Our Home School Journey- The First Week of School!!!

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The First Day of School! Both of my kids sitting at their own work space; my daughter is on her father’s computer and my son is working on the brand new computer sent by the Georgia Cyber Academy.

A few weeks ago, I announced on my blog and other social network platforms, that my husband and I made the decision to take our two youngest kids’ education into our own hands. After several months of disappointment and watching the standard of education grow increasingly worse, we decided pulling them out of the traditional brick-and-mortar school and enrolling them into a home school program was what we needed to do. And after one week, I am more than sure that our decision was the best for our kids!

Before I go any further, I have to say this: When I un-enrolled my kids from their middle schools, (my son was in a regular middle school, while my daughter was in a Magnet middle school), I was not only irritated, I was very disappointed in the negative feedback the schools counselors gave me when I told them about our decision. Did I walk in the door singing the praises of home schooling and telling them to their faces how disappointed I was to ask my kids every day what they learned and their faces went blank, only to hear about all the negative issues they experienced when NOT getting their questions answered or understanding what an assignment was all about? Did I go in throwing teachers names around, complaining about the lack of communication, help, and attention my kids had received? No, I didn’t. I simply walked in, notified them of the need to withdraw my kids. Simple. Then the conversation went like this:

Counselor: So what school are they transferring to?

Me: We’re home schooling them. They’ve been accepted into the Georgia Cyber Academy.

Counselor: Home school? Do you know how many parents pull their kids out, get tired of it and come running back crying to enroll their kids? They should have left them here.

Me: *Quietly fuming and holding my tongue, trying my best not to tell her exactly how I feel about this school because going off on her would not be setting a good example for my children at this moment.*

Counselor: Some parent’s bite off more than they can chew. Well, just know, once they’re enrolled, you can’t bring them back until next year.

Me: I don’t plan on bringing them back. My husband and I have made a decision that’s best for our kids. We’ve got this.

Counselor: *smirks as she walks off to get the paperwork completed*

I can’t tell you the amount of cursing that went on under my breath! Did I ask this woman for her personal opinion? Who was she to tell me that I would fail in undertaking this journey? I carried my children in my womb for nine months. I gave birth to them and have taken care of them all of their lives. My husband and I know how intelligent our kids are and how to work with them to help them understand in ways teachers don’t. All we need are the tools to guide them in the right direction. And that is exactly what the Georgia Cyber academy has given us. For FREE!!!!

Sorry to rant a bit, but that seriously pissed me off! So, parents…if you decide this path is what you want to take, your school is going to feel the need to have something negative to say about it. I’d like to think it was because they were truly concerned about my kids’ education, but let’s be real. It’s all about numbers. The more kids they have enrolled in their school, the more money they can get from the state. Period. Personally, I prefer my tax dollars to go to the program that’s working for my kids!

Now, onto the good stuff! There is so much information to share! I can’t do it all in one post, so for now I’ll stick to the basics of this week.

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‘Live’ Life Science class where the teacher is revealing blacked out answers to questions she’s asked the students.

Our first day back from Christmas Break starts with enthusiasm from my daughter, and grumpiness from my son, who was under the misguided impression that ‘home school’ meant sleeping in and getting work done when he decides to get up….NOT!!!

I dive in with gusto and make a nice breakfast, excited to get the day started. Once the kids wipe the sleep from their eyes, they realize they are about to embark on a new experience. It’s no longer something we talk about…it’s happening…right now! Their eyes beaming, they are in their seats by 8:30 and ready to go! (My goal is to keep them on as normal  a schedule as possible, so they don’t feel the need to forget the daytime is about learning, not chilling out and getting to it when they feel like it.

Like all schools, there is a brief adjustment period for new students and their teachers to get to know one another. My kids are enrolling in the new semester, joining other kids who have been here since school started in August. Just like enrolling into a brand new school, it takes time to get schedules set up, and home room teachers assigned. But with the Georgia Cyber Academy, they take it a step farther.

The first week is all about the teachers assessing the students and their individual learning abilities. The kids have their own log in profiles, (to which the parents have complete access to through an account of their own), and a day-to-day outline of activities in Science, Math, English/Language Arts, and Social Studies. The assignments for the day are outlined in their student accounts, and is also available in the parent’s account.

