Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No good response

An extended family member at a recent family gathering seemed to feel it necessary to inform everyone that she will never have children. She is in her early 30s and very influenced by modern feminism and women's studies.

What am I, a mother of five children, supposed to say to that? 
  • "I'm sorry?" - I am. I value children and being a mother. I'm sorry she'll be missing out on those herself. But saying it sounds so patronizing, so I can't.
  • "You might change your mind...when biology makes it no longer a daring choice but merely a foregone conclusion." - True, but kind of mean. 
  • "How wonderful! You wouldn't have made a good mother anyway." - Super mean.
  • "Oh, yes, what a great decision. Children are so overrated." - Overrated, sure, sometimes. But still worth it.
  • "You evil feminist harpy!" - I got the vibe that she was hoping for that response so she could play victim later in her feminist circles. But we love her and aren't going to attack her like that. 
So I said nothing.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Titus 2:4

Often when it is "dictation day" (the day of the week where language arts includes a dictation exercise), I don't put a lot of thought into the sentences ahead of time. This past Tuesday was one of those days. Because I was in the kitchen repacking chicken for freezing when she asked for her dictation assignment, dd10 ended up with a sentence about the importance of meat safety. Dd7's math lesson had asked her for the total number of verses in Titus and she had left the Bible lying on the couch afterward, so when she asked for her dictation assignment, I quickly scanned Titus and told her to write the following:
"Teach the young women to love their children." 

I excerpted it from Titus 2:4, which reads in its entirety:
"That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children," 

As I repeated the first sentence a few times for dd7, I realized how few places young women hear that message anymore. Social media use, while it does give us a place to show off our children--and, boy, do I engage in that--too easily gets in the way of loving our children, especially if we are so fixated on screens that we only look in our children's eyes when we're snapping their photo.

Institutions of higher education tend to discourage "family life" and make us SAHMs feel like we've failed our half of humanity by opting out of paid employment to stay home caring for little children, even though studies make it clear that kids, at least in my ethnic group, are better off not being sent to full-time daycare (I'm not trying to insult anyone; the science is what it is, and I have no motivation to pretend otherwise) and biological reality means that females are more affected by pregnancy-related health concerns. The cynical part of me thinks this happens in part because it's harder to cajole alumni donations from unemployed people.

Advertisements constantly tell us to buy things and experiences for our children at peril of being mean moms. (Sorry, Disney, I'm not giving in to your fiendish plot to make me feel like a wicked witch for not springing for a Disney World family vacation.) If advertisers really wanted to help us love our children, they'd point out how richly blessed American kids already are as far as material goods and counsel us parents to go read a library book to our kids before they grow up. But there's no money in that....

I've always been grateful for my mother telling me that the most fulfilling and important thing she did in her life was to be a mother to me and my siblings. She is a very intelligent woman who has been a schoolteacher and private school administrator, earned a PhD and a JD, and is still practicing law in her 70s.

Thus far, I have only daughters, and I will heed this counsel to teach them to "love their children." I'll teach them by example as I cuddle my infant and struggle not to get too angry when the toddler makes yet another mess. I'll teach them that they should expand their minds and do great good in the world, but that they should also carefully choose their paths so they have the best chance of being able to take loving care--which requires a substantial amount of face time--of their children. I'll counsel them to eat well and take care of their bodies, for their health directly influences the well-being of their future children, as well as the egg cells that will become their grandchildren. I hope they heed the lessons, for my personal experience is already mirroring that of my mother: there is no accomplishment that matters more to me than nurturing my children well. Isn't it ironic that self-fulfillment comes more easily when we're not focused on ourselves?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Sand Dunes National Park

We had a terrific field trip yesterday. It was a bit of a drive but so worth it. We went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado. The weather was very nice. It was a warm day for autumn in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, so we were able to play in the sand--some wet and some dry--while taking in the golden aspens, snow-capped peaks, and the beautiful sky of the San Luis valley.

Autumn in the San Luis valley

My children insisted on completing the Jr. Ranger program and getting their Jr. Ranger badges at the visitors center. We all got a chance to slide down sand dunes on a wooden, waxed sand sled. Trudging through the fine sand made for a good teaching moment about what it is like trying to get around in the Sahara desert.

Not fun to walk in after the first two minutes

If you're ever in southern Colorado, try to make time for a visit to this national park!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Graded on Our Moms

When I was in sixth grade, I did well academically. Socially, horribly. I was such a pariah that the school teacher in charge of the school adaptation of Macbeth backed off from his initial plan of having me play Lady Macbeth because the boy given the part of Macbeth refused to act the role of my pretend spouse. (Weird, right? It's not like the Macbeths are renowned for their public displays of affection.) The teacher was limited in his choice of boys that could act well, so I lost out.

