Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas and Cousins

We had extended family here for nearly a week this Christmas. It was my husband's brother's family, which includes three children of the same ages as our oldest three children. We all had a great time! Cousins tend to play well together, I've noticed; I think there must be some genetic compatibility that is reinforced by the cousins having parents who were brought up similarly.

Sometimes my children, like any normal American child, express a little sorrow at not being able to have some material luxury, and I tell them that instead of giving them those extra luxuries, we gave them their siblings. When they are all grown up and their toys are ruined and forgotten, they will have each other. Siblings know where you came from, and if you have enough of them, you're (almost) guaranteed to always be on good terms with at least one of them. In a land of convenient friendships and an age where marriages too often don't last, my children will always have their sisters to care for and to be loved by. I can't imagine any ballet classes or My Little Pony collections that could outweigh that future blessing. And some day they'll bring their children together and get to enjoy watching the next generation of cousins play happily together.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I remember a short couple of months ago when the Republicans were evil for "shutting down" Congress in an attempt to get the Democrats to delay the individual health mandate, the same mandate that the President just announced will be delayed for people who buy the allegedly "garbage" insurance they had before the PPACA.

I remember being told in school about how Hollywood studios "blacklisted" Communists from getting work in Hollywood and how that was a terrible thing. Now when a known Christian expresses his beliefs about sin in a non-work setting, his TV network suspends him from being on his own reality show. So Communists, who literally did want to foment revolution, were OK, but people who actually believe in their traditional faiths deserve to lose their employment?

I remember that Raul Castro is starving his people and find him unworthy of a smiling handshake from the president of a country that has taken in so many refugees from the Castro regime.

There are many other facts that I remember. Who knows if a Google search would turn them up easily and accurately? The internet, at least the easily accessed parts, can be used as a 1984-style "memory hole" by those who control or can game the search engines. We all need to learn facts for ourselves and teach them to our children.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Party

Our congregation ("ward", as we call it in LDS terminology) had a great Christmas party this morning. After a breakfast and some Christmas carols, we wrapped presents for a family affected by this year's flooding in Colorado and gathered a bunch of canned food up to be distributed to people in the mountains who were affected by the floods. At the end, all our kids got to fill little stockings with candy to take home.

Decorations were simple, everyone pitched in to work and clean up together, and we didn't have to line up our children for their chance to tell Santa what toys they wanted. Our children have plenty of toys already, so I'm not a fan of that greed-encouraging tradition. It's never too early to start teaching that it's more blessed to give than to receive.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Carnival of Homeschooling #413

"I like geography. I like to know where places are." 
    - Tom Felton (the actor who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies)

We went to Cost Plus World Market last week to get chocolate Advent calendars, and my six-year-old daughter fell in love with and just had to have two globe Christmas tree ornaments. I gave in and bought them for her as a Christmas present because I thoroughly sympathize with her. After all, we did just have her older sister compete in a geography bee. It's neat to look at a globe and think about all the foreign and fascinating places, landscapes, cultures, and peoples represented by each different colored patch.

When the eye falls on Massachusetts this week, we in the USA remember the Pilgrims, who left their home of England and eventually made their way to North America in pursuit of freedom of religion, as well as the Native Americans who helped the newcomers survive as they adjusted to a new land. Joesette of Learning Curve recently studied this subject with her children: Early Settlements Unit - Part 2, Plymouth Colony. Her post includes a list of many helpful resources on the subject.

Celeste of Joyous Lessons in northern California shares some Charlotte Mason-friendly ways to celebrate Thanksgiving at Cooking Up a Thanksgiving "Feast".

The blog Home School vs. Public School asks What Are You Thankful For?, discussing why we had the first Thanksgiving and asking us all "What are you thankful for?"

Henry Cate at Why Homeschool submits this post on a few reasons he is grateful to be able to homeschool.

Up to the north, the Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving over a month ago. One homeschooled Canadian living on a farm shares her thoughts on Canadian Thanksgiving in this post.

Down in Australia, Chareen talks about the experience of Homeschool Burnout on her blog Every Bed of Roses. I like how her very first suggestion to help with burnout is to get enough sleep!