The program has sent everything they need to ensure they have full access to the state’s mandatory curriculum. Test books, student work books, literature books for reading assignments (no need to run to the library or book store for a specific novel!), as well as the fun stuff, like a microscope, slides, rocks, sand, and various other items typically found in a Science class room. And my favorite….a brand new computer and Ink Jet printer! The point is, my kids have everything they need to continue getting the same type, if not better, education in the comfort of home, as they would if they were in a brick-and-mortar school.

My husband and I have access to books of our own – learning coach guides- which deal with the breakdown of each subject they are studying, along with answer keys to the worksheets done for practice. There are also plenty of online recordings for us to take advantage of when we need help, live support classes, and the ability to email the teachers or other parents for one-on-one assistance and encouragement if we get confused or discouraged.

The first thing my kids do when logging in to check their daily schedules is see what classes require online ‘live’ class participation. Simply put, that means they follow a link from their schedules which takes them to a virtual class room filled with other students in their grade. There are two teachers in the room along with however many students log in at that time. The classes are recorded for those who may not be available to join at that time or for students to return to in case there is something they don’t understand. Awesome, right?

Instead of the traditional chalk board seen in brick-and-mortar schools, the teachers present Power Point presentations. They can use a virtual mouse to point to different things and use a virtual ‘pen’ to write on the ‘white board’. At times, they turn on a function that allows the kids to use their mouse and write on the board as well. All of this can be seen by other students. There are many opportunities for class participation through reading out loud. How is this done? The teacher can pick a student, or they can raise their ‘virtual hand’, and the teacher will turn on their microphone (also provided by the school) so they can read from the slide presentation. How cool is that? My son loves this and takes advantage of it as many times as he can.  There are also review questions asked where the students answer by putting their comments in the chat box. The teachers are quick to acknowledge their responses by calling their names as their answers hit the screen. Students are also sent study guides and the Power Point Presentation which they can save to their computer for quick reference, or print out for their folders.

As I said, there is a lot of stuff to share, but one thing I know for sure, this next week will be different. Remember when I stated the work they did last week was a part of evaluating their learning abilities? The teachers have reviewed their test (yes, they have online tests taken per unit, and believe me, how that works is an entirely different story!) From now on, the teachers will tailor their weekly assignments to them specifically. Can’t wait to see how that goes!

Oh and one more thing, and this is amazing….

My son and daughter, ages thirteen and twelve, who have fussed and argued nearly every day during Christmas break, spent the week laughing, helping each other if there was something in an assignment the other didn’t understand, and even worked together doing chores….only ONE ARGUMENT during the entire week!!!! If I had to guess, it was because for once, they were not under any negative influences or stress they dealt with during a regular school day. And that among everything else, makes this entire experience worthwhile!

Look out for my next post in two weeks!

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MJ

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Home Schooling vs. Traditional Schooling…Yep, We’re Making the Change!

homeLast week, I posted this message on my Facebook page:

Over the last few weeks, my hubby and I made the decision to pull our youngest kids out if school and sign them up for home school. They just got accepted into the program this week. So after Christmas break, no more traditional education.

This morning I got an automated call from the middle school saying they have upgraded security. You can no longer walk into the building without announcing your presence by calling the number listed on the now locked front door. The building had already been locked down, only allowing access to the front office. At this moment, I couldn’t be any prouder with our decision!

To my surprise, thirty-one people liked it and many commented, sharing the fact that they too were home schooling their kids. I had no idea!!

My husband and I have toyed with the idea of home school off and on for the past five years. Then our oldest got accepted into a Fine Arts Magnet program for Orchestra when in the ninth grade. For four years he participated in the program and we watched what started out as a wonderful opportunity start to slowly go downhill as the county had issues with funding and teachers. At the beginning of his senior year, the amazing Orchestra teacher who had been a part of the program left just two weeks before the start of the school. For several months, the program was without a qualified teacher and my son, who had worked hand-in-hand with his teacher, stepped up to handle the class as much as he could until they found a replacement. But, it was never the same. He has since graduated and is now attending college to get his Bachelors Degree in Music. His goal: become a music teacher.

