Saturday, April 18, 2015

ITBS results

Dd10's Iowa Test of Basic Skills results are back. Her composite score was 96th percentile. It's about what one would expect for a bright child who has never tested as "gifted."

Her math computation subsection--the lowest--was 50% (i.e., about half of fifth-graders do better than she did at basic arithmetic); it's the only section she didn't finish, which wasn't surprising due to her longstanding mental block on math facts. She knows her math facts, but she doesn't know them quickly, so under pressure it's easy to make mistakes.

All of her other subsection scores were middle or high range, so I'm pleased. The test results appear to accurately reflect her abilities and knowledge as observed by me during homeschool time. Now to deliver those results to our school district's homeschool office, and we're done with testing her until 7th grade. :)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Footie pajama fix

When a person has five children of the same gender in a row, "passing clothes down" is an integral part of the parental job of providing sufficient clothing. Especially when it comes to the babies and toddlers, who really don't care what they're wearing unless they're on a dress-up-like-a-princess kick.

Footy pajamas are a popular item in our home, but they always wear out first on the bottom of the feet. Then the little toes stick through, making the children uncomfortable. I came up with a fairly quick way to get another couple of years out of footy pajamas when that happens. Here is how:

See the hole at the toes? Not fun to wear.

Turn the pajama foot inside out and place over base a piece of cloth that covers it entirely. 

Pin the cloth to the bottom of the pajama foot.

Sew it on. It doesn't have to look great because it'll be inside the footy.

Trim off excess fabric.

Turn right-side out and trim up anything that needs it. Done!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Nearing the School Year's End

In 1.5 months the children's charter school, which they attend part-time, will let out for the summer. That is usually about when we also end our school year. Our main accomplishments for the school year thus far are as follows:

As a family, we are nearly done reading Volume 1 of the The Story of the World; Attila the Hun just died of a nosebleed. In about a month, we will be done with the biology videos, worksheets, and webpages I searched out to make up a life science course for the older two girls. My husband is taking the older children out on bike rides now that the weather is warming up.

Dd10 has made good progress in beginning Latin, understanding German in comic books (Asterix and Obelisk in German), playing a song or two on the piano and trumpet, memorizing the Goethe poem "Der Erlkรถnig," making key word outlines of paragraphs and fleshing them out again, memorizing math facts and learning to manipulate fractions, typing, basic logic, and reading the Bible (she finished the New Testament and is now reading the Old Testament...that should keep her busy for a few years...). She is only halfway through her Math 5 book, so she will get to work on that all summer. We did her standardized testing a week ago and are waiting on the results.

Dd8 is ahead in math by half a year, reads chapter books about dragons for long periods of time, and has legible--if unlovely--print and cursive skills. She finished reading the Book of Mormon. She doesn't really like to do copywork--English or German--but a little bit each day is making a difference. She can play a tremolo on our Filipino banduria, an instrument similar to the mandolin.

Dd5 is doing beginning phonics. She can read some words on her own but is not yet "a reader."

Our primary schoolwork goals for the rest of the year are as follows:
  • Finish biology
  • Finish history and make the timeline for the past year's history look good
  • Get as much math done as possible
  • Help dd5 become "a reader"
  • Enjoy spring!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Pot Protest

Here in Colorado, a majority of the voting populace has approved a little libertarian experiment: legal marijuana for recreational use.

I hate it.

I drive my children to school and pass a billboard showing a lovely birthday cake and marijuana leaves and reminding everyone that they must be 21 years old in order to partake. Talk about setting up a "forbidden fruit" scenario. My husband saw another billboard that showed a pretty outdoor scene, but it wasn't clear what the ad was about; once he got closer, he could read that it was a reminder that only private, not public, use of marijuana is allowed.

Today in the thrift store aisle, an employee loudly complained to another co-worker about how a female in his life doesn't appreciate him smoking "the janga" and argued that pot is no worse than tobacco.