In New Jersey, the Liberated Learner blog author explains why she homeschools in How I Got Where I Am and The Problem with Schools and Parents. She makes a good point about the statistical impossibility of everyone's neighborhood public schools performing as well as they are claimed to; for more information on this subject, I recommend looking at the test-related research done by physician John Jacob Cannell.

While some study geography as a major in college, it's definitely one of those subjects that can be learned on one's own now that we have the internet and easy access to copious amounts of information. For the autodidact, whether to attend a formal college institution (and thus incur very formal, non-dischargeable student loan debt) is a fair question, as Barbara Frank discusses in her post Flashback Friday: More Thoughts About College.

One subject that helps with geography is mathematics. From Homeschool Math Blog, we have the Value of Mistakes, an encouraging post about brain plasticity--the huge potential for our brains to grow--and then what it means for learning of math: EVERY student CAN learn math. Students need to have a growth mindset where they value mistakes and see them as opportunities for brain growth and learning.

My husband and I lived for two years in the Philippines when I was posted at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. We had a wonderful experience living there and love the Filipino people for their warm friendliness. While the Philippines are accustomed to natural disasters, this year has been a particularly trying one for the Visayas, the islands that make up the central part of the Philippines. In October, there was a very destructive earthquake, mostly impacting Cebu and Bohol. Then on November 8, Typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) blew threw the Visayas, leveling the coastal city of Tacloban and ravaging many other places, leaving around 5,200 dead and so many more homeless (you can donate to typhoon aid through the Red Cross). Because my mind has been on the Philippines, I searched out some Filipino homeschooling bloggers. Filipinos tend to work all over the world and generally speak English very well, making their blogs useful resources for the readers of the homeschooling carnival.

Athena, a Filipina from Batangas City who currently lives in Ruwais, a city in the Abu Dhabi Emirate on the Arabian Peninsula, talks about how she applies the SWOT matrix to evaluating goals and objectives in homeschooling her children enrolled in Preparatory for English Language Arts. SWOT analysis is "a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture" (definition taken from Wikipedia).

Several other Filipino homeschooler blogs include:

Learning about the world with my children is a wonderful adventure. Thank you to everyone for their submissions to this week's carnival (I hope I didn't miss anyone's!) and may you have a happy week of gratitude no matter where you live.

Carnival of Homeschooling

To submit a blog post to future Carnivals of Homeschooling, please use the information posted here at Why Homeschool.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

First Time at a Geography Bee

Thanks to a homeschooling friend, I found out about a local-level geography bee put on by homeschoolers, and dd9 participated in it this week. She did a prep class with some other homeschoolers for an hour or so the week before and then some map reviewing at home. That's basically all we did to "study" for the bee. It was by no means a high-pressure event for her.

She ended up enjoying the geography bee and doing relatively well (4th place). I like that she could be in a real contest where she got to experience a bit of the adrenalin of competition and make some successful educated guesses. I also like that it reinforced to her how much she has been soaking in during our home studies of world history, literature, and science.

I wonder if there are other academic competitions I should look into for the future. I only did school spelling bees as a child. (I still remember getting out on "cataclasm" in sixth grade because my copy of the spelling words list made it look like "cataciasm" due to a defective "l". Stupid copy machine.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Homeschool Carnival will be here next week!

After years of reading the Carnival of Homeschooling, beginning with when I had preschoolers and I was collecting ideas for "real" homeschooling down the road, I finally volunteered to host a carnival myself. It will be the 413th such carnival, and will be published here next Tuesday.

If you know of a blogger (or are a blogger) with a homeschooling-related post that you'd like to share in next week's Carnival of Homeschooling, please use these simple directions to have them submit the post to me before Monday night. Because of my international experience, I would love to receive submissions from people all over the world (USA, too, of course!). And because I love the Philippines, where I spent two years when we were just starting our family, and share their sorrow over the destruction caused by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), I'm hoping to have a segment focused on Filipino homeschoolers, who are more numerous than the average U.S. native might expect.

Hope to hear from you and your homeschooling/blogging friends soon! In the meantime, this week's Carnival of Homeschooling should be up soon at the blog "Every Bed of Roses".

