms, as the cubists were doing. “Reduce, reduce, reduce was my thought,” Duchamp explains, along with the comment that his aim was increasingly inward as opposed to external. Nude Descending a Staircase, which is also housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, proved to be a necessary stepping stone to The Large Glass, and like a series of concentric circles rippling outward from a stone plunking into a pond, so the chapters of this book constantly reference this formidable piece to which Duchamp devoted nearly a decade of his life.

Bottom line: many artists from DaVinci to Dali were also writers. While it’s true that spectators can interact with a work of art without knowing anything beyond its shape, line, form or substance, we are much enriched if we also take time to read artist statements and the essays, books, letters they have left behind.

For what it’s worth… In the late 1980s I wrote a short story that was influenced by Duchamp and the gradual shift from visual arts to the minimalism and the conceptual presentation of ideas. Later, Terrorists Preying was translated into French in the 1990s and was ultimately included in my 2011 volume of short stories titled Newmanesque.


Top right: Hermeneutic Circle by Eris Vafias, used with permission.
Lower right: Abstract Fragment by Ed Newman

Thespians Documentary Review

Last weekend I took a break from the stresses of my life to sit down and watch the documentary Thespians which was showing on my cable company's On Demand service.

Thespians is about the largest competition for high school students for performance arts, in Florida. The movie follows four troupes who prepare and try out at regionals, then make it to the top tier statewide competition.

I found the movie interesting and inspiring. The efforts of good coaching are evident and it made me wish that all kids who would like to try their hand at performing arts could have that chance. I note that a bunch of the teen guys formerly were only into sports, but when the high school years hit they tried acting and ditched the sports and found a new passion. Another story is of a (gorgeous blonde) girl who claims to be a nerd and was very shy. Additionally she was pulled out of her shell after being raped added another layer of emotional duress to her fear of self-expression. Those stories helped to attempt to bust the myth that only loud or extremely extroverted people make good actors.

A message I took away is that when natural talent meets good coaching and hard work and perseverence all combine, fantastic things can happen.

At one point two students complain to their teacher that their performance is not what they wanted it to be. They seemed frozen and were not going forward. They had the equivalent of writer's block for actors. I loved the teacher's response which I will paraphrase: that acting is a process not a product and the only way to get what you want, to get something better than what you have it to keep working at the process. Only by working through the process over and over does an artist find and discover what makes the performance better. You can't get better by sitting around thinking about the problem or ruminating on your mediocrity or failure. You have to actually practice, practice, practice to discover what will make something great.

In the end of course there were winners and losers. However between the sheer joy that the participants had to just compete (not walk away with a medal) and the happiness of the full troupe who did an entire live play for the thousands of other student actors (not for a prize or to compete but just to perform for performance's sake), you could see that everyone was glad they competed and made it to that level of the competition.

Magnet schools are a great thing and I wish we had more of them. This film reinforced the fact that alternative education can benefit kids: not all kids need or should have a basic college prep tracked high school experience. These kids are thriving with magnet schools and with good acting teaching. (I was knitting during the movie so missed out on whether all four schools in the film were magnets or if it was just some of them.) The film also then can make the case that the arts in regular public schools (or done in the community) is important too.

I enjoyed seeing teens doing something they loved and how these teens found their niche.


Thespians movie official website

My blog posts:

Thoughts on Homeschoolers and Acdemic Competitions

Deadlines Are Good

Shadows in Parking Lot

Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram in Spring, Texas on 2/26/12.

Irene Dunning

Irene Dunning, 72, of Poteau, OK passed away Sunday, February 26, 2012 in Poteau. Irene was born July 7, 1939 in Keota, OK to Theodore & Ermal (Teague) Hayes. She was owner/operator of Bargain Shack in Poteau. She was a member of the Gospel Tabernacle in Poteau, OK. She was preceded in death by her husband, John Dunning; her parents; and brother, Clarence Hayes.