My children read billboards and go to the thrift store with me. They see all the green "plus" signs for the medical marijuana dispensaries, sometimes with sign wavers dancing in front to draw in customers (there can't possibly be enough people getting non-recreational health benefits from pot for so many dispensaries to stay in business). Children, including mine, are very impressionable, and this legalization experiment is bad for them. It normalizes the use of an herb that does terrible things to adolescents while making it extraordinarily easy to obtain.

A new book, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, has a sobering (to those who aren't high, at least) chapter on marijuana, which discusses how THC concentrations in pot have more than doubled since the 1980s. Here are some quotes from that chapter:
THC disrupts the development of neural pathways. In an adolescent brain that is still laying down white matter and wiring itself together, such disruptions are far more harmful than if they were taking place in an adult brain....
In the past five years, several studies have shown that verbal IQ especially is decreased in people who have smoked daily starting before age seventeen, compared with people who smoked at a later age....
One of the largest studies followed tens of thousands of young Swedish soldiers for more than a decade. The heaviest users--that is, those who said they had used marijuana more than fifty times--were six times as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who had never smoked pot....
Another little-known fact is that levels of two abrasive compounds in marijuana smoke, tar and carbon monoxide, are three to five times greater in cannabis consumers than tobacco users. Smoking five marijuana cigarettes is equal to smoking a full pack of tobacco cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association. Marijuana smoke, which users inhale and try to hold in their lungs for as long as possible, also contains 50 to 70 percent more cancer-causing chemicals than cigarette smoke contains....
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the drug because they are at a critical stage in the development of two of the most sophisticated parts of their brains--the frontal and prefrontal cortext--and these are precisely the parts most affected by marijuana.

Despite the research showing the harm done by marijuana, users of it refuse to accept that there could be anything wrong with their beloved plants. The fact that a few seizure-prone children are helped by marijuana oil doesn't make all the other documented problems go away. Perhaps they've never met someone with schizophrenia, but I have a close family member suffering from it (probably unconnected with drugs), which means all her family--especially her children--suffers, too; it's easy for me to despise a "recreational" substance that increases the number of schizophrenics in this world. There's nothing fun about a mother who is unable to care for herself or her family properly due to that particular mental illness.

Pot advocates remind me of the vociferous defenders of pit bulls that show up in website comment sections whenever a little old lady has been mauled to death yet again. (Interestingly, the only marijuana grower I know of has a pit bull. I wonder how large the overlap in the population of pit bull owners and marijuana fanatics is.)

It's discouraging to see how many adults are so enamored of their weed that they would flood communities with it despite the proven risks to young people. If your state has a movement to legalize pot, fight it now until the backers give up and move to a state that has already lost that fight. It's probably too late for Colorado, but you don't have to follow in our miss-steps.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bossy vs. inspiring

A friend just posted the following quote on Facebook:

“I want every little girl who [is told] they’re bossy to be told instead, “You have leadership skills.”                         — Sheryl Sandberg
She and Sheryl Sandberg both mean well, I know, but I'm going to quibble because I think this sentiment is wrong and ultimately harmful to girls.

"Bossy" is used negatively as a descriptor of someone who is trying to be domineering, to "boss" other people around, i.e., get them to do what he/she wants. "Bossy" is used as a label for people we perceive to hold a desire to have and exercise power over us. That's never going to be a popular term in a nation that values freedom as highly as the USA does.

Leadership, on the other hand, is widely understood to include the ability to inspire others and to get their buy-in on carrying out a plan. While that is power of a sort, it is quite different than being domineering.

Instead of merely being "the boss" on the top of a hierarchy, an effective leader motivates others to work with her to pursue a common vision of their own volition, not just because they've been ordered to do so. Bossy people, ironically, often counter-productively evoke passive-aggressive behavior from their subordinates.

Anyone who can talk can give orders--I present my three-year-old toddler as evidence of that--but only a good leader can make it so that other people want to do what the leader says. If a girl is acting in such a way as to result in others wanting to call her "bossy," odds are good that she's trying to order others around in a way that is rubbing them wrong.  Instead of being told that already she has leadership skills, the girl needs to be taught actual leadership skills--including communication skills, motivation skills, delegating, positivity, being proactive, trustworthiness, creativity, giving effective feedback and seeking feedback, resourcefulness, being well-informed, responsibility, flexibility, commitment (follow-through), and self-confidence (the humble, well-founded sort of confidence, not arrogance)--so that her inclination to head up successful teams can someday be realized.

