Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pregnancy Moodiness

It's real! I watched the LDS movie Legacy on Sunday. Parts of the movie have always brought tears to my eyes, but this time was ridiculous. My eyes were wet the entire time, and I had to wash my face afterwards due to all the tears that had rolled down my cheeks and chin. So glad I didn't have mascara on!

Monday, March 23, 2009

First Ultrasound

Just got back from an ultrasound check. We officially have a little peanut! The heart is beating as it should, and the baby is the expected shape and size. How fun! And it's not twins. Ever since my sister had surprise fraternal twins (no one knew she was pregnant with twins until baby #2 started to deliver himself in the hospital), I've thought it's wise to check for twins.

NVP

As of yesterday, I'm eight weeks pregnant. The so-called "morning sickness" is not fun, but I've discovered some ways of alleviating the misery in the last week or so. Ginger is my friend. Ginger candy, ginger tea. Red raspberry tea, too. Also, walks and sitting outside in the fresh air. Lots of rest and losing myself in good books is also helping. And then, the one I hate the most, forcing protein-rich foods down my gullet. Things I avoid now due to bad consequences: fast movement in the morning (esp. bending over), fruit at night (doesn't stay down), drinking large amounts of any fluid at one time (hot herbal tea is usually good because I can only sip it).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mango Issue

We really, really love the yellow, tasty mangoes from the Philippines. Sadly, the skins of these mangoes are too tender for them to be imported all the way to the USA (or at the least, all the way to Colorado). We were happy to discover a similar mango is being grown now in Mexico and for sale up here. But it sadly is not as good as the Philippine mangoes. It is not nearly as sweet. So we will continue to sigh for our Philippine mangoes. Sigh....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Showers

My dd's are amusing themselves right now with tossing crayons up into the air and letting them rain down all over the living room. Hilarious.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Freak Accidents

I have never heard of someone dying from a fall on a beginner slope, but apparently that is what is happening to an actress right now. It's a very sad story. I question what the rest of us can learn from what happened to her. Beginner slopes are supposed to be gradual, safe slopes. She was even with a ski instructor at the time. We cannot just give up every activity in life that might be a little risky.

I guess the main lesson we learn from her tragedy is always to be kind to our loved ones because we can be separated with no warning.

Update: Even getting gas can kill you now.

Overcoming Allergies

According to this WebMD article, they've been able to cure peanut allergies in some children by exposing to minute, increasing amounts of peanut protein.

My husband's co-worker used to be extremely allergic to cats. But his wife LOVES cats and kept getting more and more of the feline critters. He realized that his marriage meant more to him than the discomfort, so he endured the discomfort until he had finally overcome the allergy. He's no longer allergic to cats.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bright Blue Fruit Drink?

A home daycare provider in Arkansas accidentally served blue antifreeze to the children in her care, thinking it was Kool-Aid. It looks like the children will come out all right, but it raises an interesting question: Why do we drink such unnaturally flavored beverages? The end of the Associated Press article states:

The toxicologist warned that many antifreeze or windshield wiper solutions have bright colors, which can be mistaken for fruit drinks.

"I think the take-home message is not to have these products in the kitchen or where you're doing any kind of food preparation," she said.

Shouldn't another take-home message be that our food should look like food and not like industrial and automotive chemicals? Not that I'm completely against blue Kool-Aid...the sugar-free version is great for dying your hair temporarily.... :)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shows for Preschoolers

I think I've mentioned before that we don't have a TV. But that doesn't mean I'm against watching shows. On the contrary, I feel we're incredibly lucky now to be able to have easy access to many high quality shows. It's like going to the theater whenever we want to! While I hate the idea of preschoolers watching most TV--it's too loud, especially with all those annoying ads that make them dissatisfied during an otherwise happy childhood--I love to let them watch well-done, interesting shows like "Blue's Clues" and "Hi-5". For anyone who's interested, here's my listing of favorite videos for my preschool girls:

#1 Blue's Clues - Best preschool show ever. Doesn't work them up because of its scene continuity, teaches them courtesy and exploration by example, and is fun! They enjoy the Blue's Clues books, too.

#2 Barbie "Princess" movies - Talented, intelligent princesses solving fairy tale problems set to great music (much of it classical).

#3 Dora the Explorer - Many interesting adventures and related books. Personally, I don't like how she yells so much, but it doesn't seem to be rubbing off on my children yet.

