November Event: Navigating The Private Elementary School Admissions Process

Mary Alice O'Connor Flyer


RSVP to Christina at Hope to see you there!

Children’s Community School: Progressive Instruction In Matters of the Heart and Mind

CCS Front entrance

Children’s Community School (CCS) is a remarkable progressive school located on a residential street in Van Nuys. It is differentiated from other progressive schools in part by its mission to create a school where neighborhood kids are an integral part of the student body. CCS’s significant outreach program to local residents, many of them immigrant families, offers financial aid for their kids to attend the school. With one-third of its students receiving financial aid and of these families, one-third living below the poverty line, it is truly a community school.


CCS LibraryFounded 34 years ago, CCS’s 118 students (K-6) occupy a compact urban campus that blends seamlessly into the predominately working class neighborhood that surrounds it. CCS’s architecture is an important aspect of a serious community-building endeavor. Its buildings are two-story and revolve around a multi-purpose outdoor space. The school’s façade is equal parts secure and welcoming.


CCS Classroom 4

A focus on the community is exemplified by the school’s annual health fair for the neighborhood, now in its 18th year, offering free heath and dental care in partnership with 30 local non-profits. The fair is attended by thousands of locals.


CCS Outdoor Space

As I entered the school on a quiet weekday morning, the ethnically diverse teaching staff immediately impressed me. I know firsthand how important it is for families and students of color to see diverse teachers like themselves. Yet, diversity like this doesn’t happen at private schools without a concerted effort to recruit, train and retain staff. This is just one of CCS’s many unique qualities.


CCS Classroom Window

CCS Printing Press


CCS hums with a vibrant energy. Some spaces are quiet, while others are bustling with kids running, playing, eating lunch or learning. Heather McPherson, the director of advancement, greeted me at the gate and we began a tour, starting in the library, a well-stocked, expansive open space, with several parent volunteers preparing it for Halloween. We walked through classrooms, into an art room containing a very cool letter press printer (above) and into the outdoor space, filled with kids of various ages all using the space in different ways, but co-existing harmoniously.


CCS Garden 2

CCS Garden 3


An eco-friendly campus has been the domain of the Green, Clean and Healthy Committee working with the Playground Committee. From procuring untreated wood chips for the playground to painting classrooms with non-toxic, zero VOC paint, the list of sustainable improvements is long.


CCS is progressivism personified. Sitting down to chat with Neil Wrightson, the head of school and co-founder, I noted his commitment to diversity and his adherence to progressive education. Neil is experienced and friendly, with an easy demeanor and an obvious affection for his school. He’s cerebral and thoughtful, with an unwavering commitment to ethnic and socio-economic diversity to benefit all students.


Legendary education reformer John Dewey has always been Neil’s inspiration for CCS. “Learning happens all the time, not just at a specific time of day,” Neil told me. “Preparing kids to be powerful and effective learners involves a whole community,” he continued.


CCS Music


Dewey believed that children’s interests should be a driving force in their education, rather than a teacher-centric approach where all ideas flow from the teacher. As we talked, Neil discussed how progressive aspects of the school are apparent both inside the classrooms and in the outdoor spaces.  In true progressive fashion, kids are learning by doing. They are creating, building, questioning, analyzing and shaping their own education in partnership with their teachers and peers.


CCS Corridor

As Heather explained, in math, for example, big ideas and number sense are emphasized over rote memorization. Math is taught using practical applications…using cooking, measuring, woodworking and other hands-on instruction techniques. Frequent fieldtrips—including walk trips to the local fire station for the youngest kids–expand and enhance the learning environment, with students returning to school with knowledge that will be used discuss and work on a variety of writing, math, and art projects related to what they’ve seen. The curriculum is intimate and individualized due to the small size of the school. Kids at CCS are learning by doing, using real-world tools.


CCS Classroom

CS does not give grades or traditional report cards. Instead, narrative reports are given twice a year and throughout the year, informal teacher assessments are provided by teachers. There are no tests and textbooks are not used. The school does give standardized tests for students to practice in the grades 5 and 6. Homework is non-traditional and age-appropriate. For example, for upper grades, 60 minutes of reading focused on deepening a student’s understanding of their current arer of study. Or, for younger kids, real-world, hands on learning at home that might involve observing their family structure and home life. Worksheets and workbooks are not used.