Spring break

The local schools just had spring break, so we did, too. Minimal daily schoolwork--math, music, religion, PE, and astronomy--was still assigned here at home, but I let the children have more free time to play at the park and be with friends. They also spent a lot of time reading. Dragon fever has hit my two oldest, thanks to the Wings of Fire series.

One thing we didn't do was go to places that would be crowded due to it being spring break! The science museum and the indoor swimming pool can wait until nearly everyone else is back in school, thank you. :)

Friday, March 20, 2015


To help my oldest child learn her math facts, I have written two adventure stories. One teaches addition facts in the context of traveling to different parts of the world. The second, which I just finished, teaches multiplication facts in the context of traveling through time and space (but only on Earth). My daughters are assisting me with the task of illustrating them.

To share the stories with a wider audience, we are "self-publishing" them on I just uploaded the first book this afternoon. It is called Adding Adventure to Life. The book is about as cheap as it can be ($0.99 for the first one), but it's so fun to see one's own nom de plume in print! (I used a pseudonym because my children are still young, and I want to protect their privacy.) Maybe by summer, we'll have earned enough to go out for ice cream. :)

Here's the link to the book if you are interested in seeing what a self-published e-book looks like on Or if you feel like donating to an ice cream fund. Either one works.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Refurbishing a blue loft bed

We have a blue and natural wood colored loft bed that looks like this:

Particle board with paper thin veneer
The veneer is attractive, but it is also super thin. After some children had put stickers and clear tape on various parts of it--"but we're decorating, Mommy!"--and I eventually removed them, there were several spots where the blond particle board underneath showed. Not pretty.

I decided to try using a dark blue permanent marker to cover over the ugly areas, but that was less than lovely because the marker's tip always went outside the patch area and got on the undamaged veneer.  So I took a paper towel and soaked it with rubbing alcohol. Right after I colored a damaged spot, I went over it and the surrounding veneer with the alcohol-soaked paper towel. It looked so good that I did the same thing with a regular brown marker on the natural wood parts, and I ended up with a lovely, quick refurbishment job. Under normal room light, the furniture looks nearly new!

Update: I put a 60 watt reading lamp in the recessed area, and I'm sorry to say that my fix doesn't look so good under strong light. Oh, well. It's still much better than it was before I pulled out the markers.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Exchange Students

It used to be when I heard "exchange student," I had all sorts of happy images in my mind of curious, friendly, adventurous teenagers who were eager to learn about a new place and culture. Now that I've served as an emergency/temporary host for one, my mental images have changed. Now I mostly just see "a foreign teenager," and potentially a less-than-pleasant one at that.

Admittedly, I didn't see the best example of an exchange student. This one was eventually sent home for being involved in breaking some of the exchange program's rules. Two of her closest friends were also sent home. It's such a shame that they squandered their scholarship program experience for the sake of one evening of foolishness.

I was disheartened to see a high level of self-absorption, tech-dependency, and materialism in some of the exchange student teenagers. Why travel to another country to spend all one's free time talking and texting on the phone to friends? Friends that are almost all other exchange students? Also, while we middle-class American families may seem quite rich compared to the average in some countries, that doesn't mean we have the funds to go out to eat all the time and buy lots of name-brand clothes at the mall shops.

If there are any future exchange students reading this, may I share a little advice:

1) If you don't want to abide by the rules of your exchange program, please don't come. You're taking someone else's place in the program.
2) If you're not curious about learning all you can during your short ten months in a new city and home, please don't come. What's the point?
3) If you are going to spend all your free time either shopping or hunched over your tablet or smart phone, please don't come. You can shop and play on your phone at home.