#4 Backyardigans - If you haven't seen the Pie Samurai episode, you have missed out.

#5 Mulan and Cinderella - These are the two best Disney heroines ever.

#6 Wonderpets - Ming Ming is so cute!

#7 Hi-5 - High energy, but doesn't cause hyperactivity. Very important to Mommy. ;)

#8 Barney - My husband despises him, but the songs are upbeat and my children like him.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thoughts on Teachers Unions

President Obama just gave a speech on education that included some things I very much support: more charter schools, higher salaries for effective teachers and the faster firing of bad ones. According to an L.A. Times article covering the topic, these are things that will not make teachers unions happy.

I don't care about making teachers unions happy. I care more about educating the country's youth well. I'm glad to see that President Obama is of the same mind.

Incidentally, if you think all teachers unions are about is helping quality learning to occur in our public schools, just take a peek at the homepage for the L.A. teachers union (UTLA) and look really hard for a focus on helping students learn. Keep looking. Closer. Oh, there's an item about shutting down water fountains contaminated with lead. That does affect students' intelligence. Seriously, UTLA's primary focus is on protecting the jobs and benefits of their union members. That's the basic purpose of a union, no matter what line of work the members are in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fish-Eating Teenage Boys End Up Smarter

Cool. Diet in the teen years can still make a difference to developing brains. A recent study out of Sweden showed that eating fish once a week or more correlated significantly with increased cognitive function in teenage boys. I wonder if it holds true for girls...

By the way, wouldn't it be cooler if my post title didn't have the hyphen?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Teaching to the Middle = Discrimination Against Boys

I don't have sons (yet?). I do have nephews and male friends, so I still worry about the disparities in academic achievement between boys and girls. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, have learning disabilities (or be treated as having such because of a high level of energy), and not go on to college. An interesting blog covering some of these issues is www.whyboysfail.com.

I just started reading The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap by Susan Pinkler. She compares successful young men who had learning disabilities as children to women who did well in school but later chose to opt out of good careers. So far, the most interesting part of the book to me has been her graph of IQ variation between 80,000 Scottish males and females (located on page 15 if you have access to the book). The average IQ score is nearly the same--103.03 for boys and 103.19 for girls. However, the distribution of the IQ scores is the really interesting part. Girls outnumber boys in the 95-115 range, but boys outnumber girls in the 60-90 ranges and the 120-135 ranges. Basically, girls are significantly more likely than boys to have average IQ scores.

I turn next to the subject of the need for differentiated instruction in classrooms.* Although efforts are being made to help school teachers differentiate instruction to meet the various needs of an "inclusive, mixed-ability classrooms," how likely is it, with all the discipline, paperwork, and exam issues teachers already have to deal with, that they are going to be able to actually meet the very different needs of all their students? Not likely at all, unless they have long classes with a small number of students. So, teachers will probably end up "teaching to the middle" most of the time. After all, assuming a bell curve exists in mastery as well as intelligence, teaching to the middle makes the most sense statistically.

So, firstly, girls outnumber boys around the middle of the IQ score spectrum. Secondly, given their workload, teachers will likely "teach to the middle" most of the time, despite their necessary and well-meant attempts to differentiate instruction. Taking these two observations together, it's easy to conclude why girls tend to do better in academics than boys. Girls are more likely to be in the optimal target audience of most classroom instruction. Parents of boys should be aware of these issues so that they can take whatever measures (some homeschooling or tutoring, IEP's from the local schools, etc.) they need to make sure their sons are receiving instruction suitable to their level of ability.

* Ah, differentiated instruction. Just considering the term makes me feel even better about our decision to homeschool!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Don't worry, be happy!

And you'll live longer, says a recent study.

When I told dh about the reported longer, healthier lives of optimists, he grunted and said, "I doubt it." Then he laughed. He was just kidding me.

Charisma

I don't watch political speeches. I frankly couldn't care less for how politicians come across at a podium. I read in the last election coverage about Sarah Palin's folksy demeanor and Barack Obama's crowd-pleasing delivery of addresses, and I felt that neither signified anything as to how they would actually do as chief or vice-chief of the federal executive branch.

One of the best classes I took when I was in college was an honors class on "Utopias", a small class (around 13 students) taught by a man who'd been president of another college in the state. The thing he said that stuck with me most was "I don't trust charisma." Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines charisma primarily as "a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader)." Wikipedia's article on charismatic political leaders lists Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi together with Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Clearly, charisma doesn't mean someone is not an oppressive zealot or a mass murderer. It just means that they are incredibly good at inspiring people to follow them.