Survivors include her daughters & sons in law, Pam & Jerry Collins, Sandy & Mark Branstetter; sons & daughters in law, Jerry & Cheri Dunning, John & Julia Dunning; grandchildren, Chris & Laurie Dunning, Crystal & Joey Triplett, Jerry & Misty Collins, Janna & Jeff Gibson, Brad Cook, Chrissy & Zac Cook, Jennifer & Jason Parker, Taylor & Jena Branstetter, Ryan Dunning, Cody Dunning; great grandchildren, Luke Dunning, Jamison Triplett, Dani Collins, Dax Collins, Jayden Gibson, Journi Cook, Jake Cook, Ben Cook, Mallory Parker, Jackson Parker, Jordyn Parker; brothers & sisters in law, Curtis & Sue Hayes, Jack & Donna Hayes; sister & brother in law, Christene & Lawrence Daniels; other relatives & loved ones; many beloved friends.

Services will be 10 am, Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at the Gospel Tabernacle in Poteau, OK with Bro. Lawrence Daniels, Bro. Jack Hayes, Bro. Carl Daniels. Pallbearers will be Jerry Dunning, John Dunning, Chris Dunning, Jerry Collins Jr., Brad Cook, Ryan Dunning, Cody Dunning. Interment will follow in Oakland Cemetery, Poteau, OK

New Resource for Teaching Writing We're Using

At a recent (free) webinar I attended with Lee Binz of The Home Scholar and Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing about homeschooling high school I heard of this book: 501 Writing Prompts. I bought it immediately. I started using it today with my ninth grader in our homeschool.

501 Writing Prompts by LearningExpress
ISBN: 978-1-57685-438-9

This book explains different types of writing that schools and colleges use. Some of these are used on standardized tests.

The beauty of this book is that it gets right to the core of what a person needs to know about the four different types of writing: pursuasive essay, expository writing, the narrative method, and literary research essays. The rubric or grading chart is given to explain what teachers and test graders expect from the writing. To illustrate this more concretely there are sample essays of various scores to show exactly what they mean.

(In reading this book I realized that the way I was taught in school is not how essays are being graded today, so I am glad I didn't just rely on what I myself was taught and what I remember.)

There are no shortcuts to learning to write, everyone gets better by practice. To this end there are 501 writing prompts to use for practice.

This is the type of book that is worth its weight in gold. With a full retail price of under $15 and for a discounted price online of under $10 it gives all the information you need to know. This is a lot of help for such a low cost! It cuts to the chase and doesn't waste your time on long lessons or too lengthy explanations.

If you use this book and really practice you can't help but improve your writing skills. Once you know what the graders look for you can learn to write in that way to give them what they want.

I highly recommend this for all students.

Homeschoolers, this is an inexpensive supplement to whatever you are already using to teach your students to write. Homeschool co-op parents can use this as a basis for classes. Teens can use this book yourself to improve your skills, on your own if you are self-motivated.

As we use this book all I keep thinking is, "Here is all the information we need in one convenient place now it's up to my kids to learn it and practice".

I started using this today with my ninth grader.

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose other than what's in my general blog disclosure statement located near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Cowboys and Aliens

Last night was Oscar night so our minds drift to Hollywood, the land of red carpets, limos and stars in sidewalks. By now you know The Artist took home its share of honors, and the best actress of our generation, Meryl Streep, won best actress. But I wanted to write about an entertaining 2011 film that I enjoyed this weekend on DVD, even if it was panned by the Academy.

Hollywood has a habit of returning to favorite themes: love stories, monsters, murder mysteries, the rich & famous, thrillers, musicals… themes of all kinds. But westerns seemed to really draw the attention of American television and movie viewers. Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Roy Rogers and Maverick were on the tube. And think of all those cowboy and Indians stories on the silver screen like the epic How the West Was Won to the more politically correct Little Big Man and Dances with Wolves. Clint Eastwood cut his teeth doing spaghetti westerns. The Duke finally got his Oscar in True Grit. So here is a film that has yet another twist on the cowboys and Indians saga that is both surprising and entertaining, even if improbable, Cowboys and Aliens.

The influence of all those old westerns could be seen in my second grade art class where I did some pictures of cowboys. One of my stuffed animals had a vest with a sheriff's badge on it.

From the very first, you can tell Daniel Craig was born to be a cowboy, gritty as any of the Magnificent Seven ever were. He must have had fun playing this role. He wore his chaps and holster well.