If you do want to keep rules, learn a lot, and become acquainted with new places and people from all kinds of backgrounds, I hope I can someday host one of you. :) I'd love for our family to have a more positive hosting experience.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


We have had an exchange student staying with us temporarily (since before Christmas, actually, but that's fodder for another blog post...), and she is flying home next week. For a last Colorado hurrah, I took her, a couple of friends, and dd10 up the Manitou Springs Incline. Two thousand feet up an irregular staircase, covered in snow and slush in places where the sun doesn't shine enough. And we made it! It took two hours, but we did it. Here's the view from the top:

Manitou Springs Incline looking down from the top

Walking down the Barr Trail (if one goes up it far enough, one gets to the top of Pike's Peak) back to the car was harder than anticipated due to slushy, slippery conditions. It took us two more hours. But it was still a safer choice for us than going back down the Incline due to the Incline's steepness and slipperiness. I bought the exchange student and dd10 T-shirts in the gift shop by the parking lot to commemorate their accomplishment.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Under contract

We are selling a house. It's the one we moved from a while back. It is stressful selling a house, even a starter home. Today we signed a contract with a buyer. Now maybe I can be less preoccupied about house-selling and spend fewer wakeful hours thinking about it when I'd much rather be asleep.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homeschool Carnival

The Carnival of Homeschooling for the month of February is up here. The carnival recently switched from being weekly to being monthly, so there are a lot of submissions. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fine line

My maternal grandmother died last week, and I was just at her funeral yesterday. She had a good, full life, and we celebrated it as a large extended family, glad that she could be reunited with my grandfather, who passed away 8 years ago.

Today my mother called to talk for a while. She started worrying aloud that the the workers at the hospice care had shortened her mother's life by giving her too much in the way of sedatives and pain killers.

Here's the thing. My grandmother was 96 years old and had severe Alzheimer's. She broke her hip in a very painful way a week before she died. She had been eating less and weighed approximately 75 lbs. when she died.

What could the hospice workers have done differently? She was clearly in decline and in great pain. I'm sure they knew that the pain killers would likely speed up the date of the my grandmother's passing, but is it humane to deny her the pain killers for that reason only?

I feel for hospice workers and family members who must make decisions about pain relief for someone near death. They walk a difficult path, treading a fine line between acting in a way that could shorten a life and permitting a person to suffer great pain. I pray they may always act with wisdom and charity, for even an ancient grandmother is valuable and worthy of thoughtful consideration.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Subtracting Negative Numbers

Dd10 and dd7 are starting to learn about negative numbers. Not because we've reached them in their math books. (Although, actually we have. Many of the "temperature" problems they do in their math worktexts require them to find differences between positive and negative numbers. It's sneaky, BJU Press, but I love it!) They overhear me talking about negative numbers during tutoring sessions with the teenage boy I tutor.

On Friday, I spent nearly an hour trying to help him see and internalize why subtracting a negative number is the same thing as adding the absolute value of that number. No matter how I approached it, he seemed to view it as some kind of mathematical black magic and not based on reason or reality. There are many ways of explaining why 3-(-2)=5 (this blog post has a few good ones), but nothing seemed to convince him. This is a big problem because he is currently working on line equations at school and has to be able to calculate the slope of a line when given two points on the line. It's difficult to correctly calculate "rise over run" if you can't properly find the differences between x- and y-coordinates that aren't all positive.

The last explanation I tried seemed to work. He is comfortable with the definition of zero and with the algebraic rule "If a = b, then a + c = b + c." So I showed him a brief version of this proof:
x - x = 0                    (0 is always what we get if
                                 we subtract a number from itself)

(-x) - (-x) = 0            (ditto above)

                       Now add x to both sides of the second
                       equation, which we can do because of
                       the rule "if a = b, then a + c = b + c."

(-x) - (-x) + x = 0 + x

Which, because of the commutative property of addition (order of addition doesn't matter), is the same as...

x + (-x) - (-x) = 0 + x

Which simplifies to...

x - x - (-x) = 0 + x

Which simplifies to...

0 - (-x) = 0 + x

Which is the same as...

- (-x) = x
And there you have it. Two negatives make a positive.