The school had me meet with a counselor to help me make friends, but I just didn't "get" social interactions. Twenty years later, I might have been given an Asperger's diagnosis. Back then, at least I could feel good about myself at school when it came to academic achievements. That is, until the (say the next two words in your best nonverbal voice of doom) "Pharoah Projects."

These ambitious projects lasted for several weeks. We were divided into small groups and told to prepare an exhibit about a specific pharaoh. I think my group's pharaoh was Ptolemy I. A woman--probably a volunteering mother--came to class one day and showed us how to stuff pantyhose with cotton to form the head and limbs of a dummy. Each group was to make a life-size pantyhose dummy of a pharoah, sew features onto its head and digits into its extremities, and dress it in appropriate clothing.

Such a sewing project was way beyond my abilities, but somehow I, of the three kids in the group, ended up with it as my lot. I still remember cringingly the night before the dummy was due, how I hunched next to my bedroom closet near midnight, trying not to wake my sister, as I tearfully did my best to work with needle, thread, and running nylons. It was so frustrating, and I felt pathetically alone (so much for "group work") and overwhelmed. Somehow, I managed to finish a pygmy, Greek-ish dummy, but we got an "F." My dummy was a sorry sight next to all the beautiful, life-size pharaoh dummies that could only have been made by parents.

The mother of another kid in my group took my pharaoh home and redid it, so we eventually got a C or D on the whole project. That low grade rankled for years. Why didn't someone tell us we were going to be graded on our mothers' crafting abilities and free time?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Count Day

Today was "Count Day" for the state of Colorado. That means all the students are supposed to be enrolled and attending their school of choice, whether full-time students or homeschoolers utilizing supplemental programs.

My children's charter school did several things to help ensure high attendance numbers today. First, they made sure that parents knew it was Count Day.

Second, they made it Picture Day. Dd10 wore her favorite, too-well-loved animal shirt, which she wears at least once a week. Dd7 wore a red shirt and burgundy pants; she had already given in to my command that she "not dress weird" today, so I didn't pick a color fight with her. My children like to express themselves through their clothing. I would be just fine with a uniform requirement.

Third, the school added some extra enrichment activities to the day's programming. My kids learned about fractals and 3-D modeling, among other things that they either can't recall or can't explain to me. All in all, it was a fun day for them. And they were counted.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Carnival of Homeschooling #456 - "Ozymandias" Edition

Welcom to the 456th Carnival of Homeschooling! This carnival's theme is "Ozymandias."



Doesn't it just make you happy to say the name "Ozymandias"? My voice becomes sonorous and commanding, and I envision stark desert scenes, which I love, having mostly grown up in the American Southwest.

Written in the early 1800s, the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley deals with many themes in its short 14 lines. Among them are travel and history, the effects of time and the natural world, artistic creation, hubris, recording one's deeds, and the collapse of human power.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Christy submitted a post about the Borgia Family and Machiavelli, saying "I love the freedom homeschooling gives, the chance to follow interests and to use silly things like a comedy show as a jumping off point for a unit study. The Borgia Family lived in Renaissance Italy. They knew Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci."

The Cates' daughter wrote an essay for college on her homeschooling experience and used it to help argue that homeschooling is a viable educational option.

April E. contributed ten lessons she has learned during the journey of homeschooling her high school students.

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

No matter how powerful or enormous a monument, the forces of nature slowly erode it away. The blog What DID We Do All Day? includes a fun look at how one homeschooling family learned about erosion.

And speaking of science in general, occupational therapist Sharon Stansfield submitted some tips on how to help children with slow processing blossom when doing their schoolwork: "Children who process information slower than their peers are often very clever but need understanding and correct teaching methods to help them blossom. I give simple and important tips to use for teaching these children. The tips are just as useful for home-schooled children. Knowing the best way to bring out your child's true potential makes teaching and home-schooling so very rewarding."

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

While watching Dr. Who last night (Season 1, episode 3 for the Whovians out there), I was struck by how Charles Dickens, upon meeting a Time Lord, wanted to know just one thing about the future: "Would his books last?" Artistic creations, as ephemeral as they may seem, can long survive worldly powers, just as the sculptor's work in "Ozymandias" outlived the power of the real Ozymandias.

Real Life at Home has a post on "10 Reasons to Homeschool Your Creative Child." I can especially relate to the fourth point about conformity; my children's art appears very individualistic compared to that of their peers at the school they attend part-time.