I could probably find out with minimal research but the location where this film was shot reminded me of the South Dakota Badlands, one of our family vacations when our kids were young. Nearby the film Dances with Wolves was shot. But a lot of Hollywood Westerns were shot in the neighborhood of Sedona, Arizona and that opening shot could have been there as well. We have a lot of beautiful landscapes in the country.

The story…. Good guys and bad guys and Natives and … well, aliens. If UFOs can come to earth in our modern time, who’s to say they couldn’t have come to earth just as easily in the 19th century…. or fifteenth… or fourth…. For the purposes of this story, they came in the 19th century, the wild west era, because folks in Hollywood know how much we Americans love Westerns.

These aliens were indeed gruesome. Why is it that Hollywood has such a fondness for making aliens, monsters and ghouls green? Is green really the color of evil? The aliens here are truly creepy with insect-like features, reptilian hides. E.T., the Mask and the Creature from the Black Lagoon come to mind here as green creatures. But look at the Disney world and we find plenty of other evil characters portrayed in greens and blues. (Insight courtesy artist Kim Abeles of Los Angeles.)

The stars are bright in this film, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford pre-eminent and Olivia Wilde being a heroine of exceptional beauty. You'll recognize other faces in this vast cast.
The special effects were as expected with a movie of this size. Director John Favreau, who did Iron Man, clearly knows how to play the special effects game. Though spectacular, they do not distract from the story, which was fun and full of surprises, though maybe a bit tedious at the end.

If you get the chance, give it a chance. Even if the critics panned it, a lot of film buffs enjoyed it. I'm one of them.

Pine Trees with Cirrus Clouds

It was a gorgeous day on 2/22/12, sunny with cirrus clouds and 77 degrees when I snapped this photo using my iPhone4 and Instagram in The Woodlands Texas.

Elinor Mae Pierce

Elinor Mae Pierce, 86, of Shady Point, OK passed away Sunday, February 26, 2012 in Shady Point. Elinor was born March 6, 1925 in Buck Creek, OK to Raymond William & Della Mae (Brown) Wiles. She was a homemaker. Elinor was preceded in death by her first husband, Clarence Mize; son, Dave Mize; her parents; 2 brothers & 1 sister.

Survivors include her husband, Robert L. Pierce of the home; 1 daughter, Shelia & Charley Covey of Shady Point, OK; daughter in law, Cheryl Mize of Shady Point, OK; grandchildren, Trinity & Sue Covey of Shady Point, Mark & Toni Jones of Edmond, OK, Trena Nixon, David & Kasey Mize, Aaron Mize all of Shady Point; 8 great grandchildren, Shelbi Bowden, Dylan Covey, Philip Jones, Elizabeth Jones, Taylor Nixon, Kaylee Nixon, Caleb Nixon, Mason Mize; stepdaughter, Libby Fout of Shady Point; stepgrandchildren, Gerald Fout, Ladonna Wiles, Bobby Fout of Shady Point; 7 step great grandchildren, Misty Butler, Mindy Hale, Danielle, Michelle, Dominique Pierce, Randy, Brandy Wiles; 8 step great great grandchildren; brother, Frank & Bert Wiles of Shady Point; sister, Norma & Bud Reeves of Moore, OK; brother in law, Leon & Marilyn Mize of Spiro; sister in law, Donna Mize of Calumet, OK; brothers in law, C.D. & Dorrene Pierce of Ft. Smith, AR, Dennis & Dottie Pierce of Alma, AR; sister in law, Faye Justus & Myron of Spiro, OK, Margie Pierce of Panama, OK, Una Pierce of Cameron, OK; numerous nieces, nephews, other relatives & loved ones; many beloved friends.

Services will be 2 pm, Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at the First Assembly of God Church in Poteau, OK with Rev. Steve Hughes & Rev. Jim Cook officiating. Interment will follow in Shady Point Cemetery. Pallbearers will be Charley Covey, Trinity Covey, Dylan Covey, Mark Jones, David Mize, Aaron Mize. Honorary pallbearers will be the Men of Calhoun Baptist Church.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Calhoun Baptist Church Building Fund, PO Box 437, Panama, OK 74951.

The family will be at the funeral home on Tuesday evening from 6-8 pm to visit with relatives & friends.