He now believes it and is properly applying it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Boarding School Dragons

My children have been reading books about dragons recently. And sculpting and drawing dragons. Oh, and frequently dressing up like dragons.

A couple of weeks ago, I took the two oldest to a game store--the kind with D&D dice and books, little known board games from Germany (why do Germans make up so many board games?), and battle figurines--where we browsed for a long while. Then they started asking if they could play Dungeons and Dragons. They're a little young for such a complex game, so I found them a simpler role playing game instruction .pdf available for free. Dd10 read a bit of it, and then they stopped talking about playing D&D.

But the idea hadn't left them. They just didn't want to play someone else's game. They have now made up their own game. They call it Boarding School Dragons. It has a game board that began as only 6 pieces of paper that they had drawn on to form their playing surface. They have since expanded it to be double that size; I think they were influenced by this Horrible Histories video comparing Alexander the Great's military campaigns to an ever-growing Risk-like game. They have made their own game pieces, their own gold (paper) coins, and who knows what else. They made up all their rules*, and at the end of each session dd10 has to record what is going on in the game so they can pick it up again the next day.

Boarding School Dragons

It is amusing to see them--dd10, dd7, and dd5--so earnestly involved in creating and playing their game. It is also gratifying to me, for they happily entertain themselves after the schoolwork is done and when they could be watching videos instead.

* Dd7 hates to lose games. When they play store-bought games, she sometimes stops playing when she does poorly. I suspect she is tweaking the rules while they play to allow herself to get the outcomes she wants and the other two children let her because they are all having so much fun.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Partial Payback Time

I've been tutoring the son of a friend for a few months now. He has attention issues and lots of gaps in his algebra and fraction skills. For 4 days a week, my children have had to be super-quiet during after-school tutoring sessions so as not to distract him and dinner has frequently been delayed and a bit "thrown together." But I felt strongly that I should try to help this boy with math so it doesn't become a stumbling block to him in his eventual career. Both of his parents are health professionals. He wants to work in genetics and has a lot of curiosity and memory for the things that interest him. He has a lot to offer the world, but he'll never get there without overcoming his math woes.

He recently took a mid-year assessment test, and he has gone from "unsatisfactory" to "partially-proficient" in math since autumn. He's gone up 19 points on a scale that usually sees 5-10 points growth over the course of an entire school year. We still have a lot of work to do, but these are very encouraging test results. To quote Lina Lamont from Singing in the Rain, "our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."

It's at times been a sacrifice for my family, but I'm glad they've been part of this project this year. I expect they'll take from this 1) a great appreciation for not being behind in math themselves, 2) a conviction that service to others is worthwhile and rewarding, and 3) a realization that extra effort is required sometimes in life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Scratch that bit about "toothless"

Last post I praised my baby's toothless grins. No longer. She has a tooth. Now she can actually bite into those bagels and pear slices that she has only mouthed and gummed up till now.

Isn't it amazing how the ability to wield even one sharp, hard item can change one's life? Teeth, knives, axes, scissors, etc. I really doubt that life--free of metal implements--was really less stressful 10,000 years ago as was recently claimed by a participant on a prehistoric times reality TV show.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


My baby can crawl now. She was working her way up to it for weeks, often backing herself under furniture and yelling for help to get out. She's more content now that she is mobile enough to reach much of what she wants to touch and/or mouth. I love her wide, toothless smiles. :)

I always put her to bed in her crib, but sometime during the night she cries, and then she often ends up with me in bed for the rest of the night. If I leave my bedroom in the morning before she's awake, I have to keep an ear out for her because if she wakes up and lies on the bed too long without being fetched, she can move herself off the bed. It's not super high off the ground, but it's still best to avoid a fall. If you haven't been around a newly mobile baby recently, there's a distinctive "thump-waughh!!" sound they make whenever they fall.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Slavery unveiled

I'm not normally a fan of either Obama. You can probably guess from reading my blog that I would have voted for the other guy.