CCS getting creative


In the CCS brochure, the curriculum is explained as follows: “Reading, writing, math, science, as well as geography, grammar, creative and extemporaneous writing, interpreting literature, poetry, storytelling and measurement are all taught independently, but with their relationship to each other and to the core unit of study always on the surface.”


CCS Playtime


The school is non-traditional in the way it groups kids by age. Kindergarten is not a mixed age grade. Grades 1-6 are mixed age.  Every year, the class formations will change depending on the mix of students in the grade. Class formations typically consist of two 1st/2nd grade classes, one 3rd/4th grade and two 5th/6th grade classes. Each class has two teachers.


CCS Multipurpose auditorium


CCS is encouraging the student’s inherent sense of wonderment and awe. It strives to create fiercely independent thinkers who have an exuberant love of learning that will last throughout their lives.


Students from CCS go to both private and public schools upon graduation. About 50 percent of students attend public school for 7th grade by choice. The other half attend Oakwood, Campbell Hall, New Roads, Harvard-Westlake, Crossroads, Wildwood, Archer and Buckley, among others. Neil helps families extensively with the admissions process for secondary school.


CCS chatting on the yard


I left this wonderful school with the impression that CCS will be educating the next generation of writers, teachers, world leaders, mathematicians, artists, scientists, architects and Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Aspiring Wall Street tycoons may need to look elsewhere.


The application deadline is January 23, 2015. For more information go to:


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Pasadena Area Independent School Annual Kindergarten/Elementary Options Night 2014

Chandler School

Chandler School

The Pasadena Area Independent School consortium will host their annual
Kindergarten/Elementary Options Night on Thursday, October 16 at 6:00
-7:30 pm at Chandler School. The Options night offers Pasadena and San
Gabriel Valley residents the opportunity to learn about area schools all
in one place.


The consortium of Pasadena Area Independent Schools includes; Barnhart,
Chandler, Clairbourn, Crestview, Foothill Country Day, Gooden, High Point
Academy, Mayfield Junior School, New Horizon, Polytechnic, St. Mark’s,
Sequoyah, Walden, Waverly, and Westridge. Parents will also be able to
visit with other area private and public schools. Over 30 area schools
will be participating.


The PAIS consortium was created to make the application process easier for
parents. While each school is an Independent school with itís own mission
and school leadership, the schools work in concert to provide common
forms, screenings and decision dates. The intent is to make the process
easier for parents applying their children to area private schools.


At the Kindergarten/Elementary Options night you will have the opportunity
to talk directly with admissions directors and representatives from the
PAIS schools and other area schools. The consortium puts together a
Kindergarten Application Matrix that is available at the options night.
The Matrix incorporates the participating schools profile and important


The public is welcome. No reservations are needed. Please note this event
is for Adults Only. For questions, please contact any of the above schools
and ask for the Admissions Office.

For more information, click on Chandler School, Pasadena

To see Beyond The Brochure’s profile of Chandler School, click HERE


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Little Acorns Grow Preschool Is Growing: Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Grades!

Little Acorn 1

Recently, I went to see Little Acorns Grow, a charming Preschool-Kindergarten school in Reseda. Founded in 2011 by Melanie Martin, the director, the school is expanding by adding kindergarten, and grades 1st-3rd.  The kindergarten class is in its first year (there are 4 spots currently open!) and 1st grade will begin in 2015, followed by 2nd grade in 2015 and 3rd grade the year after.


Little Acorn 9

Little Acorn 11

Melanie greeted me at the front of the school to begin my tour. She is friendly and energetic, talking excitedly about her school. It was late morning and the kids were completely absorbed in various classroom and outdoor play activities. The school is small (12 kids per grade), with a very large play space with a garden in the back.  Classrooms are bright, filled with color and newly updated.


Little Acorn 6

The focus at Little Acorns Grow is individualized instruction with a healthy dose of play based learning in the integrated curriculum. Each class has a teacher and an aide. Taking inspiration from Montessori, Reggio and Waldorf, the school is a blend of educational philosophies. Kids begin learning to read in Transitional Kindergarten and reading typically happens in Kindergarten. The “why” is important, the logic of why things happen is key to the curriculum. Discipline doesn’t include time-outs, but instead focuses on positive tools to help kids get along.


