Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Progressive Phonics

Thanks to the Homeschooling Carnival (organized by the whyhomeschool blog in my sidebar), I just found a free reading program. It's called Progressive Phonics. It looks promising, so I'll give it a try. After all, the only investment it asks of me is my time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zoo

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a great zoo. We bought a membership back in January, and we finally went today for the second time (at least as a whole family). The children really enjoyed it when the orang-utan stuck its face against the glass right by them and looked at them for a while. Sadly, the leopard, the tiger, and the river otters were in hiding. The otters are adorable, so I really hope they're playing in the water by the glass the next time we go.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Early Exposure to Technology

My four-year-old just called to me from the kitchen, "Don't forget to check your blog!"

I don't think she's growing up in a technologically-deprived household. ;)

Book review

My daughter found Bugs: a read-and-do Book by Judith Moffatt at the library, and she LOVES it. It has text geared to the beginning reader, bright illustrations, and (best of all) clear instructions on how to make bugs out of construction paper. She needs me to help cut out the shapes, but otherwise she can do the assembling part mostly on her own. She now has a dragonfly, butterfly, caterpillar, spider, and ladybug, all made out of bright construction paper. The caterpillar is currently her best friend.

Michael Jackson & News

Considering I always thought him too racy (grabbing certain areas in many of his later dance routines), and he turned himself into a freak at the end of his life, I personally don't miss him. I do sympathize with the feelings of loss of his family and friends and fans, though.

However, I'm really worried about all the headlines his death is creating at a time when our Congress and President are set to destroy our economy for years to come. What a lame distraction when energy costs are about to be taxed in the USA as never before!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Abhorrent Vacuums

OK, it's not actually the vacuum that is abhorrent. Or the vacuum cleaner. But the company's sales tactics are dishonest, manipulative, and absolutely deserving of abhorrence.

A couple of weeks ago, I got called to do a survey. I answered all their questions except for the final one about credit card usage (like I would tell a stranger that!). I generally do surveys because I once worked as a telephone interviewer and I sympathize with the difficulties involved in such a job.At the end of this supposed survey, they said that my name was being entered into a drawing. I ignored that because I didn't do the survey for any other reason than to help out the person on the other end of the line.

A few days ago, I got a call saying I had won $500 and a free vacation in the drawing associated with the survey. They said they were also going to ask me to participate in some market research to help them with a product of theirs that was in development. That appealed to my scientific curiosity, so I agreed. Then they said they needed to make an appointment to come by and deliver the gift certificates. I agreed, but only for a time when my husband would be at home, too. I then checked out the named product (a home air cleaning system named Blue Max) with Google, but didn't find any information about it, consistent with its being a product in development.

Imagine our surprise when the delivery man turned out to be a vacuum salesman, lugging a well-past-development-stage vacuum cleaner made by Silver King. We tried to be polite and informed him that our present vacuum cleaner was adequate for our needs and that we were not in the market for a new vacuum cleaner. However, the salesman just went on and on with his presentation, even though we kept telling him that we were fine with our home's present level of dust. He yelled at our children when they got in the way of his demonstration. Finally, he gave up and said that the vacuum cleaner was only for people who were interested in having a healthy, clean home. Then he packed up his bulky vacuum cleaner in silence and left his dirty demonstration filters on our floor. He gave us the promised certificates, but they had so many conditions and extra fees attached to their use that they were worthless to us and we threw them away.

Does that kind of bait-and-switch marketing actually work for Silver King? We found it profoundly dishonest and disrespectful, and it caused us to feel so negatively about the company that you couldn't give us one of their vacuum cleaners now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sex & Power

A visiting relative checked out the book Sex & Power by Susan Estrich to read while she helped watch our children last week. Before I took it back to the library, I decided to crack it open and see if I could learn something useful from it. I couldn't. It seemed rambling and unfocused, so I gave up the effort after a few pages. Maybe it's my mathematics background, but I have very little patience for a non-fiction book that meanders. In fact, I prefer my fiction fairly straightforward as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Women and Kitchens

While I was on the pioneer trek reenactment with my husband, his parents stayed in our house watching our children. They did a great job. We came back to happy, healthy children and a non-burglarized house (some suspicious people tried to come into the house, and it turned out later that they were likely involved in nearby burglaries).