BUT I am so pleased with Michelle Obama for not wearing a veil recently in Saudi Arabia. Yes, I know about the importance of local customs and diplomacy, but sometimes a statement needs to be made. Saudi Arabia is a place of modern-day slavery, and its imprisonment of women is one of the most glaring manifestations of that. It is entirely appropriate for someone of Michelle's heritage and past to make a statement that she won't go along with an outward symbol of that slavery.

In the USA, we tend to think of Saudi Arabia as a place full of rich Arab, Muslim men because that's all we ever see on TV or in magazines. (Ironic that they won't show female hair out of some claim to holiness while Saudi males are burning up the internet and their satellite dishes downloading naughty stuff. Remember what they found on Osama bin Laden's computers after his death?) While it's certainly run by such, other people live there, too.

Obviously, there is the entire female population, which is trapped within walking distance of their homes unless a male drives them--and, yes, that includes situations of life and death--and forced to swaddle themselves in the Arabian heat lest they become too worldly. The "religious police" take that dress code so seriously that they forced girls to burn to death in a fire rather than be unveiled in public.

Then there is the enslavement of migrant workers by the Arabs, who are extremely racist. A friend who worked in Kuwait said that the Embassy of the Philippines there had cots in its hallways to take in Filipina migrant workers being raped and/or abused by their Kuwaiti employers, a common problem throughout the region.

Freedom of religion--not remotely, not even for other Muslims. Freedom of movement--only for male Saudi citizens. Equal treatment before the law--what law? Seriously, there is no uniform penal code.

If it weren't for Saudi Arabia's oil, the civilized world would shun it. Despite the newness of fracking as a technology and the understandable hesitancy of environmentalists to embrace it, I am very pleased that it has helped weakened the power of the Arab countries over the USA. Now if only we could get thorium reactors online....

Monday, January 26, 2015

Eating paper & a homeschool morning

Why does my seven-month-old love to chew paper? Is she lacking sufficient cellulose in her diet? She delights in sitting on my lap and pulling papers out of the desk drawer so she can chew on them. Just now, she creeped (mostly backwards, as she hasn't figured out forward motion yet) around my chair and under the low table beside me, where she is happily trilling as she--oops, never mind, she just bumped her head and the happy trills are gone--seeks new paper and plastic toys to stick into her mouth. I have soggy, ragged pieces of paper all around my feet.

Dd2 is playing with her Duplo blocks and zoo animals. Dd5 was just climbing on a bench to get into my "off-limits-to-the-toddler" shelf and came down with a pencil compass, which she announced she will use to make circles. Dd7 is playing with a tricky/magic worm instead of reading about the human body in her Core Knowledge book like she's supposed to be doing. Dd10 is reading from the encyclopedia about the Punic Wars and narrating to me the main idea of each paragraph.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Twins...sort of

Last night I noticed that dd7 had been growing again. In fact, I put her next to dd10--who is not a short girl--and realized that they appear to be the exact same height now.

How did I get "twins" 2.5 years apart? I know children grow at different rates, but isn't it a bit extreme for a seven-year-old to be handing clothing "down" to her ten-year-old sister?

Still, the realization that they share so much DNA yet still are quite different in some ways is a valuable one that ties in with our biology studies for the next few weeks. We will be focusing on genetics.

UPDATE: One of the biology topics we studied today was sexual vs. asexual reproduction. Afterward dd10 did her 1/2 page of Bible reading, which coincidentally was the story of Lot's daughters getting their father drunk and using him to impregnate themselves. She couldn't bring herself to narrate a summary of her reading. What a pity Lot couldn't just clone himself after his wife perished.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


My baby's fever is now mostly gone, but she has developed a rash. Normally, this wouldn't be a cause for too much alarm. Just rest, fluids, watchfulness, making sure there wasn't too much detergent residue on her onesies, etc. Unfortunately, I also get to worry about the possibility of measles.

While the odds of her having measles seem pretty low, they're a lot higher than they should be because of 1) the trend to refuse vaccinations and 2) the recent measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. While Colorado has only had 1 reported case from the Disneyland outbreak, that was a woman who sought treatment at a hospital near our home. We regularly go to the supermarket closest to that very hospital. My baby is old enough to sit up in grocery cart seats but not old enough to have received the measles vaccination.

