Year-End Joy From The Techies

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But…it’s tradition

A post on my cousin’s blog today got me to thinking.  She was – – rightfully – – lamenting the materialism of the holiday season.  You know…that sickness that starts going around a month or two before Christmas…”the gimmes.”

Thankfully, I was blessed with two boys who have never had severe cases of the illness.  Occasionally I’ve even had to BEG my eldest to tell me something he might want for Christmas because he would just say “Mom, I really don’t need anything.  I’ve got everything I want already.” 

This year was a case in point.  I would give him suggestions, and he would shoot them down.  I’d lay out catalogs, hoping to inspire him, and he would never even pick them up.  I even tried to get clues from conversation, but he never let on to much of anything that he was wishing for.  Finally, after enough pestering, he just told me to surprise him. 

I went through the holiday prep a little more down in the dumps than usual, because it had occurred to me that maybe his lack of interest in gifts meant that he had “aged out” of the Christmas spirit.  I dutifully picked out things I thought he might enjoy, but it wasn’t quite the same.  It felt like my baby boy was altogether too big for his britches (and it was only last week that he was wearing Christmas onesies for cryin’ out loud!).

So imagine my surprise when he woke up one morning a few days before Christmas and practically bounded out of bed.  “I am SO excited!” he declared.

“About what?” I asked, confused.

“Christmas, of course!”

“But you don’t even know what you are getting?”

“I know! I’m going to be surprised!!  And it is going to be so awesome to get to do our Christmas breakfast, and open presents, and spend the day together as a family.”

Wow.  Here I had been bemoaning his lack of Christmas spirit, and he might have been the one with the truest spirit of all.  It wasn’t what he got that mattered to him – – it was how he got it.  The traditions that surround the getting. 

boy at christmas Sometimes, it’s the seeing the pretty wrapped presents under the tree, and handing them out, and tearing into the crisp paper, and squealing with glee and sharing that moment with our loved ones that brings us more joy than what is actually inside the package. 

We humans crave tradition, and the holiday season provides a boatload of opportunities to fulfill those urges.  For our family, that includes watching “The Christmas Story” as we trim the tree, volunteering on Christmas Eve at the homeless shelter where my hubby works, having gingerbread waffles for Christmas breakfast, and buying an ornament for each of the boys the day after Christmas that celebrates what they have been interested in during the previous year.  These are our touchstones.  And they are way more important to us than any new gadget, gizmo, or bejeweled trinket could ever be. (And if you know me, that is saying a LOT)

Hope your traditions brought you as much joy this holiday season as they did us.  Feel like sharing one of your favorites in the comment section??

“The Talk”

Well, Uber and I had “the talk” this week.  I know its strange, but up until now, he hasn’t shown much interest.  And at 14, I was kind of hoping maybe his friends had filled him in on most of the details already.  I don’t care how many public service announcements you see, you still don’t think it applies to your kid.

I’m talking, of course, about illegally downloading music.  (You people jump to way too many conclusions, you know?)

Uber got his first MP3 player this past week as a cool gift at a Christmas party he attended.  I know that some kids probably have MP3 players built into their cribs, but Uber has just never shown much interest in music until now.  As music obsessed as I am, I’m footsies thinking maybe he was accidentally switched with some other kid in the hospital nursery.  There was this one baby who looked like he was tapping his toe in time to the heart monitor.  Poor kid.  He’s probably trying to figure out how the heck he got stuck with a family that doesn’t even know who U2 is.

Nevertheless, I’m kinda attached to the sprawling teenage geekling now, so . . . no hard feelings.  

But in the past couple of months, even Uber has started taking a bigger interest in bands, musical genres, and the like.  And strangely enough, right at the crux of his burgeoning interest, an MP3 player magically appears.  You would have thought he had gotten the golden ticket.  He was beside himself with excitement, and by the next morning he was exclaiming over all the great music he had found online, and how cool the bands were, and how easy it was to download, and how frustrated he had been at first when he realized his player wouldn’t play certain songs because they had this stupid DRM-thingie on them, but that thankfully he had discovered this awesome free online program that removed the DRM from the files, and…

In my morning fog, it took me a minute to register that last bit.  Dang.  Can’t a girl even finish her bagel before she has to go into full parent-mode?? 