Carnival of Homeschooling

Friday, November 15, 2013

You never know where a good idea will come from

Today I was fascinated to find out about Jorge Odón, an Argentinian car mechanic who came up with a new way for birth attendants to address the problem of obstructed labor, which is a major cause of death of both newborns and their mothers throughout the world. 

The germ of the idea was given to him by a YouTube video that showed how to use a plastic bag to get a cork out of a wine bottle. Then in the wee hours of the morning, he realized that the same principles involved could be used to help with childbirth; he told his wife, and she dismissed it as craziness and went back to sleep. But he was a tinkerer and didn't give up on his idea. Now it's been enthusiastically welcomed by the World Health Organization and has just been licensed for production by an American company. Here's an excerpt from The New York Times article about Sr. Odón's invention:

With the Odón Device, an attendant slips a plastic bag inside a lubricated plastic sleeve around the head, inflates it to grip the head and pulls the bag until the baby emerges.
Doctors say it has enormous potential to save babies in poor countries, and perhaps to reduce cesarean section births in rich ones.
“This is very exciting,” said Dr. Mario Merialdi, the W.H.O.’s chief coordinator for improving maternal and perinatal health and an early champion of the Odón Device. “This critical moment of life is one in which there’s been very little advancement for years.”
About 10 percent of the 137 million births worldwide each year have potentially serious complications, Dr. Merialdi said. About 5.6 million babies are stillborn or die quickly, and about 260,000 women die in childbirth. Obstructed labor, which can occur when a baby’s head is too large or an exhausted mother’s contractions stop, is a major factor.
In wealthy countries, fetal distress results in a rush to the operating room. In poor, rural clinics, Dr. Merialdi said, “if the baby doesn’t come out, the woman is on her own.”

A car mechanic came up with this breakthrough! Of course, it required medical specialists to help him develop it for use on actual women and babies, but still, Sr. Odón is a car mechanic! I had my girls watch his TEDx talk (I recommend clicking on the CC button to see English captions unless you understand Argentinian Spanish) in hopes of helping them realize what people--including them--can do if they'll learn and think and be open to finding/creating solutions to problems.

I was saddened to see some of the comments on the NYT article. Some people were basically saying, "The world is overpopulated anyway, so why do we want to save more babies' lives?" Besides the heartlessness they show, don't they realize the economic costs to families who are already poorer for a woman's pregnancy (lost work, illness, etc.) only to face losing a baby and possibly the mother? Moreover, when people are relatively certain that they and their children will have long, healthy lives, they tend to choose to have smaller families. Human beings, besides being driven to procreate, are very risk averse; once we know we'll have our desired progeny and find ourselves enjoying a certain standard of living (which goes up when the females don't go through ten pregnancies, of which four end in tragedy and the last in a fistula), we tend to want to keep that level of prosperity.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Calvin, the unprofitable student

Calvin and Hobbes is online! Apparently the whole comic strip is now available for free viewing at GoComics. :) :) :) Purely as a commentary on K-12 education issues in the USA, I present the following strip:

(borrowed from GoComics at

OK, I lied. It's for giggles, too.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Getting older, little by little

Dd9 has been intentionally calling me "Mom" instead of "Mommy" for the past few days. I asked her why, and she responded, "It makes me feel older."

Is this how it starts? Is she going to be discovering loud, obnoxious music and going through moody fits before I know it? I've never been the type to find that "time just flies!" (Being in the midst of morning sickness really s-l-o-w-s down life, actually.) Still, I wasn't quite prepared for one of my children to stop calling me "Mommy" yet. Maybe she'll give it up soon....nah, not this rather dogged child.

On the other hand, my little 20-month-old girl is just delighted to have me draw happy face after happy face for her. Her extra joy when I add a nose or a hat on one is so sweet.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New Research on Ginger and Vitamin B6

Both ginger and vitamin B6 will help reduce the nausea and vomiting suffered in early pregnancy, per this recent study out of Iran. (Apparently they still do other science besides working with uranium.)