A blogger I follow, author and linguist Katherine Beals at Out in Left Field, just posted about how her daughter wouldn't have time for all her musical pursuits if they weren't homeschooling.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Not all public school administrators are guilty of domineering behavior, but Dewey's Treehouse links to an account of a family in New Jersey that was (wrongly) told by an assistant superintendent that "policy" required them to conform their homeschool curriculum to the Common Core standards. Mama Squirrel points out that some parents don't want their children's education to be that narrow.

Homeschoolers in the thick of things seem to be a fairly humble lot (at least when not having to defend their homeschool choices to detractors); they want to give their children the best education they can and constantly wonder if they're doing enough. Those worries can be magnified when faced with the task of creating an impressive transcript recording our children's studies. To help keep perspective, 7Sisters gives us "Balancing Life and the Homeschool Transcript."

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Here at my blog, I wrote about how seemingly all-powerful and permanent institutions, including public school systems, can and do go into decline.

Susan Raber submitted a post on why "free stuff" isn't always the best choice. One reason for that is that we may come to depend on a free resource only to have it become costly or even disappear later.

That's the end of today's carnival. Thank you to all who submitted, and for those who want to submit to future carnivals, you can find out how here.


Carnival of Homeschooling

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Declining institutions

As part of our homeschool history studies, we've been learning about ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt experienced about 30 pharaonic dynasties over a period of nearly 3000 years. That means that each dynasty lasted on average for roughly 100 years. That's not very long. I have a grandmother who has been alive for almost 100 years. She's senile, but she is quite lively for her age.

One thinks of the pharaohs as having been very powerful because they ruled a wealthy, literate civilization and built enormous, long-lasting structures like Karnak and the Great Pyramid of Giza. However, the buildings that house a powerful institution can outlast the institution, be it a dynasty or a school system.

Six years ago, as a newcomer to my city I attended a school board meeting for my local school district in which they discussed needing to close some elementary and middle schools due to declining enrollment. At the time, I didn't have any school-age children, but I wanted to know what was happening in our local school district. I suspect the administration was making some poor decisions at the time, for while our centrally-located school district was seeing enrollment fall, the district just to the north was experiencing a very large influx of students, some of whom were "choicing" into it from my school district. (Colorado law has a school funding system where the funds follow students to whichever school will accept them.) One elementary school I saw up north had a playground filling up with modular classrooms.

Presently, my two homeschooled children are part-time students at a charter school housed in one of those closed-down district schools. The brick-and-mortar structure still stands; indeed, it looks like it has been there since the 1950s. But the local school district has declined in numbers and importance, and a new institution, a charter school that caters to a specific niche, has moved into its space.

No matter how large or powerful an institution is, it can go into decline. Among other things, wise decisions by competent people are necessary to maintain its strength. The repeated failure by school district employees and leaders to make wise decisions that satisfy parents' varied needs and/or wants can weaken--sometimes drastically--those public school institutions.

We live in a time when technology makes personalization of many services much easier. Service tailored to an individual is often expected. Search engines customize results to take into account your friends and location, Amazon.com sells 6.8 million products just in the category "iPhone cases," Google shows you ads based on your emails' contents and search history, and, by law, schools must create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities. It seems obvious that many parents will want to seek out educational services that fit their own philosophies and their kids' particular needs, but too many school districts remain too unresponsive to parents, be it for ideological or logistical reasons or just because they suffer from bureaucratic inertia. I think that is a primary reason for the current strength of charter school and homeschool movements. School districts still think they can offer a Sears* education to a society used to Amazon.com.

It seems hard to believe that the public school system could cease to be the power it was in my childhood, back when only rich people and Catholics were outside the public school system and most people watched only three TV networks and PBS. But choice is here to stay, both in entertainment and in schooling. The institution of public school as I think of it might be in irreversible decline already. (See law professor Glenn Reynold's ideas on a K-12 education implosion.) That idea is easier to accept when I consider that compulsory education became universal in the USA in 1918, the same year in which my still-living grandmother was born. If a pharaonic dynasty only tended to last a century, how can I expect the present public school system to survive much past that?

*Actually, I malign Sears. Even Sears now offers customers a chance to "Shop Your Way."

Carnival of Homeschooling
This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Send in your posts for the Carnival of Homeschooling!

For years, I have been reading and learning from a wide variety of homeschooling parents through the posts submitted to the Carnival of Homeschooling. 

Next Tuesday, I will be hosting the Carnival. Please send in your homeschool-related posts by Monday night by following the directions here.

