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Lip Balm Quest

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The lip balm conundrum: we pay$4 for a tube that contains a fraction of an ounce of mostly beeswax, which is supposed to keep our lips hydrated and supple (the two most overused words in the lip-related beauty industry), and then you end up with chapped lips. After using the product.

What the hell is that, beauty industry?

We’re not talking about the sweetened, candy-flavored stuff. The flavoring agents in those products make you lick your lips more often, which in turn leads to the chapping. No mystery there.

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No, I’m talking about stuff like Burt’s Bees, which is markets itself as a natural, earth-hugging, love your body kind of formula. I’ve tried their product multiple times over the last ten years and always thought the problem was me. I have excema to begin with, but then why do my lips start peeling in teeny strips when I start putting on lip balm? Was I not applying it enough? Was I using it wrong? This is all natural, no wacky petro-chemicals, right? So of course the product isn’t the problem…  right?

It turns out, my genius child informs me, that some lip balm ingredients that are supposed to enrich the formula will actually dry out your lips. So, now I need to start tracking my lip balms so I don’t beat my head against the proverbial wall, because unless I start making my own again, this is going to add up.


The current go-to: Simone Chickenbone’s Chicken Poop. I picked up a tube because I thought it was funny but, to my delight, it is far and away the best lip balm I’ve tried yet. I buy two or three at a time and leave them all over the place because that’s how often I used lip balm: one on the night stand, one in the purse, one in my winter coat, you name it.

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Chapstick Hydration Lock: people will howl at this one, but this is a double-ended tube with “day” and “night” formulas, and the night formula was fan-tas-tic. And now, of course, I can’t find the product. 



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Burt’s Bees: I came back to this product over and over again, trying their various flavors and styles. I’m pretty religious about using lip balm because I chap pretty easily, and without fail, after two or three days, my lips would start peeling. I hear Burt’s use of peppermint oil may be the culprit, but all I can say is that it’s a no-go for me.

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Carmex: I used this when I was younger. Gave it up because I was no longer keen on the hygenic repercussions of applying lip balm with my fingers.

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La Chick Poo Poo Glace: This is the tinted lip balm from Simone Chickenbone. I picked up the three-pack (three colors) in the hopes that it would be a nicely tinted version of the regular stuff but, alas, it is not so. I found the formula much softer than the original, and a bit more drying. The colors are nice, but the balm doesn’t work for me.

Elsen Grapefruit: Picked it up at a natural foods store. Went on silky (actually, a little too slippery for me), but seemed to be doing okay. And now I’m chapping. As much as I would like to support a local business, I’m going to have to move on.

Posted by on July 26th, 2018

FIVE Free Practice Maryland MVA Driver’s Tests

Remember going for your driver’s license? I don’t know about you, but I figured the road test would be a piece of cake. It was the written test that scared me. 

Guess what, Maryland people: you can take the practice written test for free, courtesy of your public library. In fact, the driving test site provides *five* free practice tests. And a test on signs. And signs and situations. Grab your library card and GO PRACTICE RIGHT NOW.


Posted by on June 2nd, 2018

Math Mondays from Makezine



I recently discovered Math Mondays from Makezine, which combines two things I think are required to make a great learning experience: hands on, with a practical application. Try making Escher’s famous Relativity from a single sheet of paper – go ahead, it really works!

Posted by on May 31st, 2018

Mutant Bunnies

Posted by on February 12th, 2018

Curriculum for Health, PreK-12

Health is one of those vague areas that is both broad and awkward. And how do you decide what to cover? Is health stuff like “brush your teeth and don’t eat what you find on the sidewalk”? Or is it “here’s how the heart works”? So many choices. I think it’s a good idea to get a good spine going, and then customize it to how it fits your family. Better to customize your faith component than have someone else tell you how to do it, I feel. But I’m weird that way.

A free, complete health curriculum – all the way to high school.

Posted by on April 5th, 2017

Cooking school for kids: Onions and garlic

This week: French Onion Soup and Cheesy Garlic Bread

So I started looking for a curriculum framework for this cooking class. I decided I’d stick with going through foodstuffs, starting with the fundamentals and then moving into other combinations and exotics further down the line. I reasoned that they’d have to pick up fundamental physical skills so they might as well get a little schooling in fundamental flavors at the same time.

What’s more fundamental than garlic and onions? Nothing. Unless you’re a devout Buddhist, in which case my class has very little to offer you, because we’re also doing meat. Sorry.