One of my daughters followed in his footsteps and joined the Fine Arts Magnet Program three years ago and is taking Art. Her skills are amazing and she has learned a lot. Now in the eleventh grade, she has only one year left before graduation.

My youngest children are in the sixth and seventh grade, one in a Fine Arts Magnet Middle school for Art, the other attends the local middle school. School has been in session for five months, and we are not satisfied with what our kids are learning or how the teachers are handling our children’s education. After listening to my kids, it seems more time is spent on handling class disruptions than education. The teachers are stretched thin, underpaid, and expected to stay on track with the curriculum. When a student doesn’t understand something, chances are they may or may not get a chance to ask questions and fail assignments because the teacher does not have time to go back over it. Yep, pretty sure a lot of parents have heard this story. So what happens? Your child is frustrated because they fail an assignment, their confidence is destroyed, and it’s harder to encourage them to see the value of their education.

Add the issues of bullying, disrespectful children back talking to teachers, threats of violence, and drugs…

Ask your child what they leaned today and the most you get is a story about yet another fight in class or the fact someone has on the latest Jorden’s and you have to wonder, what are you sending them to school for???

This year, my husband started a concerted effort to learn more about home schooling process. After several phone calls, emails, and online chats with the program coordinators with the Georgia Cyber Academy, we made the decision to sign up our youngest children for the program. Imagine our happiness when we got the approval email saying they were accepted! They have only one week left in traditional school. After Christmas break, they will be learning from home!

The whole concept of the Georgia Cyber Academy is new for me and is going to be as much of a learning experience for me and my husband as it will be for the kids. Here are a few of the preconceived notions I had in the beginning and what I’ve learned so for:

MYTH: You have to have a background in education in order to teach your kids from home.

False! The online programs are set up so that your children receive assignments and take their classes at home, on the computer. They have teachers assigned to assist them. They have scheduled online, real-time class participation with their teacher. If they have questions, they can call, email, or chat with their teacher directly at any time. Learning is more one-on-one than having your student get lost in a sea of 30 plus kids in a classroom. If your child has a learning disability, they have Special Education teachers who will work with you weekly, ensuring your children’s continued growth and education. Entrance exams are given which enable the teacher to develop a system of learning specific to your children’s learning abilities. So whether you child is gifted or needs a little more help, it’s all about them!

MYTH: As a parent, it’s your responsibility to sit and hold your students hand all day while they work in class.

FALSE! Yes, some of your time will be involved, but you will not have to hold their hands. As a Learning Coach, your job is to prep your students for their daily assignments, assist them as they need help, and from time to time, assist them in certain assignments (such as science experiments, etc.) With the higher grades (middle school and high school), and especially if your children are proficient with the basics of using a computer, you don’t have to sit holding their hands throughout each assignment. You are responsible for keeping track of the time it takes to complete an assignment and enter this information as part of their attendance record. There are parent/teacher conferences, Parent Support Meetings with other parents, and the ability to connect directly with the teacher if you need help explaining something to your child.

MYTH: My kids won’t have any friends.

FALSE! The home school community has plenty of programs, clubs, and activities that allow the students, and parents, to connect online and in person. Field trips, parties, and other activities are designed for not only the student, but the parents as well. It’s like a whole new hidden world!

MYTH: They won’t graduate.

FALSE! Home school students must still take the same standardized tests as children do in school, including the Graduation Test, and yes, there is a graduation. (Not sure off the details of the graduation, but I read about it. LOL, with a sixth and seventh grader, I’ve got a ways to go before we get there!)

And last but not least:

MYTH: I can’t afford to pay for the program.

FALSE! The program we are participating in, the Georgia Cyber Academy, is F-R-E-E!!!!!! They will be providing all of the equipment, books, even a computer and printer needed in order to get online.

So, 2014 is going to be an interesting year for my family. Did I mention we gave our kids the option of doing school online versus staying in school? When they found out the difference in the education (online interactive learning vs. standard textbook), the fact that they will have more one-on-one learning opportunities and be able to work at their own pace, they jumped on board! No coercion, no special promises or begging. My oldest, which has one year left before graduation, opted to stay in school and she has our continued support. You can believe there will be blogs coming out of this experience!