Melanie, a mom of two kids, has years of experience as the head of elementary school at Delphi Academy. She’s used her professional experience to create a high quality program at Little Acorns Grow. It is her pride and passion. From the organic snacks to the enrichment classes that include yoga, art, music, drama, cooking and languages, the kids are exposed to creative, hands-on experiences.

Little Acorn 4


Parents are welcome to volunteer. This year, a parent will be teaching robotics. Another helps the teachers prepare classroom activities. There are school field trips, art shows, puppet shows and more, all with help from parent volunteers.


Little Acorn 7Little Acorns Grow is small and nurturing, with a well-developed curriculum, an abundance of learning and play activities and a plan to expand to add grades 1-3. It is the kind of school where my own kids would have flourished. The tuition is $850 per month for a full day and $700 for half-day.


Little Acorn 5


Little Acorns Grow was one of three schools featured in this super-cool new video by Soul Pancake as part of the National Campaign To Learn.


“We could talk your ear off about the importance of early learning, but figured you would rather have some cute kids with GoPro cameras show you why they love preschool. They’re telling stories, doing art projects, practicing counting, and learning that “when somebody’s talking to someone else, you be patient.Soul Pancake. 

To see the Soul Pancake video, click HERE.

For more information, visit or call 818-779-1099.


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What Makes A School Traditional? Developmental? Progressive?


Photo: Seier and Seier, Flickr Creative Commons License

Photo: Seier and Seier, Flickr Creative Commons License

This post is an excerpt from my remarks at a recent preschool speaking event. One of the first –and most important–things to do is figure out the type of school that’s right for your child.  Sometimes a school is a mix of several philosophies (you’ll see a few schools listed in several categories below) or it’s not clear to you what type of school it is from a website or a tour. Most L.A. private elementary schools are a hybrid/mix of educational philosophies. This is not an exact science, but more about the way each school adheres to a particular philosophy or combines several philosophies.  For example, you might see a progressive school with a developmental approach to teaching.  Or, you may see a traditional school that incorporates a developmental approach in the classroom. But, if a school doesn’t seem to have a clear philosophy that can be understood and explained, ask questions! And, there are clues you can look for to help figure out what kind of school it is. Your goal should be for your child to attend a school that offers a learning environment where he/she can thrive and one that you truly believe in. – Christina


While every school is different, here are some of the characteristics that can help you identify the type of school:


Traditional: ( Examples: John Thomas Dye, Viewpoint, Carltorp, Brentwood, Pilgrim, St. James, St. Brendan, Curtis, Steven S. Wise, Campbell Hall, Village, Mirman, Chandler (Pasadena), St. Matthews), Catholic Schools tend to be traditional 

  • Similar to the public schools many of us attended as kids
  • Academic achievement is the core philosophy
  • Structured schedule
  • Teacher centered-not kid centered
  • Kids expected to meet academic milestones by certain time (reading by mid-year kindergarten)
  • More homework, more multiple choice tests, quizzes
  • Fewer group projects
  • Teacher directed work, not kid directed
  • Classroom setup usually has teacher at front, desks facing front of room
  • Grades start early
  • Lots of memorization
  • Competitive sports teams 
  • A focus on good character and values
  • Uniforms


Developmental: (Brentwood, Turning Point, Echo Horizon, Oakwood, Lawrence, Campbell Hall, Temple Israel, St. Mark’s (Altadena), Willows, Center For Early Education, Westside Neighborhood School)

  • Kids develop and learn at their own pace, eventually all arriving at the same academic milestones (reading for example). That is celebrated, not discouraged.
  • Kids are not competing with each other to see who can read first or memorize multiplication tables first.
  • Kids can help each other learn, not just teacher directed learning
  • Big concepts and ideas are taught, not a ton of detail/memorization
  • Integrated curriculum…what’s happening in science relates to language arts, etc.
  • May or may not have uniforms