One thing that was glaringly obvious to me after my return home was how differently my mother-in-law thinks about housekeeping. She buys different products than I would buy and puts dishes and other items in places I wouldn't consider logical. I hope to return my domain back to the way I like it within a week. Two grown women sharing a kitchen just doesn't work well unless one of them doesn't care about the kitchen's management, use, and organization.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trek Day 4

I got up before six a.m., our camp's usual wake-up time, so I could enjoy the landscape around me before the mosquitoes came back. The hills were green from the heavy rains the region has had in the past few weeks, and it all looked so lovely.

Because it was our last day, we had a big breakfast of French toast and sausages before striking camp. We had one last gathering where we received souvenirs of our trek experience: a keychain with a pewter handcart wagon wheel and a little bag containing 4 ounces of flour, which was all the pioneers had to eat each day when their food supplies ran low. It's not much food, especially when a person is pushing carts all day and constantly exposed to a Wyoming winter wind.

We were slowed in leaving our campground by a truck having gotten stuck on the only road out of the campground; fortunately, a large grader was close enough to come tow it out of its predicament. We drove back to Colorado Springs, a trip which took over six hours and was unpleasant for us drivers because of the strong winds and our fatigue from the previous three days of exertion and three nights of insufficient sleep (teenagers have a hard time going to bed before 11 p.m.). We were so grateful finally to arrive home safely and hug our little children again.

As the song goes, "Blessed, honored pioneers!" I'm very grateful for their example, and I'm very grateful that I didn't have to cross the plains with them!

Trek Day 3

Day #3 was the most challenging of our trek experience. We set out after breakfast to take the handcarts three miles back to the Mormon Handcart Visitor's Center. Then we drove west an hour and a half to reach a campground near where the Willey handcart company was rescued. Because of the recent rain, this campground was swarming with very hungry mosquitoes. They started climbing all over our van before our vehicle was even parked--it was like the movie Birds, except the flying monsters waiting to attack us were smaller.

After lunch, we hauled our gear in handcarts a total of about six miles, part of which was through swampy and/or stagnant areas with stinking mud. We even had to take off our shoes and go barefoot through one stretch. The men and boys were called away at one point (ostensibly to join the Mormon battalion, although that happened ten years before the Willey handcart company headed west), and the females were left alone to push the handcarts up a hill. It was quite difficult, especially since some of the carts were carrying passengers. Because of my pregnant condition, I refrained from pushing most of the trek, but I did help the teenage girls in my group during the "women's pull".

We had a final evening program that night, and then we split into "companies" of eight "families" each for testimony meetings around campfires. The mosquitoes finally went away when the air turned chilly. The stars were so lovely, and I saw the Milky Way for the first time in a couple of years.

Trek Day 2

We woke up at about 6 a.m. and collected our breakfast supplies from the food truck fifteen minutes later. Following a meal of breakfast burritos, we headed to Martin's Cove. After a presentation on some pioneer history relating to that location, we quietly walked through the cove itself. It is a ravine behind a small hill and backed by large hills, so it provides partial shelter from the Wyoming wind. However, it was still breezy there, and it was very saddening to imagine how cold the Martin company pioneers must have been as they waited for rescuers in below-zero temperatures. The pioneers called the side of the cove where they camped "the living side"; this was in opposition to the other side, "the dying side", where they buried their dead in shallow graves, knowing that the wolves would drag off their loved ones' corpses during the night.

We ate lunch, and then walked back to a shallow part of the Sweetwater River, where half of our group walked across the river, which was running about 3 feet high. That helped us better understand the challenge it was for the pioneers to ford rivers repeatedly. The Martin company didn't have nice shoes or clothes, and they had to cross a river filled with ice chunks. We modern folk got cold enough on a windy June day, and we had dry clothes and shoes to change into afterward. We did see a big snake swim down the river, though, just at the place where our group made its crossing.