Uber was crushed when I explained that music doesn’t just grow on trees.  He was mortified to discover that this brand new hobby of his was actually going to tug at his purse strings.   It was very hard for him to comprehend that artists don’t offer their music on a sliding scale, with 14 year old jobless teens being in the most desperately needy category.

But after long philosophical discussions with both myself and his dad (Uber’s very favorite kind!), he gets it now.  He said it makes sense that if you really like a band, you are willing to support their efforts to continue making music.  I’m very proud of him.  He has learned something really important this week, and has matured yet a little more.  He is changing daily, right before my eyes.

I’m definitely planning to keep him.  Now that he’s finally “got rhythm”, that other stupid U2-free family probably wouldn’t want him anyway.

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Homeschoolers and Technology

I don’t often combine work with my Topsy-Techie blog, but I am today, so bear with me…

I’m working on an article about how homeschoolers use technology.  My hypothesis is that homeschoolers are possibly way ahead of the curve of integrating technology into their school work (in comparison with the average public school classroom).  So I  am asking for input on how you use technology in your day to day teaching and learning.  I’m particularly interested in hearing about:

**whether you think homeschoolers are ahead or behind the curve in relation to public schools

**how much you use technology in your homeschool, and your main use for it

**any creative ways you use technology in your teaching and learning

**how your kids feel about technology, and whether they are self-motivated to learn more about it

I would also really appreciate it if all you who homeschool would take a short, 10 question poll about how you use technology.  It’s relatively painless, I swear!  Click here to access the poll.  I look forward to your comments and/or poll results…

Thanks for taking the time to give me your input!

Romans and Tire Pressure and Zombies…Oh My!

One thing I nearly never do on my blog is regale you with details about what we are studying in homeschool.  Mostly, that’s because when other homeschool bloggers do it, I tend to nod off for a minute.  Not that it isn’t important – – because it IS!  But somehow the excitement of a homeschool lesson is one of those things where, well, “you had to be there,” I guess.

But we’re at the end of our first “semester”, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed nostalgic about all that we’ve covered so far this year.  So granted, this is probably more for my sake than yours, but I’m gonna lay it out there.  If nothing else, it will justify my existence as a homeschool mom.

Uber, as you may remember, is in his second year at the 3D virtual school called Wilostar 3D Academy.  He attends class via avatar, and uploads his assignments to his teachers.  First semester of 9th grade at Wilostar includes Ancient Civilization, 9th grade Integrated Language Arts, and Art.  Wilostar uses an integrated learning model, so that what you are studying in social studies or history is tied in with your literature assignments in Language Arts.  He covered everything from Ancient Egypt, to Ancient Rome, to Ancient China, and Ancient Africa.  And to supplement his studies he has read the following novels: Pharaoh’s Daughter, The Golden Goblet, Inside the Walls of Troy, and Siddhartha.self_portrait One of the highlights of the semester, of course, was his virtual performance in the story of King Midas.

For art, he has created a complete online portfolio, which I think is a really cool idea.  Using the DK Art Book as his text, he has learned about, and experimented with: shading, distance, pastels and color mixing, perspective, texture, shape and form, cartooning, and self-portraiture (see right).

In addition to his online work, Uber was also subjected to my self-designed Life Skills course.  Determined that no child of mine will head out to university or the working world without at least knowing how to check the tire pressure in a vehicle, I have put Uber through the paces of personal finance, character ed, automobile maintenance, job skills, and public transportation. Next semester is cooking and cleaning and sewing on buttons (basically home-ec, but let’s keep that little title between us, k?)

This is only Uber’s “official” education, though. That kid seems to be learning about something 24/7.  He has taught himself 3D-modeling, graphic design using Photoshop, hex-editing, and creating and designing his own trading cards. He is also slowly working on a fantasy drama novel.

Hyper-Techie (H-T) has had a busy semester as well.  He uses the Time4Learning online homeschool curriculum, and has been breezing right through math and language arts this year.  Geometry is his strong suit (not too surprising for a right-brainer), and he has made 100 on almost every geometry quiz so far!  T4L has an incredible 7th grade American History course that is animated and interactive.  I’m so jealous!  And we are supplementing that with a cool electronic field trip curriculum from Colonial Williamsburg, where we long to take a family trip one day.