Progressive: (PS#1, Wildwood, Pasadena Waldorf, Westland, Children’s Community School, Oakwood Elementary, Seven Arrows, Willows, Sequoyah (Pasadena), Waverly (Pasadena), Center For Early Education, Lycée International de Los Angeles, Walden, Pasadena)

  • Child-centered learning, kid-initiated projects
  • Concepts like sharing, creating, caring
  • Engaging kids with the world around them
  • Rejection of memorizing big amounts of information
  • A whole child approach-social, emotional and academic have equal importance
  • Lots of group projects, discussion and debate
  • Kids work at tables grouped for 4 or 6 kids
  • Very little homework, few worksheets (if any)
  • No grades until MS or even HS (or not)
  • Lots of expository writing
  • Play-based in preschool and kindergarten
  • An emphasis on field trips for real-world learning
  • A focus on the arts
  • A de-emphasis on standardized testing
  • Kids working on creative projects with their hands using wood, paper, found objects
  • If there are uniforms, they might be a t-shirt


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Book Review: “Liv On Life” by Wildwood School Mom Elizabeth Gorcey

Liv On Life


Imagine how nice it was for my family to pull into our driveway to find Elizabeth Gorcey dropping off a copy of her new children’s book, Liv On Life: Going To The Park. Elizabeth is a friend of a friend, so we chatted about the book, mutual friends and our kids.  Friendly and outgoing, Elizabeth is a mom, an artist and a parent at Wildwood Elementary School. Her daughter, Liv, is the inspiration for the book, which encourages kids to embrace their authentic voices. The message of the book, that parents should pause to slow down in our busiest times to be mindful of our kid’s honesty and perspective, is a concept that fits perfectly with Wildwood School’s progressive philosophy.


Going To The Park captures moments in Liv’s life as she introduces the reader to her dog Bowie and her home life. The book is the first in a series. Stuck in traffic, Liv is thrilled because she and Bowie can look out the window. Her distracted mom isn’t so happy. Liv discovers a puppy in the car next to them, but her mom doesn’t even notice. Liv, naturally curious and creative, finds excitement in the little details that make up a quick trip to the store, the park and in her own home.


If you have a preschooler, especially one who loves pink as much as Liv, they’ll enjoy reading this delightful book with a deeper message, reminding us to take the time to be present for our kids in this high-tech, fast-paced world. With her patient persistence and wit, Liv encourages us all to slow down to notice the beautiful, funny everyday moments in our lives. Because that’s exactly what Liv does.


Please join author Elizabeth Gorcey at Skylight Books on Sunday, Oct. 5, 3-5 p.m. for a book launch party! Enjoy sweet treats and espresso with the author, her daughter and other families. For more information or to buy the book, visit Skylight Books.


About the Author: Director, producer and actor Elizabeth Gorcey has expanded her repertoire to book publishing with the LIV ON LIFE (”LOL”) children’s book series. The twelve-book series is written from the endearing perspective of Elizabeth’s daughter, Olivia, who shares her insights and observations on modern-day life. Elizabeth currently lives in LA with her family. When not making films or publishing books, she works diligently on her non-profit art program for terminally ill children called the CARING STROKES ART PROGRAM. For more info, please vist 


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Manzanita School: A New Private School In Topanga

Photo: Manzanita School

Photo: Manzanita School

Manzanita School is a new private school in Topanga. It is a progressive school for grades 4-9. According to the school’s website the school’s natural surroundings on 20 acres will play an important role in the curriculum. “The strong pedagogical movement, “place-based education,” has illuminated the importance of connecting our schooling to the local environment.”


I was raised in Topanga and I know exactly where this school is located and it would be an amazing experience to attend a school in such a beautiful, peaceful location. –Christina


For more information, visit


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Upcoming Event: Demystifying The L.A. Private Elementary School Admissions Process

The Second Edition: Coming Sept./Oct. 2013!


Hi Everyone, Please join me for this FREE event!


Who: Christina Simon, co-author, Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles


What: Navigating The L.A. Private Elementary School Admissions Process

  • Selecting Schools To Visit, Types of Schools and School Tours
  • Written Applications
  • Parent Interviews
  • Your Child’s Testing/Visiting Day
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • What To Do If Your Child is Wait-Listed
  • Helpful Hints and Insider Tips


Where: Brentwood Presbyterian Preschool

12000 San Vicente Blvd/Bundy. There is limited parking on the street.


When: Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, 6:30 p.m.