So, what about you? If you’ve had experiences with teaching your kids at home, I’d LOVE to hear them!

 

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Thank you for stopping by! I love to make new friends. Got questions or comments? Leave a comment, or connect with me online! If you’ve enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter by following this blog!

MJ

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Community, Couponing, and Making Your Dollars Stretch

Community.
We know what the word means, but in today’s world we often forget what these actions stand for. Recently, I was at the bus stop with my son, my neighbor and her daughter. For the past week we’ve talked a little and listened to the kids as they spoke of the joy of leaving elementary school and starting middle school.
‘Have you been able to open your locker yet? Have you had homework? Did you get your books? Do you like you Math teacher?’

Boy, do I remember those days.
The bus stop is at a corner where there are four pear trees. Every morning I stared at the fruit weighed down the branches, some of them broken, fallen to the ground. All around the base of the tree fallen fruit rests in the grass or has rolled into the gutter, or ran over by a car at the stop sign, and has since rotten.
Everyday we stood staring at the trees.
Then one morning my neighbor’s daughter walks over to a tree, pulls a pear and began to eat. My son looked at her.
                “I’m hungry. The lady said anybody can have some if they want.”

My son and I looked at each other. I nod my head and he walked over and pulled two pears, takes a bite, and hands me one.
I’ve never been a lover of pears, but I accepted the fruit and sampled. I swear that was the best pear I’ve ever eaten. Fresh from the tree…no juices in a can, no harsh chemicals sprayed on the fruit’s skin to make it look ‘beautiful’. Just a freshly picked pear.
It made me think.
Here we are just standing in a neighborhood at the only yard that has fruit trees. There are starving people, I’m sure, who don’t live far away. You don’t have to be homeless to be starving. With the job scarcity, the amount of people living on minimum wage, rising gas prices, and the price of food going up, everyone has to reevaluate their spending habits. You may not be able to afford the special ice cream that used to be two dollars but is now pushing six bucks. You’d love to feed your family steak, but for less than half the price of ONE steak, you can buy a bag of chicken leg quarters and feed your entire family for several days. The mentality of ‘No, I’m not buying it if I don’t have a coupon for it!’ (Oh yes, we coupon at my house, have been doing it for over a year!)
We’re not extreme couponor’s, but the savings stretched our dollars. In the course of a year- according to our final store receipts in December- between shopping at Kroger and Food Lion, we saved over $1200 dollars! And by savings I mean not only did we save money, that same amount of money was used to purchase more food items, thus giving our family a wider variety of food choices and keeping the fridge, cabinets, and pantry stocked….without having to spend more money than we budgeted!

It was not an easy feat! My cousin spends time going through the newspapers every week cutting coupons and comparing them to the sales circular’s for every grocery store. I’m not just talking about the big boys, but the smaller competitors, too. You remember, right? The local grocery stores in your community you tend to ride by because they don’t have the really big parking lot, or the convenience of getting your prescriptions, housewares, or fancy labels on the products?