H-T doesn’t stop there though.  I created my own earth science curriculum for him which involves lots of videos on Discovery’s United Streaming. We are working through the Saxon Phonics Intervention program, which is helping incredibly with the spelling troubles he deals with due to his dyslexia.  And he is also logo-final taking guitar this year and is just beginning to learn his very first song.  H-T needs to get his hands dirty, so to speak, and guide his own learning somewhat, so he is currently spending a little time each day on “social skills” – – interacting on the Fusefly social network for homeschooled kids.  He has made some pretty neat buddies online, actually.  And his current self-directed project is a screenplay B-Movie about zombies.  Thanks to a terrific online screenwriting program at, a finished screenplay is a very real possibility for a motivated 12-year-old!

Whew!  Oh my!

The main conclusion I’ve come to after this post?  We are SO ready for Christmas break!!!

Start Stocking Up on Fruitcake Now!

Have you ever noticed that once you get out of the habit of blogging regularly, it is really hard to get back in the habit??  Combine that with a monumentally large lack of anything worthwhile to say, and you have a big whoppin’ case of blogger’s block. 

Normally, I would fall back on a meme.  But I haven’t even found a meme that inspired me.  So, what’s a bloggin’ gal to do?

Be ridiculous, of course……so here goes:

I’m worried.  I don’t know how much thought in an average day that I give to global warming, but it is probably an average of around six times a day.  On a really hot day, it might eke up to around ten times.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about it a LOT.  That’s because last week I heard this factoid that scares the be-jeezus out of me.  Scientists are theorizing that the North Pole could be ice-free in just ten years. 

Did you catch that??  In ten years, Santa is actually going to have to find new digs!!!  I’m sorry, but the magnitude of that  has really been causing me to lose sleep.  I don’t deal with change well.

I mean the relocation costs alone will have to put a serious dent in Santa’s gift budget.  And with the economy the way it is, any elves that get laid off may be out of work for months before finding a toy shop that is hiring.  It also scares me to think what else Santa might have to scrimp on…

Dry cleaning can’t be high on his priority list.  So I’m figuring that he’s gonna wear that red suit several Decembers in a row before sending it in for a wash.  No matter how quiet Santa is coming down the chimney, there isn’t much chance of him staying stealthy if he reeks of reindeer droppings and two-hour-old milk moustache.

The quality of the toys is bound to suffer as well.  The first place toy manufacturers cut corners is always in their materials, so I’m picturing a lot of unhappy kids on Christmas morning as they discover their new iPod is held together with scotch tape and elfin earwax. 

And heaven help us if the big guy picks up a GPS on clearance at Big Lots.  I don’t care if they do have “brand names at closeout prices”, I haven’t found an item in that store yet that I would trust to get Saint Nick around the world and back again without missing a house or two (and damn it, you know it’s going to be my house that gets missed because we could never even get a good DirecTV signal around here!)

Sadly, it’s always the wife who feels the economic pinch worst of all.  Poor Mrs. Claus is supposed to keep her hubby fat and jolly.  But with Santa’s moving expenses, the rising cost of reindeer kibble, and the unemployment benefits Santa’s going to have to pay to those laid-off elves, I’m imagining the cupboards are going to be pretty bare around the Claus house come 2018.  Let’s hope and pray that food stamps will be enough to cover all those milk and cookies.

Al Gore can talk all he wants about the sea levels rising and more hurricanes, but the inconvenient truth really is that Christmas, as we know it, is going to hell in a handbasket.  I mean who in their right mind cares that tropical diseases are going to skyrocket if there is no holly-jolliness on December 25??!!  If there is no Christmas caroling, no popcorn-string making, or no secretly shaking the presents under the tree, then I say let the mosquitoes go ahead and take me now.

What can I say?  These kinds of things keep me awake at night. 


Care to Feed the Hungry?

No, I’m not talking about your local soup kitchen, although you should definitely see what the needs are in your local area and find out what you can do to alleviate them this holiday season.