If you're looking for ideas for posts to submit, I'm going to have the carnival's theme be the poem "Ozymandias" by Shelley because my children have been memorizing it for the past three weeks. Among other things, the 14-line sonnet touches on travel, history (ancient Egypt), societal change (collapse of power), science (erosion), art (sculpture, persistence of art), and human nature (hubris, short-sightedness). It has also enjoyed renewed popularity recently because of its use in the TV show Breaking Bad. But any post about homeschooling is welcome!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Passive-aggressive behavior

From Wikipedia:
Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. 
For research purposes, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) revision IV describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations".
There are three people in my life whom I recall having heard label other people "passive-aggressive." Interestingly, these three people treated others harshly. I think their harsh treatment of other people temporarily brought out behavior typical of those with genuine passive-aggressive personality disorders.

The first person I heard lecture about the evils of "being passive-aggressive" was a high school music teacher who was very hard and critical. Multiple kids refused to continue in school music classes specifically due to his personality. He was so energetic when yelling at students that he once broke his directing baton on the edge of his stand. Since I sat near the front, it flew my way, and I still have the baton fragment (rather an odd souvenir from high school). I suspect he ran into a lot of people who responded in quietly hostile ways because he seemed so mean. That seems more probable than large numbers of people with passive-aggressive personality disorders being concentrated in his vicinity by random chance.

The other two people are my father and my husband's older brother. I have seen both of them bring out passive-aggressive behavior in my husband, ordinarily a well-meaning, helpful person in nearly all his actions and thoughts. Interestingly, my husband is an introvert, and if I'm reading it right, a recent study found that introverts are more likely to exhibit passive-aggressive behavior. My personal experience (and, yes, I'm introverted, too) is that it is not worth the hassle of open conflict all the time with domineering people, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to happily submit to everything they say or want me to do. Sometimes a little sullenness is justified when it's impossible to prevail via open conflict, particularly when dealing with "authority figures" who think they should always win because of pride and/or their position of authority. Does this work for me? It certainly feels healthier mentally than being a complete doormat or embroiled in frequent fights.

When encountering quiet resistance from a subordinate (or someone we treat as a subordinate), I think it is more productive to ask one's self, "Why is this person behaving hostilely towards me?" than to think, "Oh, that person is just being passive-aggressive." Odds are that, rather than facing someone with a personality disorder, we might be provoking the hostile response with unkind behavior.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ancient Egypt

We made it all the way through the four volumes of the Story of the World during the last four years, and we have now started over with Volume 1. That means Ancient Egypt! We're doing the usual supplements - pyramids out of wooden blocks and Duplos (the toy, not the chocolate candy, alas), British Horrible History comedy sketches like "The Mummy Song", library books like You Wouldn't Want to Be Cleopatra, and library videos like Prince of Egypt and Reading Rainbow's "Mummies Made in Egypt." On Friday we are going to begin mummifying a chicken.



And my favorite part of learning about ancient Egypt: introducing my children to The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.




Carnival of Homeschooling
This post is part of the Homeschool Carnival.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inquiry-led Learning

Back in school and college, I wasn't much of an in-class questioner. I benefited greatly from listening to other students ask their questions and get answers from the teacher, but I rarely asked questions myself. I'm still like that.

"Why?" I (rarely) ask myself. I love to learn new things, especially in fields of interest to me. Perhaps I think that the teacher is up there to teach that which he/she deems important and my consternation is relatively trivial and shouldn't take away from the teacher's time to give his/her prepared presentation; after all, I can usually figure out the answer on my own afterward. Perhaps I feel rude asking questions because it implies that the teacher did a poor job of teaching me. Perhaps I believe that there really is such a thing as a "dumb question," and I don't want to ask one. Perhaps I'm more interested in going to lunch.

At any rate, I don't question much, and it would appear my daughter is similar to me in that respect. When I picked up dd9 from school this afternoon, she told me that as part of their study of living systems, they did the first two parts of a "KWL" exercise, in which they asked themselves the following questions :

  • "What do I know about living systems?" 
  • "What do I want to know about them?" 
  • "What did I learn about them?"

She told me that she didn't have anything she wants to know about living systems. This from a girl who has been independently reading a book on genetics recently and is always picking up nonfiction books about animals for recreational reading. Maybe she was thrown off by the nonspecific topic label of "living systems," or maybe she just doesn't have questions about them at present. I hope her teacher doesn't confuse today's lack of questions with an absence of curiosity.

Inquiry-led learning receives a lot of praise these days, both by some advocates of unschooling and proponents of constructivist school curricula. While inquiry-led learning may work wonderfully for some children, it seems to poorly serve curious non-questioners like my daughter and me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School 2014

School is "back in session" at our home. This year, I decided to print out daily checklists for the children. They like the feeling of checking off what they've done, and it helps them be more independent and speedy. Here's a sample morning schedule (in the afternoon, they are often at a charter school receiving supplementary classes and the opportunity to socialize). The second grader is usually done in about two hours, while the fifth grader has to exert herself to finish within three hours.