Proof of Life

Yesterday I was listening to a documentary about kidnapping and hostage-taking on National Public Radio. At one time Columbia led the world in number of hostages being held for ransom. If I heard correctly the program said there were 3,000 hostages being held at any one time by the FARC or the rebels at any one time at its peak ten or fifteen years ago. (Somalia, I believe, is now the leader in this enterprise.)

In fact, there were so many hostages held that a radio station in Bogota created a radio program that aired on Sunday afternoons for the purpose of transmitting messages from loved ones whose husbands (usually) were missing. Wives would tell their husbands that they were loved, that they looked forward to seeing them again, that sons and daughters were starting school next week or graduating, etc.

One of the reasons many hostages don’t make it is that they lose hope of ever getting out. As a result, they do not exercise or take care of themselves. This attitude leads to self-destruction when in reality the hostages have it as their aim to keep them alive because they are only worth money alive. This is a ransom situation.

To get someone returned a price must be paid. But the person paying that ransom wants proof of life first. Why give a million dollars for a dead man? Proof of life may consist of videos, tapes, letters… evidences that the captive is still there. At least this is the way it works in the hostage business.

As an aside here, it’s interesting the Bible talks about the human race as being hostages, that God sent his son, Jesus, as the ransom to get us back. One difference between that story and this is that in the Paul’s letter to the Ephesians God did this ransom transaction knowing we were dead. That is, we were “dead to God” or spiritually separated from life, which in the Biblical story began with being banished from Paradise or Eden where the "tree of life" is situated. This is a very unusual notion but at the heart of the “good news” that Christianity was originally all about. (Interestingly enough, the hero in C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy* is named Ransom.)

But as I listened to yesterday’s program and thought about it my mind latched on to this phrase “proof of life” but I wanted to apply it in a different way. What is the evidence we bring to this world that we are alive? After we’re gone, what have we left behind that proves we have lived? Certainly our children are a legacy. Do my writings count? My art? How about our acts of selflessness?

What are the proofs that you are alive? What proofs will you leave that you have lived?

*Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength

Puzzlewich - Feed Your Brain!

I am thrilled to be featuring Shelisa from a great educational (and FUN) blog called Think Magnet!  Her blog is full of creative and simple ways to incorporate learning into the home.  I love how her posts are short and sweet... and many ideas shared can be done with the things you already have on hand.  She also shares some great advice on how to parent learners within your home. Be sure to stop by and see what great things Shelisa is sharing at Think Magnet!

Some of my personal favorites over at Think Magnet...


1) Sweet Spelling                                   2) Snow Day Science
3) Think Boards      4)  If You Give a Dog a Donut Book Club


It's the simple, easy teachable moments that become my favorite. My husband grew up with puzzle sandwiches. I love continuing this tradition.

 A food for thought chance to practice spatial reasoning, geometry, problem solving and PATIENCE! Also, buys you some time while you're busy filling drinks, cutting up fruit, or actually sitting down to eat your own lunch. When your child is old enough, have them design and cut a puzzlewich for you!

 Apply food puzzling to other foods like pizza, breakfast toast, cheese slices, and tortillas!

I also recently broadened our Puzzlewich tradition in creating a Tangramwich! You are what you what if you eat puzzles.

Happy Puzzle Eating!

How the Winter Garden Turned Out

In my first winter in Texas I planted a garden.

Herb seedlings and tomatoes were planted out in the first week of September. It was in the 90s and sunny, still scorching weather back then.

When we moved in there was an empty raised bed, 4x6 feet. We spent over $50 on organic soil and organic compost, purchased at the big box DIY store to fill it.

I had high hopes. I watered every day by hand so as to not waste water by using a sprinkler.

The entire backyard here or shall I say the entire tropical garden in the land in the back of the property is in partial shade. The ground is in the understory of many trees and close to this property that throw their shade down. There is red oak, unknown pine varieties, and sweetgum over 50 feet tall. Then I have about 30 small trees in the 40x50 foot back "yard". Also there are a few different types of palm trees (varieties unknown to me) and then maybe a hundred of some kind of tropical plant that looks like and serves a purpose similar to what the hosta does in the north.

My point is, the raised garden bed is only in partial shade. I have no other options for the back yard to raise edible crops in full sun.