Once everyone was in dry clothes, we walked a couple of miles more with our handcarts back to our campground. Rain interrupted our evening program, so my husband and I went with our "children" to one of our tents. The teenagers read letters their real parents had prepared for them ahead of time, and then we shared some of our feelings about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the example of the pioneers. We sang hymns until the rain stopped and soon thereafter retired to our individual tents to sleep.

On a side note, the outhouses along the path and at the campground were quite nice, at least as far as outhouses go. However, the wind never stopped blowing, including in the outhouses, so W.C. time was always chilly. I love my flush toilet here at home!

Trek Day 1

One interesting thing that LDS youth groups do periodically in many parts of the USA is historical reenactments, specifically multi-day events in pioneer clothing and traveling along dirt/mud paths with handcarts and wagons. Is it because Mormons just loved that game "Oregon Trail" back when they were in school? No, it's because most of the very first members of the LDS church crossed the plains of Nebraska and Wyoming to settle in the Rocky Mountains together; they sacrificed and suffered much and left modern Mormons a great legacy of faith and dedication.

This past week, my husband and I had the chance to take part in a "Pioneer Trek". We wore 1850's clothing and pushed handcarts. We were divided into traveling subcompanies and "families"; we were the "Ma" and "Pa" to six great teenagers. We camped in tents, and we cooked our food over flame (OK, they were propane camp stove flames). We gathered together at night to sing hymns, socialize, and hear presentations about the history of the Latter-day Saints who traveled in 1956 in the unfortunate Martin and Willey handcart companies.

On Day #1 of our "Trek", we left from Colorado early in the morning and drove for about six hours to the Mormon Handcart Visitor's Center in Alcove, Wyoming. We watched a presentation at the visitor's center about the Martin and Willey handcart companies, which left Nebraska later than usual in the year for such a journey and were caught by an early winter in the middle of Wyoming with scanty food and supplies. We heard how they suffered horribly from hunger, cold exposure, illness, and death. We also learned about the heroic rescue efforts of the "valley boys", men from the Salt Lake City area who set out eastward through the wintry weather to rescue the handcart companies.

Then we packed our clothes, gear, and water onto actual handcarts and proceeded to walk ourselves and the handcarts three miles along a dirt path to our campground. After dinner (spaghetti), square dancing in a cold June Wyoming wind, and an evening program, we went to bed in our tents.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ultrasound

I just had the "anatomy ultrasound", and I'm having a girl!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Up

I just saw the movie Up last night. It was so cute. I love the bright balloons, the talking dog "Doug", and the devotion of the main character to his wife. What a great movie. Why can't we have more of them? Seriously, do you feel better after watching a formulaic action/romance film with questionable morals or an artistic, meaningful movie like Up?

Friday, June 12, 2009

North and South

North and South is a recent BBC miniseries based on Elizabeth Gaskell's book by that name. It is one of the most wonderful media productions I've ever seen. Watch it for the historical value, the human stories, and even some romance. Just watch it. I saw it yesterday, and I just can't stop thinking about it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Salt

Today at a church activity for the teenage girls, we focused on the theme of "choice and accountability". A chiropractor/nutritionist spoke to the girls about the importance of taking care of their bodies and eating well, and another woman spoke to them about the importance of dressing in ways that aren't too "approachable" (such a nice way to avoid saying the word "sl--"). Then we provided refreshments at the close--water, vegetables and dip, and chocolate-frosted brownies with sprinkles on top.

Little did the teenagers suspect the object lesson we had prepared for them. The brownies were actually made with a ridiculously large amount of salt. They tasted terrible. The first girl to take a bite of her brownie reacted quite comically; she didn't realize we'd changed the recipe on purpose and quietly made an awful face while complaining to her sister about how bad the brownie was. Some of us adults looked a little too amused at her reaction, and it didn't take long for the secret to come out. Then we brought out a pan of real brownies--not as pretty, but much tastier!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Need to eat more plant protein

Instapundit linked to FuturePundit's post on how a study found that "[o]verweight individuals who ate a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet high in plant-based proteins for four weeks lost weight and experienced improvements in blood cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors".