Details: Christine Cornsinita, director of Brentwood Presbyterian Church Preschool, has graciously welcomed me back to her amazing preschool for the third year. She’s also invited any of our blog readers who would like to attend. The event is free, but If you plan to join us, you must RSVP to Christine at: bpcp90049 @ gmail dot com. Space is limited. Everyone attending the event will get an event summary from my remarks. I look forward to meeting you! –Christina

Update: Corrected email is: bpcp90049 @gmail dot com 

Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. We post a lot of stuff on Facebook that’s not on the blog!  Are you more the email type? Get our posts in your in box by subscribing (enter your email in the subscribe” box on the right sidebar of the blog. Or, buy the Second Edition of our book at or your local bookstores!

Here We Go, Together: 2014-15

Santa Barbara Summer Cup Tournament. Champs!

My son in the final game at Santa Barbara Summer Cup Tournament. FCLA team 2014 champs!

My kids started their second year at Viewpoint School last week, my son in 5th grade and my daughter in 8th grade (I know!). It seems like everything is already in full swing with football practice, back-to-school night, homework, tryouts, auditions and volunteering mode. As the kids get older, juggling their schedules becomes more challenging, but it’s exciting to watch them tackle new classes and activities with excitement and enthusiasm


For those of you who are new here, I haven’t forgotten about my own first application process for kindergarten. It is the reason I keep writing this blog and speaking at preschools. I strongly believe every parent who wants a private school education in L.A. should have as much information available to him or her as possible. The notion that every year parents all across this city have to reinvent the wheel every September by spending hours researching information about schools, but coming up almost empty handed, bothers me. The information is there, it just isn’t as easily accessible as it should be. Most schools give very limited information on their websites. A few offer a solid admissions roadmap. Overall, websites have improved since we applied for kindergarten in 2006. Other parents can be a wealth of knowledge, but are often not willing to share with people they don’t know well (this has definitely been my experience).  Some preschool directors are a great information source (ours definitely was). Educational consultants can help those families who need assistance navigating the entire process or a few hours with an expert.


One of my favorite pics of the kids, 2012. Photo: Joy Smallwood

One of my favorite pics of the kids, 2012. Photo: Joy Smallwood

What this all adds up to is the “insider” information is there for those who are “insiders” when it should be available to anyone who wants it. Why should a mom who has a friend at a private school have better, more accurate information about applying then a family without connections? This is a rhetorical question, but its also one that I faced when we first applied. Generally, I found most parents to be tight-lipped about the admissions process, but occasionally I’d encounter a generous person who’d share really good advice. We also had a preschool director who was both well-connected and experienced with all things admissions. And, we had Anne Simon, my co-author and step-mom who helped us tremendously.


Summer in San Francisco

A fun weekend trip this summer to San Francisco with our extended family

Now that I’ve been a mom at two different private schools, I know how much “insider” information and contacts help applicant families.  Being able to say you know a current family can help your application. I’ve written recommendation letters for friends and lobbied for their kids to be accepted. Trust me when I say it can move the application from the bottom of the pile to the top.


So, for those who are new to the blog, just starting the admissions process, welcome. I hope you find this blog a good source of information as you proceed through tours, interviews and visiting days. The pressure can be intense and exhausting. Most of the process is highly subjective, with a few objective aspects like application deadlines or tour dates. I also hope you find the funny in it (as we try to do) every once in a while. After all, private schools can be shrouded in secrecy, much like country clubs (actually, the two go hand in hand at a few elite schools where parents refer their friends from the country club to the school and conversely, parents join specific country clubs with the hope of getting help from members who are parents at a particular school). These are the kind of things that will always surprise me, no matter how many years we’re at private school. The private airplane hanger and soccer field in the back yard also cause my eyes to widen. The idea of community at private schools is one I’ve struggled with. If I were starting over, I’d have focused more on whether the school was a fit for our entire family, not just the kids. I’d pay closer attention to the subtle things that make a school what it is (or is not). I’ve made a few good friends during these years, but my biggest challenge has been finding a true sense of community. Thankfully, I see that beginning to happen at Viewpoint.