But guess what…those small stores sell the same products at less the cost of the big boys…all the while excepting coupons which of course, adds to your savings!
You know me, I love giving examples, so here you go!
This summer, my family has become bacon hogs-pun intended. Every day we seemed to go through two packs of bacon! With seven people – four between the ages of 17 and 10 – gone are the days of serving two pieces per person. My DH will eat five by himself! I usually ask for three. Between bacon with pancakes, bacon with eggs, BLT’s, and bacon on burgers, I was buying bacon at least twice a week! Now let’s think about price. Bacon averages around $3.99 per pack, depending on the grade or company you buy it from. Kroger was selling it two packs for $7.00 bucks a couple of times during the summer. I was buying four packs at a time which meant I was spending $14.00 that was gone within three days! Suffice it to say, I avoided buying the meat until it was demanded!
After two months, we decided to re-evaluate our shopping habits, thus shopping at the smaller chain stores began. Imagine my surprise when I went to Food Depot and found the exact same bacon I’d been paying $3.50 for was being sold for $1.98!!! That is not a typo! That meant I could have brought the same bacon for less money! Four packages would have cost $8.00 instead of $14.00 (and that was when it was on sale!)
Have you ever heard the adage off pork bellies on wall street? I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but I believe the gist of it was that pork stock will never fail? I see why!!!
It all comes down to this, as moms, budgeting and taking care of our households is a process that is always evolving and changing. I don’t take credit for the changes my family has made over the past year to keep our bellies full. It’s been a group effort. My cousin was the one who took an interest in couponing when those shows were popular on TV. Extreme couponers we will never be. Just because you can find a great deal on a product, why buy more than what you need? Yes, we stock up on items such as cleaning supplies, detergent, soap, and toothpaste, but you will never find a room in our house dedicated to just over stock deals. Too many people and too many personal items to even think about that! Plus, how can you use money wisely if you’re buying products you don’t even need? (I meet a man who was way into extreme couponing. He brought tons of cat food and diapers…but didn’t have a cat or a baby!)
The point is this… save money where you can. Help others in your community when you can, and believe me, it will come back to you.
As a thank you for our neighbors unselfish generosity of sharing the fruit from their trees, my son and I brought a broom and trash bags and cleaned up as much of the rotten fruit as we could. My way of giving back to a neighbor who doesn’t mind sharing with the community. When we were done, we picked a large bag of pears keeping the fruit bowl filled for a couple of days…and all it will have cost was a few minutes of our day and a few trash bags.
After all, they could always demand that we pay for it. 
MJ
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2012 Georgia Statewide Honor Orchestra Features Two Students from Clayton County

Kristoffer and Emily warm up before rehearsal starts.

It’s 8:55 am on April 14th.


While most students are home sleeping on a Saturday morning, Kristoffer Caine and Emily Dunn are wide awake, tuning their instruments in preparation for rehearsal to begin. The moment Professor Emeritus, Dean Angeles, walks onto the podium, the music stops and all talking ceases. He instructs the principle members of each section of the orchestra to lead the members in tuning their instruments. Once that is done, he introduces himself and informs them his latest direction was of the New York State All-State Orchestra.
Then practice begins.
This group of orchestra members was comprised of high school students ages 15 – 18.  Students of various ethnic backgrounds and from all over the state converged at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, some from as far away as Savannah.
This gathering was the first time a Statewide Honor Orchestra was formed. The orchestra was made up of students who auditioned for the Georgia All-State Orchestra. It was not an easy road. First round auditions for the All-State Orchestra started back in late September, early October of 2011, and were held at Mundy’s Mill High School in Clayton County. Hundreds of students from across the state auditioned. The number decreased and competition for the available spots grew fiercer as second round auditions approached in February.
Professor Emeritus, Dean Angeles, directs the orchestra. 
The number of talented students vying for the positions must have been close, because for the first time, a Statewide Honor Orchestra was put together for students who did not make the cut for All-State Orchestra. These students are being recognized for their stellar playing abilities. As a result, they were offered the opportunity to come together for one day of practice, to socialize with their peers, and to perform for friends, family, and the community.
Parents arrived early Saturday at Sprayberry High School to drop off their kids. Some waited all day, while their son or daughter practiced, until it was time for the performance later that evening. For six hours, the kids practiced, taking two breaks for lunch and dinner, as well as short breathers to stretch their legs, and at times find their focus again, before returning for the intense practice the director put them through. Professor Emeritus, Dean Angeles has conducted the Loyola University Chamber and Symphony Orchestra as well as coordinated a comprehensive string program for the organization from 1980 to 2006. Most recently, he was inducted into the Southwestern College Fine Arts Hall of Fame in Winfield, Kansas in April, 2011.
Minutes before taking the stage. 

Clayton County had two students who were invited to participate in the All-State Honor Orchestra, and amazingly, both students are from the same school. Junior, Kristoffer Caine, and Freshman, Emily Dunn are both students of the Fine Arts Magnet Program at Mount Zion High School, under the direction of Krissy Davis. Both play the Bass. For both students, being selected for this orchestra was a major achievement. For Kristoffer, who made the first round for High School All-State Orchestra last year, but not the second, it was an accomplishment. Emily participated in the Middle School All-State Orchestra, last year, as well as High School All-State Honors this year, so for her, this is a glimpse of great things yet to come. Once during practice, the director paused to compliment the Bass section, saying they were by far one of the best he’s worked with in years. Never once did he have to work on any part of the music with them. He was impressed since they have the hardest instrument to play.