So for dinner, I made vegetables, brown rice and cheese sauce. (Two out of three has got to do me some good.) But how exactly does one make cheese sauce "high in plant-based proteins"? I guess I can lose the butter (*sniff*) in favor of olive oil. But what about the milk and cheese? I suppose soy milk would probably work. And there are non-dairy "cheeses" for sale, but that just seems too weird for me still. As for dh, I'm still trying to get him to accept tofu as something that can be tasty and not just endured. I will keep trying, though, because dh is worried about his blood cholesterol and it seems like increasing the soy in his diet is one way to help with that issue.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Heavenly Weather

Days like today are why I wanted to live by the mountains of the Intermountain West. Sunny, cool, breezy...perfect for outdoor and indoor living!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Enoch Arden

I went to a stake conference meeting this evening where I heard many good talks, the predominant theme of which was temple ordinances and the blessings we receive when serving in the temple. The closing speaker ended his talk by reciting "Enoch Arden" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. What a sad, beautiful poem. How grateful I am to know that my family belongs to me through the sealing power.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Parents and Food

The title on a recent Medical News Today article is "Parents' Influence on Children's Eating Habits is Small, New Study Finds". The study found a weak resemblance between childrens' and parents' eating habits. Here's an explanation given for parents' weak influence:
"Factors other than parental eating behaviors such as community and school, food environment, peer influence, television viewing, as well as individual factors such as self-image and self-esteem seem to play an important role in young people's dietary intake," said May A. Beydoun, PhD, co-author of the study and a former postdoctoral research fellow at the Bloomberg School.
Parental influence is being crowded out in the USA when it comes to eating choices. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised to find that parental influence is being crowded out in many other areas in the USA, too.

Contrary to the trend of the study, I find I eat much like my mother did. But then, my mother also had family dinners--a main dish with meat, fruit salad, vegetable salad every night--and we didn't have "lunch money" to buy what our peers were buying. We either got school lunch (paid by mom, sometimes with help from the government) or we brought sack lunches to school. We also moved a lot, so community influences were less important in our lives. My mother taught us to eat wisely and to scorn "junk" food, e.g., soda pop is for parties, while juice, milk and water are for regular beverage consumption.

Because the food provided by our mother was the primary source of our sustenance, her choices heavily affected what I eat now. And I am so grateful to her! I believe that a determined parent can have a strong influence on what their children eat if they make the effort to 1) give their children regular meals together where they teach proper nutrition principles, and 2) limit the ability of outside influences to have an effect on what food their children consume.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

X-Files: I Want To Believe

Last night I inflicted X-Files: I Want To Believe on my visiting father, who had never watched the X-Files series. Luckily for him, there were a couple of interesting medical angles in the movie, so he appeared to enjoy it even though he didn't know anything about the X-Files mytharc. The movie held my interest because I wanted Mulder to be proved right (I guess I want to believe, too ;) ), but it had too many graphic, bloody images for my taste. I probably won't ever watch it again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interrupted Melody

The movie Interrupted Melody from 1955 is one of my father's favorites. It makes him very nostalgic and emotional, and he loves the beautiful opera singing done on behalf of Marjorie Lawrence's character. Since my dad is visiting, we watched it last night. This is an easy introduction to some of opera's greatest female arias and a story of a frustrating marriage that eventually turns out well for the couple. One thing that makes the movie even more enjoyable to watch is that the main character is played by Eleanor Parker, best know for playing the Baroness in the The Sound of Music movie.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Excuses

I realized something recently. Excuses, when we apply them to ourselves, weaken us. If there is a good reason for us to do something and we would like to accomplish it, then we only limit ourselves by later finding excuses not to do that thing. Of course, excuses may be perfectly valid and true--but if they are preventing us from doing something worthwhile that we really want to do, we should evaluate how much weight we want to give our excuses.