Dd4
o  Reading Lesson
o  Writing Lesson (1 page of penmanship)
o  Arithmetic Lesson from Mommy
o  Music (Practice three minutes on one instrument – piano, organ, violin, recorder, or music maker)
o  PE (Tabata or other exercise)

Dd7
o  Story of the World (listen to Mom read “What is History?”  & help add to timeline)
o  Composition – Copy poem:
A tutor who tooted a flute
Tried to teach two young tooters to toot
Said the two to the tutor,
"Is it harder to toot, or . . .
To tutor two tooters to toot?"
o  Memorization – Recite above poem three times through
o  German Study – Learn meaning of & write three times: Ich bin, du bist, er ist, sie ist, es ist
o  Read lesson from Core Knowledge 2nd Grade & narrate to Mom
o  Math – 2 pages from Math 3
o  Handwriting Practice (1 page printing)
o  Religion – Book of Mormon (1 page)
o  Music Practice (at least five minutes on two different instruments or music theory)
o  PE (Tabata or other exercise)

Dd9
o  Story of the World (listen to Mom read “What is History?”  & help add to timeline)
o  Watch 3 videos on finding the main idea and practice with the last 6 paragraphs in the lesson from Story of the World)
o  Composition—Copy:
The word history is used in two senses. It may mean either the record of events, or events themselves.
“Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to continue always a child.” ~Cicero
o  Memorization (recite four times):
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
                  ~ George Santayana
o  Reading assigned by Mom (10 pages from The Golden Goblet) & narrate to Mom
o  Math – 2 pages from Math 4
o  Spelling Workout (1 page or a test)
o  Religion – read 1/2 page from Bible & narrate to Mom
o  German Study (1/2 page from German in 10 Minutes a Day)
o  Latin Study (5 translations from Getting Started with Latin & check and correct them yourself)
o  Music Practice (at least six minutes on two different instruments or theory)
o  PE (Tabata or other exercise)


Friday, August 15, 2014

Snowed by Kim Jong-il

A few years ago, a visiting scholar to our city gave a lecture on North Korea. He had been to visit North Korea, and he declared that the USA wasn't doing enough to engage with North Korea.

Now, I spent two weeks working at the US Embassy in Seoul during a time when the USA was trying to have six-party talks with North Korea. But North Korea wanted only bilateral talks, in keeping with an apparent pattern of trying to extort money from the USA. It appeared to me that this visiting scholar was not presenting an accurate picture of the USA's attempts to negotiate with North Korea and that he might have been unwisely swayed by the apparent sincerity and possibility of good will from the North Koreans as well as flattered by having been granted access to North Korea.

Fast forward to the just-released memoir of a North Korean defector who had inside knowledge of what Kim Jong-il was up to. Kim Jong-il, who built up the personality cult around his father while stripping away his father's power and taking it for himself, feasted royally--the invidual courses were even specially lit with customized, colored lighting--while government propagandists told the country how he was sharing their hunger and living off mere rice balls. Foreign aid was being given to party officials to keep them loyal while the regular North Koreans starved to death, even being driven to sell their children on occasion. Fake Christian churches were set up in Pyongyang to make it look like religion was freely practiced and to receive donations from South Korean churches, but when a regular North Korean showed up to enjoy the hymns, he was turned in by a "cleric" to the police and arrested.

Diplomacy was never sincere; it was all about counterintelligence work:
The United States negotiates as a matter of diplomacy, to seek common ground on an issue; but when North Korea comes to the table, it's a counterintelligence operation. In other words, North Korea uses dialogue as a tools of deception rather than of negotiation, with the objective being the maintenance of misplaced trust in the other party. And why not? North Korea's opacity is its greatest strength. It allows things to be done on its own terms while other countries continue to take what North Korea says at face value. In fact, Kim Jong-il formally set these three principles as a basis for diplomatic engagment: 'The United States will buy any lie, as long as it is logically presented'; 'Japan is susceptible to emotional manipulation'; and 'South Korea can be ignored or blackmailed.' (p. 252)

My suspicion that the visiting scholar was unwisely influenced has now been cemented. To be blunt, I think the North Koreans snowed him.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fifth Grade Biology

My oldest is a fifth grader, and in keeping with the curriculum ideas laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, we will be studying biology this year. I looked at several texts and curricula online and read reviews on them, but nothing seemed like a good fit for our current needs. Time 4 Learning looks like it has a great life sciences course, but I don't think dd9 is ready to do online courses yet. Maybe next year, when she's not carelessly breaking our computers (a few days ago, while crowding in next to a sister who was playing a computer game, dd9 dropped a speaker on our family PC case and broke something major inside so that it doesn't work now...sigh).