Barry's birthday dinner at Madeo

Barry’s birthday dinner at Madeo

Beyond The Brochure was started in 2010, after the First Edition of our book (the Second Edition was released in Oct. 2013). Most of the writing on this blog is mine, with help my co-authors and from amazing guest bloggers. I post about 1-2 times per week and I spend about 30 hours/week on the blog, marketing the book and related events and activities. Anne and I respond to every reader email (csimon2007 at gmail dot com) and I love meeting you at events, putting faces to names and being able to share information.  I also use the blog’s Facebook page as a place to share our blog posts and interesting stuff I find online related to events, education, parenting, books, etc. Yesterday, I posted a blurb about Elon Musk (Tesla, Paypal founder) who has started a new invite-only private school, after he left Mirman School.  If you want to know more about me personally, you can find it in the “About The Authors” or the “Find Us Here Too” sections across the blog header.


Barry and I didn’t apply to schools as “insiders” but rather as parents who wanted our kids to go to private school. Now that its been more than 7 years as private school parents, I guess you could say that we are firmly on the inside, although writing this blog and my husband’s rather sarcastic sense of humor will probably always keep us from being deep insiders who serve on the board or that sort of thing. And that suits us perfectly.


Cheers to a fantastic 2014-15! –Christina

Guest Blogger Sharie: Tour Early, Make Friends


Photo: Brad Flickinger using Flickr Creative Commons License

Photo: Brad Flickinger using Flickr Creative Commons License

I’m happy to say our son started Kindergarten this year at our dream school and last fall’s admissions whirlwind is now a distant memory. Thanks to all the great advice in the Beyond the Brochure blog and book, our admissions process was relatively smooth and sane, believe it or not! But if I had to do it all again—like I will for middle school in a few years—there are two key things I could’ve done in advance to better prepare.


  •   Make friends with the graduating class at your preschool 

The first year and a half or so of preschool I was so busy dealing with terrible twos, terrible threes, sleep schedules, finding lost shoes, carting home armloads of craft projects… I was pretty oblivious to the graduating families at our school. Until it was time to start applying for elementary schools, when I realized that, even though many families from our preschool had gone on to some of our top choice schools, I didn’t actually know any of them! So much for getting the inside scoop and asking for references. Oops.


So don’t be like me—start getting to know the older families in your school right away. Trust me, you’ll be much happier next year hearing from your friends about the pros and cons of their new school and getting their happy recommendations rather than sending out the dreaded “You don’t know me, but…” emails and hoping for a response like I did!


  •  Start touring schools you might be interested in, even if you aren’t applying for another year

We didn’t tour any schools until the fall we were actually applying for Kindergarten, but boy do I wish we had looked at some earlier. Fall admissions season from the first fairs and tours in September to application deadlines in December-January may seem like a long time but let me tell you, it flies by in a way you wouldn’t believe.


It’s better to get your applications in early. And not just a day early, but actually early. Super early. Seriously, do them early.


So that knocks off a couple months right there. Plus the various fall & winter holidays also usually take up a lot of time with travel or entertaining. And, while some schools offer a tour every week, other schools only offer one or two tours per admissions season.


If you’re trying to look at 5 or more schools, that’s a lot to juggle! When we were touring, there were some schools I could instantly knock off the list in the first 5 minutes and other schools I wanted to tour more than once to really help our decision. Had we toured some of them the previous year, I could’ve wasted less time during our admissions process on schools that weren’t right for us and spent more time getting to know the ones that were our top choices.


Somehow we managed to fit all of our tours in and get our applications in early, but next time hopefully I’ll follow my own advice and make it easier on myself!


Sharie Piper (not her real name) is thrilled her son was accepted into their first choice school, and vows to stay in touch with the younger families at his old preschool.



Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. We post a lot of stuff on Facebook that’s not on the blog!  Are you more the email type? Get our posts in your in box by subscribing (enter your email in the subscribe” box on the right sidebar of the blog. Or, buy the Second Edition of our book at or your local bookstores!