So back to politicians and political speeches...I understand that people generally like to feel inspired by a political figure. However, I personally can not trust a feeling of inspiration to mean that a politician is going to lead me down a path I want to go. I would far rather vote based on knowledge of someone's past political actions and stated campaign promises than on whether they charm me during a speech. So, that is why I ignore campaign speeches. I think that by so doing I'm a better voter because I have to focus on facts rather than feelings and manipulated impressions.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Diplomacy Resources

People often have very unrealistic expectations of U.S. diplomats (known as "Foreign Service Officers"). One is the level of assistance the Embassy can or will give in a legal or medical quandary. If an American gets in trouble in another country, U.S. diplomats generally are limited in what they can do for them. They can verify that that the American citizens are being treated as well as a national of the country would be, help them communicate with family and friends, loan them money (a loan which must be paid back before further foreign travel), and give them a list of local doctors or lawyers to call for medical and legal help. Diplomats do try to visit and assist in various formal and informal ways, but it's not always possible for them to do that. One thing is for sure, the U.S. Embassy is not going to send in the Marines to get you out of a foreign jail for being caught with drugs or on trumped-up charges (often done to extort money out of an American).

Another unrealistic idea of U.S. diplomats is that they all fluently speak the language of the country they are posted in. Or that they have even received instruction in the local language. Of course, there are many diplomats who speak one or more foreign languages extremely well. But through the course of even just a 20-year career, U.S. diplomats can easily live in six different countries. While Foreign Service Officers receive much language training (they typically must attain a "2" level in hard languages and a "3" level in less hard languages before they can travel to their foreign post) at the Foreign Service Institute, working hand-in-hand with them abroad are Foreign Service Specialists who often receive limited or no language training. Also, those 2's and 3's simply don't equal fluency. A 3-level score on an oral exam supposedly means that a person is
  • able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most conversations on practical, social, and professional topics
  • can discuss particular interests and special fields of competence with reasonable ease
  • has comprehension which is quite complete for a normal rate of speech
  • has a general vocabulary which is broad enough that he or she rarely has to grope for a word
  • has an accent which may be obviously foreign; has a good control of grammar; and whose errors virtually never interfere with understanding and rarely disturb the native speaker.
(Source: wikipedia article on the Interagency Roundtable Language scale)

Having worked in the Foreign Service for nearly five years, I can testify that there are many officers who, despite having received that 3 and gone to their foreign posts, regularly grope for words and constantly make errors that interfere with understanding. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who have had unpleasant visa interview experiences with U.S. diplomats who didn't really seem to understand what was being said to them. One of the reasons so many diplomats end up in foreign countries with less-than-expected language skills is the pressure to fill their positions as soon as possible. Vacancies are hard on embassies and consulates, so they will accept someone who is still struggling to learn a language; also, there is a general assumption that language learners will do better once they are using the language every day "in country". The examiners at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) know this. They also know how subjective they are in giving exam scores, even though they try not to be. After all, they are testing people--nice people, who are anxious to get to their foreign posts quickly because of the financial stress that comes with living in the D.C. area on a declining per diem--with whom they have been interacting in the FSI hallways for months.

I think Hillary Clinton just found out in an embarrassing way how language competency in the State Department is not as good as it should be. She gave a gift today to the Russian Foreign Minister that had the wrong word written on it. The word was supposed to be the Russian word for "reset" (as in "this is to reset the Russia-U.S. relationship"), but instead it was the Russian word for "overcharge". (This would have never happened to Condoleezza Rice.) The Russian Foreign Minister told her of the mistake and then mocked her gift a couple times in the press conference following their meeting. Ms. Clinton doesn't have a reputation for being kind to underlings, so I'm guessing that several people on her staff are extremely uncomfortable tonight. Still, I hope it makes her pay more attention to the language needs of the U.S. diplomatic force.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gratitude and Inevitability

This Washington Post article about North Korea's food situation made me so grateful to be living elsewhere. An interesting part of this article is a narration of how markets have recently arisen in North Korea.
The immediate trigger for the famine was flooding in 1995. But the centrally planned economy had been in free fall since 1990-91, when the Soviet Union collapsed and cut off subsidies. Without free fuel for its aging factories and without a guaranteed market for its often shoddy goods, North Korea came unglued.