The Time 4 Learning website has been of great help in showing me what topics I should cover with dd9 this year as I set out to cobble together my own science course for her. My formal biology background is one college level course taught by an immunologist, who tended to focus on human illnesses and only briefly discuss other subjects. If I hadn't seen something saying I should teach dd9 about dichotomous keys, she would have likely had a gap there. But I'm certain she'd have learned a lot about Ebola!

I'll probably spend hours putting together dd9's biology materials with much assistance from search engines. We already subscribe to Enchanted Learning, which has some helpful biology printouts--food webs, cell structure labeling, anatomy, etc.-- at the right grade level. The local library has relevant DVDs from the BBC, Schlessinger Media, and Bill Nye. We have a new-to-us 2008 World Book Encyclopedia set. The Bioman website has some fun-looking biology games. Finally, YouTube, ed.ted.com, and other internet sites have slide shows, videos, and informational pages on all sorts of biology topics. It should be a fun experiment to see if I can make an engaging, effective course on my own. And maybe next year, I'll find middle school books I like for astronomy and earth science.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Family Reunion

We just returned from a week in Minnesota, where we had a family reunion with my husband's parents and all their descendants. We did some tourist-y things, too: Mall of America, Como Zoo, Minnehaha Falls, and the aerial lift bridge in Duluth. My children especially enjoyed fossil hunting in Iowa. Family reunions are great because they're both a chance to be with family and an opportunity to tour other parts of the country.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Zimbabwe Feast

The father of a family we know was born in Zimbabwe; he is of European ancestry, so he, like many "white Zimbabweans," emigrated in the mid-80s, and he finished growing up in South Africa. Tonight the whole family came over, and he told us a little about Zimbabwe. He also brought cricket equipment and let us play some cricket at a nearby park. Now I know what a "sticky wicket" is!

I spent much of today cooking, trying to provide both enough traditional African food and food that was what a white Zimbabwean would have eaten. Here was the menu, along with websites that taught me how to make the items:

  • Sadza - http://www.chirundu.com/sadza-recipe-south-african-mielie-pap-nshima-zambia-ugali-2009-08/
  • Greens - http://living-learning-eating.blogspot.com/2014/06/recipe-zimbabwean-style-greens.html
  • Oven-baked chicken (our guests brought piri piri sauce to put on it) - http://www.ehow.com/how_2212924_make-oven-baked-chicken.html
  • Okra - http://www.zimbokitchen.com/zimbabwe-traditional-derere-okra/
  • Mealies (corn on the cob)
  • Sweet potato cookies - http://www.food.com/recipe/cookies-from-zimbabwe-139868
  • Candy cake - http://globaltableadventure.com/2013/11/15/recipe-zimbabwe-candy-cake-chikenduza/
  • Sweet buns - http://www.fisoskitchen.com/sweet-zimbabwe-buns-2/
  • Shandy - homemade non-alcoholic version consisting of pink lemonade (from a powdered mix) mixed with lemon-lime seltzer water
  • Baobab powder in water - http://www.baobabfoods.com/recipes/ (I ended up adding grenadine to this because it just didn't taste that great alone)
  • Water

The sweet buns were probably the biggest hit with everyone. I'll be cooking those for my family in the future for sure. The okra...not so much of a hit....It's just so slimy.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Early Marriage

A friend came by tonight and shared how due to infidelity and other serious issues he is going to file for divorce from his wife. They dated in high school and got married as teenagers, and he is devastated that this is happening.

I have a sibling who married at age 18 and is now being divorced after 20+ years of an often stormy marriage. My parents were not in favor of the marriage back then but supported their child nevertheless.

While having gotten married early is not necessarily the reason for these broken homes, I don't think it helped either. Here are some excerpts from a paper that looks at whether some of the problematic results of early marriage are caused by the earliness itself of the marriage:

Women who marry while in their teens are two-thirds more likely to divorce within 15 years of their wedding compared with women who postpone marriage.

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Although teen marriage and low education are associated with a variety of below-average outcomes, it is not necessarily true that these choices caused the bad outcomes. For example, differences may be due to preexisting characteristics of women who marry young versus later, rather than any causal relationship between teen marriage and negative adult outcomes. To my knowledge, no previous research has studied the causal effect of early marriage. Yet, understanding the causal effect of teens’ choices is key for understanding whether they are making choices they will later regret or which impose costs on their children and society. If teenage marriage and dropping out of high school are largely driven by unobserved personal characteristics that are the primary cause of negative outcomes, legal interventions to prevent these choices may make little difference. However, if strong causal effects exist, then state laws restricting teenagers’ choices have the potential to greatly lessen the chances of future poverty.