I’m talking, rather, about a poor, helpless techie who is trying to survive without a laptop.  If you’ve noticed how quiet it has been around Topsy-Techieland lately, I am sad to say it is the direct result of having my trusty laptop finally give up the ghost. 

It coughed, it sputtered.  It had that distinctive death rattle. 

I backed up as much info as I could while it was still kicking.  But one of the things I forgot to export before the tired thing finally kicked the bucket?  MY FEEDLIST!!

Sadly, I’m not one of those smart techies who uses an online feed aggregator.  I’ve 455572466_19166858d6_o always used Windows Feed Reader and with it, you have to manually import and export your feeds.  So for almost a week now, I have been feedless.

Can you only imagine how hungry I’m getting for my blogs???  Yes, I could go and look up each individual blog that I follow, but that sounds an awful lot like work.  And besides…I’m still reeling with grief and trauma over my deep loss. 

So, I could use some help, faithful readers.  Would you wonderful folks be willing to leave me a comment with your blog feed address in it?  That way, when my new laptop arrives (hopefully today), I can just add you back in, lickety split.  That will be a swell start to easing my feed famine. 

Thanks for feeding the hungry this holiday. (I’m sure there’s a tax write-off in there somewhere).

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School Schmool

It takes a lot to impress me.  Well, maybe not a LOT.  But still… I can be a bit cynical at times.

Yet, when I saw this video, I wanted to hire this kid immediately.  God only knows what I would have him do for me, but it would be something really special…

Stop-Motion App-uh-lu-cat-ion from Judson on Vimeo.

Watching this young man, and what he was capable of, made me think hard about education in this country.  The times – –  they are a’changin.  Education isn’t gained in the classroom as much as it is grown in the heart and desire of kids who love to learn.  And learning – – even specific learning – – is as close as your nearest internet connected computer.

This 16 year old is passionate about web design and about the company that he wants to work for.  No one at his school taught him how to make a 650 frame stop-motion video.  He learned it because it he enjoyed it.  He had a goal, and he worked for it. 

This impresses me.  What are our schools missing today?  Helping kids find their passion.  That’s what.

I’ll be thinking about this young man for quite some time, and about what he knows that we don’t. 

You Can Thank Me Later

You are going to want to name your next child after me.  I know you are.  But I’m going to stop you right there. Topsy is an absolutely ridiculous name for a child.  You might as well name your child Augustus, or Elward, or Cleotide.  Good lands, even Matilda is better than Topsy.  So just don’t do it- – even if you feel that you must.

There has to be a better way to thank me for what I am about to share with you.  A stupid old iPhone that you aren’t using comes to mind.  Heck – – I won’t even fuss about a SALE iPhone.


I have discovered a very cool website.  And I don’t just mean one of those “Oh-you-should-check-this-out-sometime” sites.  I mean one of those “Get-your-hiney-in-gear-and-get-OVER-there” kind of sites!!

If you ever buy things on ebay or Amazon (and I’m assuming that if you are someone who breathes on a regular basis that you do), then this site is the answer to all of the prayers you didn’t know to pray.

See, you put in your search words, and it brings up this visual calendar.  No, that doesn’t really explain it.  Um . . . you type in your search terms, and up pops eye-candy categorized by date!  Ok, that doesn’t even make sense.

Heck. I don’t know how to describe it, you just gotta go USE it.  Type in anything you might want to buy, and you’ll see why this was probably designed by God’s personal web design team. 

Its PicClick.  It’s brilliant.

Oh all right.  If you insist. I guess Topsy isn’t any worse than Ferdinand or Marigold. 

My Big Fat November Giveaway Winner!!

Well, the bad news is that my favorite month of the year is over.  Kaput.  Finito.

But the good news??? We have a winner!!!

A big congratulations to Dan Callahan at Geek.Teacher, for being the randomly chosen winner of that HP Printer in my Big Fat November Giveaway!! Dan’s email was randomly chosen using a random generator at 

And a huge thanks to all of you who faithfully took the time out of your busy lives to comment on my blog this month.  I loved every one of your insights, stories, and snippets!!  It has been a month to meet some new folks, and to get to know others a lot better.

You guys rock!!!  Thanks for hanging out in Topsy-Techieland this month…