Measles was essentially eradicated in the US in 2000 except for imported cases, but now it keeps spreading domestically because not enough Americans get vaccinations for themselves or their children. I disagree with most reasons to refuse the MMR vaccination, especially in light of Wakefield's fraud, and I'm very displeased that there is a chance that my baby could have contracted a preventable disease that is known to kill or seriously injure many.

UPDATE (1/19/2015): No worries about baby. Her rash is disappearing quickly. After consultation with Dr. Internet and experienced siblings, we have concluded that she had roseola.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Today my children made a fasces, a bundle of sticks with an axe in it that has been used as a symbol of government power for thousands of years. Here's a picture. (Rubber bands are a very useful invention.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sick baby

My seven month-old baby is ill. I think it's a cold because she's been snotty. But she definitely has a fever. That means lots of holding and nursing. She's still pretty active, so we just keep monitoring her and taking her temperature once in a while. I'm fairly sure she's not too badly off--she just energetically turned towards the TV screen when the opening song of Dr. Who came on.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Belief vs. Faith

In German, the word for "faith" is "Glaube." In German, the word for "belief" is also "Glaube." Somehow in English, we've ended up with two different words for the same concept: the act of believing, or accepting that something is true. So "faith" often gets treated like an inert noun, a bit like "church" or "religion," while "belief" retains more of an apparent connection to the verb "to believe."

I think it is unfortunate that the English word "faith" isn't obviously linked to an action verb. Faith is a choice, a voluntary acceptance of something that isn't proven to everyone to the point of being considered a "fact."

This subject is on my mind because yesterday, some very bad men thought they acted on God's errand when they slaughtered the staff of a satirical magazine in France. They appear to have acted on three main beliefs: 1) Muhammed was a Prophet so holy his face can't be drawn, 2) any disrespect of Muhammed is blasphemy that merits the harshest punishment, and 3) God approves of them forcing adherence to their own beliefs in brutal ways.

Addressing these beliefs in order and attempting to do so within a framework acceptable to faithful Muslims, 1) Muhammed was drawn by good Muslims for centuries. The Quran does not prohibit drawing Muhammed. Only some hadith do, and they, unlike the Quran, are not accepted by all Muslims. If Muhammed was the last prophet, as Islam claims, then who cares if some imams a while back came up with a new restriction on permissible illustrations? Those imams don't speak for anybody but themselves because they are NOT prophets.

2) Disrespect of a cherished individual or object can be emotionally painful to see and hear (I personally never will watch The Book of Mormon musical), but it doesn't justify violence in response. Even if one follows an "eye for an eye" retributive philosophy, disrespect only justifies more disrespect in turn. Disproportionate punishments--such as execution for a mere verbal insult--is something most of the civilized world considers barbaric, and people are not bound by a book--the Quran--that they don't believe in.

Which leads me to my last point. 3) A religious movement, such as the Taliban or ISIS, that violently forces others to submit to it is an abomination in God's eyes because it removes the opportunity to choose to believe. When God--who has not even given us indisputable evidence of his very existence--tells us to believe in him, he is giving us a choice: to accept him or to not accept him. The ability to choose for ourselves is what makes faith meaningful. There is no such thing as forced faith in the same way that rape cannot be termed an amorous encounter. For that reason, I reject and oppose any interpretation of Islam/Christianity/LDS doctrine/etc. that uses violence to force others to follow it. Such violence removes the agency of a person to choose to follow God, thus destroying faith and enslaving others. (And yes, that criticism applies to some followers of the Pearls almost as much as ISIS.) Good Muslims choose to submit to God according to the teachings of Muhammed. Many people do not choose to submit to Muhammed's teachings, but they must be given the opportunity to make that choice without their survival being under threat or else the choice TO submit (i.e., Islam itself) is made meaningless. I hope that faithful Muslims promote religious movements that do not make a mockery of their own beliefs.