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CONCLUSION

Do the negative effects associated with early teen marriage and dropping out of school reflect unmeasured characteristics or the true consequences of a teen’s choices? To better understand the effect of women’s early decisions on future life outcomes, this article examines variation over time and across states in the laws that regulate early marriage, school attendance, and child labor. Based on using these laws as instruments for early marriage and high school completion, the results indicate strong negative effects on poverty status that are not due to self selection. The baseline IV estimates imply that women who marry young are 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty when they are older. Similarly, women who drop out of school are 11 percentage points more likely to be in families below the poverty line. The IV results are robust to a variety of alternative specifications and estimation methods, including LIML estimation and a control function approach. In comparison, OLS estimates are sensitive to how the data are aggregated; regressions on individual-level data estimate small effects for early teen marriage, while aggregated data estimate large effects. I argue that the difference is due to a large amount of measurement error in the early marriage variable, resulting in substantial attenuation bias in the individual-level OLS regressions but not the aggregated OLS or IV regressions.

The results imply that the decisions women make early in life can have long-lasting consequences. The IV estimates suggest that legal restrictions that prevent early marriage and mandate high school completion have the potential to greatly reduce the chances of future poverty for a woman and her family. The implication is that legal restrictions on teenagers’ choices can reduce external costs imposed on society, and it is possible they also prevent some teens from making decisions they will later regret.

Gordon B. Dahl, Early Teen Marriage and Future Poverty

We have already started to instill in our children the expectation that they will finish college or other preparation for a good job and will not marry in their teens. A little extra maturity can only be a good thing before one enters into the grand adventure of starting a family.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camping

My husband took dd9, dd7, and dd4 camping the past two nights. We had planned for them to go camping during Mongolia weeks--since so many Mongolians still live nomadic lifestyles--but it didn't work out. Happily our current country of focus, Zimbabwe, is connected to camping via the Scouting movement.

Over a hundred years ago around Bulawayo, a city in then Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe, British soldier Robert Baden-Powell commanded recon missions in hilly enemy territory and got many of the ideas that he put into a small manual he later wrote called "Aids to Scouting." The popularity of this manual led to the founding of the international Scouting movement:
In 1900, Baden-Powell became a national hero in Britain for his 217-day defense of Mafeking in the South African War. Soon after, Aids to Scouting, a military field manual he had written for British soldiers in 1899, caught on with a younger audience. Boys loved the lessons on tracking and observation and organized elaborate games using the book. Hearing this, Baden-Powell decided to write a nonmilitary field manual for adolescents that would also emphasize the importance of morality and good deeds.

Excerpt from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/boy-scouts-movement-begins

I love Boy Scout manuals. As a girl, I would pore over my brother's Scout manuals, and what knowledge I have of knots and the Morse code is from them. My husband was involved in Boy Scouts for years and loves to camp. He's quite good at setting up tents and building fires. I was never involved in Girl Scouts, but our church does have a summer camp program that I regularly went to as a teenager, so I also love camping (but not with babies or toddlers). I'm glad that my husband is passing on the benefit of his years in Scouts to our daughters now.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Greek Weeks

Between Brazil and Mongolia, we learned about Greece. I had just had the baby, so we didn't do that much. Highlights included watching Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (for the Greek mythology aspect) and tasty Greek food from a local restaurant. The adults (my mother-in-law stayed with us for 2 weeks after the baby was born) also watched For Your Eyes Only (it has James Bond being a tourist in Greece) and My Life in Ruins (the actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding portrays a boring tour guide in Greece who learns to loosen up and finds love).

I was planning to have the girls take a session of swim lessons, but never got around to it while we were on Greece. Maybe when we're studying Zimbabwe...hey, the country may be landlocked, but they still swim sometimes over there!

Mongolia Weeks

I have been witness to the slow miracle of a newborn changing to a baby for the past almost-4 weeks. A miracle which I get to witness just as readily at 3 am as at 3 pm. Our baby is quite healthy except for a little jaundice--more common here in Colorado, apparently due to the high altitude--and a mild cold that has required some use of that bulb syringe they gave us at the hospital. My husband is 75% back at work (having him home when the older kids wake up and need breakfast is SO helpful), and my mother is funding 20 hours of having a local teenager be a "mother's helper" for me.