Kim Jong Il has explained some of what happened. "When the state was unable to supply food efficiently, people began to abandon their jobs and began searching for ways to acquire personal gains," he said in 2004.

In the temporary vacuum of state authority that accompanied the chaos of the famine years, bartering spawned a scruffy network of private markets. By the time Kim's government reasserted control at the end of the decade, small-town farmers markets, street-corner hawkers, roadside vendors and traders with stalls in big-city markets were keeping millions of North Koreans alive.

By 2002, Kim had approved limited reforms that allowed some of the traders to be licensed -- de facto recognition that they could provide what his government could not.

Market economies seem to be inevitable. I don't know of any country where trying to do away with a free market system has not eventually led to famines and other large-scale breakdowns in basic goods and services. (I'll post sometime about what I saw in post-Communist Poland's hospitals and medical offices and why I'm not excited for government to become even more involved in health care in the USA.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rate-A-Doc

I've been looking for a medical specialist recently, and I've been disappointed at how little information is available about specific medical doctors. I asked our insurance company representatives for some guidance, and all they could/would do is direct me to the online directory of network providers. I looked for reviews online of several names that I've come across but came up with little information. Luckily for me, I know a physician's assistant and a nurse at a nearby hospital, so I at least was able to get a few referrals from people who know what I look for in a doctor. But what about people who just moved in to the area? Are they stuck with rolling the dice on a most personal issue--who's going to be examining them?

I found this article entitled "Doctors try to silence negative reviews from patients" interesting. Apparently, some doctors feel that their patients should not be allowed to post a negative review of them online, and so they are asking their patients to sign agreements stating they won't post online comments about the doctors. (They don't think their patients will say anything positive about them? Uh-oh.) Physician rating sites fight attempts to enforce these agreements:

For their part, some sites that allow patients to review doctors are refusing to be bullied into taking down reviews, even if the reviewer in question has signed a waiver. "They're basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive," RateMD's cofounder John Swapceinsk told the AP. In fact, Swapceinsk is taking things a step further by putting up a Wall of Shame list of doctors who use patient waivers so that everyone can know who is engaging in these tactics.

The article ends by saying:

Review sites will only continue to increase in popularity—though potential customers should always take what they read online with a grain of salt. Instead of fighting the trend, doctors need to embrace the new reality and maybe even use the reviews as an opportunity to improve themselves.

Amen to that. There are occasionally arrogant, unpleasant doctors out there, and they deserve to be avoided by patients who would prefer not to be subjected to such treatment. Fun as House is to watch, I would not want him touching me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cuisenaire Rod Suggestion

On Saturday, I attended a free homeschooler miniconference put on by a local educational supply store. I was impressed with the explanation of Cuisenaire rods (before I understood their purpose, I considered them gimmicky) and have decided to buy a set to help teach my children arithmetic.

However, one thing about Cuisenaire rods really bothers me: the coloring scheme. It's so random. Why couldn't they color the rods in a way that is easy to memorize? Such as the colors of the rainbow! Seriously, wouldn't it make more sense to have the Cuisenaire rod color order be white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, brown and black? Thanks to the children's book Maisy's Rainbow Dream, my four year old can already say all the colors of the rainbow in order. Given that knowledge, she could more quickly remember which number went with which color Cuisenaire rod if the rods were assigned colors roughly according to the light spectrum. I'm tempted to repaint my rods once I get them. But I'm not very crafty, so I'm afraid I'd ruin them. I just submitted a suggestion to ETA/Cuisenaire via their website to make a rainbow-colored version of the rods. We'll see if they pay attention or if I end up having to find some paint.

UPDATE: I already got a return email from a Product Development Manager at ETA Cuisenaire. He thanked me for my comment and said that he can't tell me why the rods are colored the way they are. They've just been those (patented) colors since 1931 when they were introduced by Georges Cuisenaire. If the colors really were just randomly chosen, that seems like like a waste of an opportunity to help children learn the color spectrum, now doesn't it?

Weather musings

While the eastern part of the U.S. deals with heavy snow and grounded flights, here in Colorado we're enjoying a sunny day with the temperature in the 70s. We even had lunch outside at our picnic table! Oh, well, that just means that hail will come in June and smash the zucchini I'm planning to plant. Weather karma exists, right?