As a sack of onions was a whopping $.59, it was an easy choice for chopping practice: uneven shape (so they have to figure out how to stabilize), slicing practice (regular cuts), and using the whole produce item (chop everything up, even the strangely-shaped bits). But then, the obvious question: what do you do with a mountain of onions?

Caramelize them, that’s what. Melt the butter, toss the onions to coat, salt them a bit, and cover to sweat. Leave them to soften about 10 minutes. Uncover, and stir every 5-10 minutes. The moisture will help you scrape the fond off the bottom which will, in turn, add color to the onions. They should be golden brown by about the 40 minute mark. Try one – if you like how they taste at this point, you’re done! If you want them darker, keep stirring every 5 minutes or so until you get them the way you like.

At this point, you can either put them away, or start turning them into soup.

Option A: Freeze in 1/4 cup portions. Keeps for a long time in the freezer.
Option B: Heat up 8 cups of stock. Get out some flour, and stir it into the onions. Cook for a minute or two, and start ladling in the stock. Once the two are combined, let simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Posted by on March 10th, 2017

Avast, the briny sea

Grilling boneless chicken breasts , Rule 7: ALWAYS brine them first.

Not even negotiating on this one. Brine, brine brine. The end.

1/4 C coarse salt

1/4 C sugar (brown preferred but white will work)

1/2 tsp black peppercorns (20 by count if you have to ask)

2 bay leaves (I won’t hold you to it; I typically toss in 3)

1 C hot water

3 C cold water

1 lemon, sliced thin

1 sm onion, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, mashed

About 8 breasts chicken


Combine in a large bowl: salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves. Add hot water and stir until crystals are dissolved. Add cold water, mixture should come to about room temperature. Add chicken, then top with lemon, onion and garlic. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. 

Posted by on September 30th, 2016


February sucks. (Which is why it’s particularly nice that it’s now March.)

Why? Because as far as the school year goes, it’s Hump Month. (Stop Thinking That Right Now, You.) Seriously: you’ve survived the onslaught of the holidays, with that 3-day weekend blip for MLK. Once you’re past Valentine’s and Presidents, what’s left?

A whole lot of Are We There Yet? until spring break kicks in, that’s what.

No wonder more people want to quit homeschooling in February than any other month. (Okay, I don’t know that for a fact. But if the homeschool message boards are any indicator, the number of posted topics that read “I WANT TO QUIT” sure seem to spike around 2/18.)

What do you do?

Take a break. Flexibility is one of the main reasons we started homeschooling in the first place. We did school lite over the summer precisely so we could drop everything and say to hell with school for three days in the middle of the “regular” school year and not feel guilty about it.

Revisit your plan. Maybe the reason your kids say school is boring is because, well, school is boring. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut – drop the curriculum blinders and look around. Maybe it’s time to shake things up a little.

Get them out of the house for a while. Yes, I know going out while the weather’s crappy is a pain. But it’s a change of scenery, leaving the house if half the fun, and your kids get a nice dose of vitamin D from the UV rays. See? Now it’s a health lesson.

Chin up. Spring break is coming!

Posted by on March 9th, 2010


Pookus recently finished a month-long book project wherein each student developed a short story, illustrated it, and then pasted it all together into a blank book. They had an author’s tea where each student read their book aloud to assembled parents and classmates. I know I’m bragging when I say Pookus’ book drew a healthy amount of appreciative laughter, both for story and illustrations.

Her book was entitled The Carnivorous Bear-Eating Frog, a humorous little tome about a mysterious creature that attempts to lure a cute little bear into a lake to be eaten. Fortunately, the bear overpowers the frog, promptly dispatches the amphibian and hauls him home for dinner. Bear invites everyone he knows to share the feast, laughter abounds, the end.

Pookus brought her creation home today and with it came a grading rubric. She received an A-, and the written comments indicated that points were removed for – are you ready for this? – “Random violence”. Because… self-defense is random violence? Are you KIDDING me?

Posted by on June 9th, 2009

Not From Around Here, Are You?

Stuffed animals are universal (more or less), right? But here is a classic example of Why We Aren’t Quite Average. Other people’s children carry around bears, mice, turtles, etc.

My children carry around:


A marsupial

A giant plush representation of a plague virus. And they love them.

I was reading another homeschooler discussion the other day, where the mom was listing different kinds of homeschoolers:

  1. normal ones,
  2. mouth-breathing ones,
  3. gifted ones,
  4. and “the ones we all think are just plain crazy – come on, everybody knows at least ONE.”

We fall firmly into categories 3 and 4.

Posted by on February 25th, 2009