We are still doing math and a little music on a daily basis and studying countries. Last week and this week, the country was Mongolia. We listened to throat singing and the Mongolian national anthem on YouTube. We watched two movies set in rural Mongolia--which is pretty much the entire country outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar--which displayed modern nomadic life very well. The movies, The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Cave of the Yellow Dog, were in Mongolian, but when I read the English subtitles aloud, dd4 and dd2 unexpectedly found them engaging. We also ate buuz and a cheater crockpot version of lamb khorkhog. Finally, I surprised dd7 and dd9 with horseback riding lessons.



If I had more energy, I'd even be able to take my children into central Denver for the Mongolian summer festival, Naadam. Ulaanbaatar and Denver are sister cities, and Denver apparently has the largest population of Mongolians in the Americas.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Star Wars and Origami

My children have discovered the Origami Yoda books. Dd9, dd7, and dd4 are filling the house with origami versions of Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, Admiral Akbar, and what seems like the entire cast of all six Star Wars movies. To tell the truth, they're kind of driving me crazy with all their paper creations. But at the same time I'm pleased to see them so engaged in a creative pursuit.

Dd9 even includes them in her artwork these days, like in this picture below of a picnic where an origami Yoda protects the S'mores ingredients with a flyswatter while other origami Star Wars characters hang out with family members at a park.

Picnic with Origami Star Wars characters

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brazil Weeks

For the first two weeks of our summer, our family studied the country of Brazil. We watched Rio and educational films about Brazil and its varied geography (the Amazon is an amazing place!), ate feijoada (tasty black bean stew) and drank guarana soda, visited a Catholic cathedral (65% of Brazil is Roman Catholic), and observed a capoeira class.

Thanks to a friend who teaches ESL, we were able to meet with two Brazilian students learning English at a local university, and they did a slideshow presentation about Brazil for me and my children. They were also kind enough to compliment my brigadeiro candies (chocolaty truffles), even though I don't think I made them correctly.

Due to pregnancy limiting my stomach's capacity, I missed one of the highlights of our Brazil weeks: my husband took our older children out to lunch at a Brazilian grill restaurant. If you've ever been to one, these restaurants involve a constant parade of barbecued meats and pineapple, as well as yummy cheese rolls made of manioc flour and lots of cheese.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A most recent birth story

I like to share my birth stories on my blog because I think they're interesting to women, who tend to give birth. Male readers, feel free to ignore.

I opted for induction of labor this time just three days before the due date. I'm of "advanced maternal age" now (which is correlated with a higher stillbirth risk), the baby already felt quite heavy, and after so many babies the chances of my having a successful induction were very high. The doctor had me report to the hospital for the induction at 7 am, telling me that I could eat breakfast before I came. I am very glad she said that and that I ate a large, protein-containing breakfast before leaving home. Due to baby not reacting well to stronger contractions, which made it so the nurses had to repeatedly turn down the pitocin IV drip, it took me eleven hours to go from 2 cm to 4 cm dilation. So boring. But not painful because the contractions were rarely strong. I sent my husband home twice during that eleven hours to be with our kids and take a nap. When he was around, we watched Studio C comedy sketches (Photobombing 101 was hilarious and apropos) together, chatted with the nurses, and made periodic trips to the bathroom.

Finally at 6 pm, I'd progressed to a point where the doctor could do an amniotomy (making the water break), the result of which was that they were able to turn up the pitocin without distressing baby. Baby stayed rather high, though, and by 11 pm still hadn't been born. Hungry and dilated only to 7.5 cm, I was distressed enough by then to ask for some pain relief. They gave me a little Fentanyl in the IV which really helped "take the edge off." Between contractions, I even found myself laughing at Zoolander, which was playing on the TV in the labor room. Shortly before midnight an awesome nurse suggested using a peanut birth ball to open up my pelvis and help baby rotate her way down. It worked like magic. Three contractions later, I was pushing out my baby girl, all 8 lbs 15 ozs of her. The doctor barely had time to run in, glove up, and catch.

And now we have five daughters. It is such a good thing that my husband was never into football....

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Father's Day

A friend told me yesterday that Father's Day is Sunday. Oops. I have been so preoccupied this past week with wondering when I'd go into labor that I'd totally forgotten about Father's Day. While my husband has four (soon to be five!) little daughters who can make him paper crafts and shower him with hugs and kisses, I would like him to have a actual, useful present, too. Which means I need to come up with something. Thanks to Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping (no, this isn't an ad--Colorado residents can't be Amazon affiliates) and gift cards obtained from doing Bing searches, I ordered him a bowtie this morning and it should be here by Saturday (at no cost to me, which is good because that would just be cost to him). Now to see which arrives first, the new baby or the bowtie!