My side yard is in shade and planted out with more tropical plants and bushes and big old trees.

I have a patch of lawn about 10x10 feet directly next to the road which I cannot garden in.

Do you see that my options for gardening what I want to grow are limited?

Long story short the winter garden plants did not get enough sunlight to do well. I grew exactly two green tomatoes. My tomato plants didn't grow more than two feet tall. The basil froze during the frosts we had. (I really wanted them to thrive as it is hard to find fresh basil in the grocery store here and what they have costs $3.50 for a small bunch. Ouch.) The one rosemary plant is doing okay. Everything else I planted didn't produce enough to harvest.

As the spring gardening season approached I didn't get too excited about gardening this year. No one has made an offer on our Connecticut home so we are not yet purchasing a "real house" here. It looks like we may be stuck in this rental house over the summer which means that 2012 will not be my first season to garden in the spring and summer growing season.

Yesterday I attended three lectures about gardening in Texas. The details of the program were not shared ahead of time. Come to find out the things I needed to know were never discussed. Instead I learned a lot about trees and drought's effects on trees. I heard about organic gardening which was a very good presentation but I already knew 99% of the content from years of autodidact learning. I heard a lecture on native plants to Texas that will attract pollinators, it was all about flowers. (Interestingly enough I know of these already being featured in perennial gardens elsewhere as non-natives to New England but here they are native.)

What I did not learn that I need to teach myself was the planting seasons, when to do what. I heard nothing about gardening herbs and vegetables.

I'm getting the itch to plan a garden and to dig into the soil. With temperatures last week in the upper 70s and even up to 81 with lovely sun and blue sky I want to get out there and garden. (This feels like the best kind of May and June day in Connecticut.)

I have also decided that the excellent winters in Houston make up for the too hot and too humid summers. When comparing New England to here, I'd rather take a mild winter and a brutal summer to what we still consider a brutal summer and also a brutal winter (with dangerous driving conditions and labor to shovel the walk of ice and snow and with bills to pay for driveway plowing).

I'll have to wait another year to have a garden in Texas I guess...

Hey, Cynthia Dale Harvey!

The virtually dead website Evil Unveiled got some free publicity the other day no thanks to KETV 7 in Omaha, but it merely exposed one of the people behind Evil-Unveiled, one Cynthia Jean "Dale" Harvey, who is known at AZU as "Rookiee", and on Facebook and many other places as Trillian Dent. (Not to be confused with Alison Shea, aka "Del Harvey", another worthless PJ troll who now works for Twitter). Pee-Jers always use screen names of popular items, in this case a name from the book "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", which is fitting because this woman is a regular space cadet.

The full scoop on Cynthia Harvey here (kudos to whoever created this page, which I verified accurate, ironically enough, thanks to Cynthia's own advice):

So just who is Cynthia/Dale Harvey? A modern day Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde. She doesn't seem to know who she is. AZU-Info describes her as "a much-published transgendered sadist and slave-trainer, a contributor to the vigilante blog "absolutezerounited", the co-administrator of the now discontinued Perverted Justice 'parallel' website "the Wikisposure Project" and the administrator of it's reincarnation, whose members are dedicated to "investigating" anyone who expresses an erotic interest in minors or anyone who had sympathized with or defended such interest. To Cynthia, it doesn't matter whether anyone has committed a crime. She labels her targets as "pedophile activists" (with photo, name, phone number and address) in order to try to inflict as much private, familial and public shame as she can."

She certainly has issues. She gives us a glimpse into her life on "The Trill Thing Blog this way:

This blog post is also about Leather people, and how marginalizing us in the gay rights movement isn’t wise….
I trusted you and organized a donation with you for O(ccupy) N(ashville), and I felt like we were kin. But suddenly, because I posted about a pedophile right up in your hood, you are going to post a link to something some pedophiles wrote about my LEATHER lifestyle?  And act like it’s some abomination by GOD?  Really? This is the kind of thing that makes me snub the whole idea of Family….
But, hell no.  You’re going to include a pedophile and jeer at a Leather person?  You want to make fun of what I do it my bedroom?  The republicans don’t even do that. Jason, just please do me a favor and don’t ever call yourself a gay rights activist.  Defending pedophiles and looking down upon the Leather Family that helped you fight for the rights you have NOW is not conducive to garnering good will from the rest of the public….
I ran across some information that one of the former ON tech team is a pedophile activist.  And of course I passed that information along to everyone who would listen.  What parent would not want to know about this?  Furthermore, why had it been kept quiet, when it was obvious that I wasn’t the first, or second or third or fourth, OR…you get the picture, person to find this out?  I am not quite sure why the people who attacked me took that as an affront to themselves, since none of them were the pedophile in question, but suddenly, I am “emotionally disturbed” and the insides of my bedroom, which includes only adults, are being examined.  I did not create that pedophile….
But though I’d had to fight the devil for my rights as a disabled person, I’d really never had to fight for my rights as a female or as a queer.

No thanks, Cynthia, I don't like drunks
I don't care personally what she does behind closed doors but attacking other people when she's a sexual deviant who really hates men and enjoys torturing others for her own sick sadistic pleasure. Perhaps that is why God punishes her with bouts of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Since AZU pissed and moaned so much about my use of the name "Warped Ohio," making fun of fellow AZU troll Tracy "WASP Ohio" Golden, 

Basically, I think she is defeating an abuser in her own life over and over again, symbolically, not just with every arrest of a real child abuser, but with every public pillorying of a non-abuser who she sees as an activist and facilitator. That would be all of us here, no matter how clean-livin' we are. My interpretation of her remarks follows the remarks themselves.  Don't miss the irony of her saying, completely enthusiastically, that her first ever romantic interest was intergenerational!  "Determined," in a nutshell, is a 40-something lesbian mother living in Biloxi, AL. She is an injured former musician.

Did it happen before she started dismembering dolls, or was the symbolic violence part of her reaction to the abuse she suffered? Or did it symbolize her own feelings of being torn apart? I’ve had many lesbian friends and they were often energetic and not made for dolly-play as kids, but I’ve never heard of one shredding dolls limb from limb before.  The violence she must feel against her abuser(s) and all simulacra of that person can only be incredible. There is aggression in everything she says, you can hear it, even in “breffus.” And then suddenly you see where it goes when it can’t sustain itself: drunk-dialing.

A self-admitted alcoholic, bisexual, gender-confused person, Dale is an outstanding example of the sort of exotic personality it takes to make a witchburner vigilante organization work in the modern age. It is already amazing that the organization she works for has any credibility, and one hopes her exposure will help to make the public realize that most players on the vigilante side are a lot freakier than those on the BL side. Never before has a defender of public morality freely published that she has enforced days of silence on her partner, sometimes gagging him by making him hold his own dirty sock in his mouth, and then restricting him from urinating until he has accidents. 

And this is the person KETV 7 congratulates? If there was ever a candidate for civil commitment, this would be it. I'm sure the reason Occupy Nashville won't have a women's caucus is because of her. But there will always be some idiots who will buy her story. Like Heather Spurlock's Mothers Against Predators facebook page:

but MAP is a "peaceful" group, right?

So much for MAP's claim of non-violence and not working with violent people huh? 

Oh Look, MAP supports AZU/ Tracy "WASP Ohio" Golden, a violent group. Why am I not surprised?
MAP is full of morons who take anything people like Cynthia say at face value, like those idiots who believe I have a FB account and spend all day trolling their blog. If that was true, I wouldn't have had to rely on AZUInfo for the lead? Oh well. I guess Cynthia Dumbass Harvey doesn't realize certain things:

1. I don't have any "conditions of release", dumbass.
2. I don't have a "P.O.", whether she meant a probation officer or a Post Office box LOL
3. I don't live in Georgia, you retard
4. I'm not on Facebook, stupid. I have my own network of people who monitor losers like you on my behalf, but even if I decided to make a FB account in the future, I have a constitutional right to it.
5. The FBI can't do anything to a law abiding citizen.
6. It must suck to know your own techniques were used to track you down and shine the spotlight on you :)

To quote so many of my enemies, I must be doing something right if they can't stop talking about me ;)

Trees with Sunset

Bare trees in winter with sunset. These were taken within seconds of each other. Photo by ChristineMM using iPhone4 and Instagram and no filter used in either on 2/08/12 in The Woodlands Texas.