After six hours of practice on music most kids had only received five days in advance, they were ready to perform on stage.
Before a note was played, the director made this comment to audience: “To put an orchestra together in six hours…you don’t even do that with a professional orchestra. I am so very pleased with these young people for what they’ve done….I’m impressed.” The first piece played, was Serenade for Strings, by Edward Elgar, a three piece movement lasting ten minutes. When it was done, he turned around and said: “You have no idea how difficult that piece is. I have some of my university students in the Atlanta area that teach (and) played that piece, and rest assured, we had at least 6 weeks to put that together. These young people had six hours…It’s very impressive.”

 Congratulations to Kristoffer Caine and Emily Dunn for representing the Fine Arts Magnet Program at Mount Zion High School and the Clayton County School System. Programs and opportunities like this are yet another example why music should be kept in our schools.
*Side note, I am so proud of my son and his musical accomplishments this year!*

Written by,
M.J. Kane

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Finding Creative Ways to Edit While Running My Household

*This blog was originally posted on May 30th, but the information is still relevant. As a mother/author, I’m always doing something! Every day my responsibilities change, especially since the kids are back in school with during school and after school activities. I must find some creative way to keep writing in order to meet my goals!*

“I can do this, I can do this…”

The past week had me finding creative ways to edit my MS while juggling my responsibilities of being a mom, wife, drill Sargent (to my kids), taxi driver, chef, book keeper, personal shopper, errand girl, doctor, veterinarian, housekeeper, psychiatrist….and oh yeah, an aspiring author. In short, being a mom and wife who’s four kids are now home for summer vacation.

Did I miss a job?!?!?!?

It’s funny to realize how much I do in a day when it’s broken down and written out that way.

Nothing is ever set in stone. I made a schedule before the kids got out of school last week and have tried my best to stick to it. How has that gone? Mmmm…not so great. So far, the only consistent part has been me waking up, making up the bed and staying on the kids about getting chores done. All of the other job titles are being managed by order of importance, but lets face it ladies (and gents), if your a mom or wife, that’s a job that never gets a break. Unless the kids are visiting Grandma or your hubby’s asleep.

But you know what, I have no complaints. I love my husband, I love my kids, my cousin, and I love my life. All I have to do is keep my mind focused on my goals and prioritize.

And be creative!

This week, found me editing in one of the most unlikely places. The laundromat. Yep, I said it, the laundromat. With a family of seven, it’s a momentous task to haul all the clothes to the wash house. And believe me, I do not handle that task alone! I have at least three of the four kids with me and everyone has their assigned task. And when the clothes were in the washing machine and the kids were sitting down with snacks, books, and drawing paper, I pulled out my laptop. Earphones came in handy as well as a playlist of instrumental music to listen to when I edit. I managed to get nearly two hours of work done before it was time to pack it up and start folding clothes. Sweet!

The next thing I did was pack up my laptop and take my daughter the library. She’s got her first job volunteering in the kids section, four hours a week. What better place to edit without being disturbed? Even though my other kids go with us, they also have stuff to do.They are enrolled in the summer reading program. Once they meet their reading requirements, they will get a free book to add to their personal libraries. They also get free prizes every week for bringing in their reading logs. There’s also the option to log onto the Internet, play computer games or read a book. My oldest plays chess with other kids or meets with friends from school. Yep, you’ve guessed it, we’re a family of nerds who hang out at the library. It’s our favorite hot spot!

Now, here’s a thought…..When I’ve edited my MS and am ready to share it with the world, I will have a path to chose, do I go self-pub like my critique partners Chicki Brown and Erin Kern (who’s books are currently on sale on Amazon)? Do I try Indie Publishing or go for the big publishing houses? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I’d love to see my name in print and have a copy at the library. And then I figured it out. I’m gonna have a copy of my book printed and sneak it into the library, put it on a shelf and take a picture. That will be good enough for me!