Objective. Comparing the effectiveness of vitamin B6 (40 mg twice daily) and ginger (250 mg four times daily) in treatment of pregnancy nausea. Methods. In a clinical trial in health centers of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences from November 2010 to February 2011 on pregnant mothers, the effects of vitamin B6 (40 mg twice daily) and ginger (250 mg four times daily) were evaluated in treatment of pregnancy nausea. Results. In both groups, treatments with vitamin B6 or ginger led to significant reduction in MPUQE score. Scores of symptoms at the day before treatment in vitamin B6 and ginger groups were  and , respectively, and reduced to  and , respectively, in the fourth day of treatment; however, mean changes in the two groups were not significantly different. Mean changes of MPUQE score in ginger and vitamin B6 groups were  and , respectively, showing no significant difference (). Conclusion.Vomiting was more reduced in vitamin B6 group; however, this reduction was not statistically significant. There was no significant difference between the two groups in nausea occurrences and their duration. No side effect was observed in either group.

I'm no longer wearing the anti-nausea bands all that much, but I'm drinking ginger ale and taking 50-80 mg of Vitamin B6 daily. I was reviewing our family newsletters from 2011 (my last pregnancy), and I am doing SO MUCH BETTER this time around.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

More correlation/causation confusion

According to this article in the The Wall Street Journal, the higher a person goes in math during high school, the more they will earn.

Mr. James also found math imparted career gains to students who did not go onto college. “The more math one takes, the more one earns on average, and the more likely one is to have a job,” he writes.

Either Mr. James or the author of the article is confusing correlation and causation in a big way here. It's even more plausible to me (and many of the WSJ readers leaving comments) that those students with involved and/or wealthy parents, higher IQs, and more diligence are making it through higher levels of high school math. Such kids would most likely do better in their careers anyway and not because they took a couple more math classes.

I would love for it to turn out to be true that more math classes => career gains. But the research discussed in this article doesn't prove that at all.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vitamin B6 & accupressure bands

I started taking 50-60 mcg Vitamin B6 daily (half in the morning, half at night) eight days ago. I also started wearing accupressure anti-nausea bands six days ago. I don't know if I'm experiencing a placebo effect, but here at the end of my eighth week of pregnancy, I have yet to throw up. That's very unusual for me.

Sure, I still have morning sickness. I'm tired much of the time, and my odor sniffing abilities rival those of Gus on Psyche. But I'm not hanging over the toilet. :) Maybe I'm having a boy and so the hormones aren't as strong this time around. Or maybe Vitamin B6 and the wristbands really are helping me. If they are just placebos, I don't want to know because then the placebo effect might go away!

Monday, October 28, 2013

For all practical purposes

My oldest sister is a lovely woman. When she was a teenager, she would ask my mother if she was pretty. My mother would answer her, "You're pretty enough for all practical purposes."

That was an understatement. My sister belonged to that small slice of young women whose looks drew men in large numbers. It grew to be quite a nuisance for her. She'd be at home trying to study for her college classes, and again the phone would ring for her. "Why can't they just leave me alone?" she would wail plaintively and sincerely. Turning guys down was hard for her because she has a kind heart. Fortunately, she was able to sort wisely through the candidates for her affection and married a good man who, while appreciating her looks, also valued her more lasting attributes.

We have four little girls, and they are slowly growing up (no matter how many times I "squish" them on the top of their heads as part of a long-running joke to keep them little forever). I wish for them to be "pretty enough for all practical purposes" but not more than that. I don't see many benefits to being extremely beautiful in this world. It draws predatory and vacuous, narcissistic men in large numbers to a young woman, wasting her time and preventing her from having as many interactions with men possessing more sense and humility.

Another consideration in the pursuit of beauty is that the amount of time that meeting transitory appearance standards (such as 4-inch heels, fake nails, time-consuming and damaging hairstyles, etc.) can easily suck an hour or more of grooming time out of every day, and the fashions tend to make women less able to accomplish anything besides attracting. (Have you ever tried to cook a meal or garden with a new manicure job? I can't imagine fake nails make suturing wounds any easier, either.) I am sad to think how much young women as a group fail to learn and do in their youth because they're too busy trying to meet airbrushed, expensive ideals. Now, I'm not going to say to my daughters: "Burn the makeup and the bras; guys should love you just the way you are no matter how you look." I'm no fan of the grunge look. One can find a happy medium.

I would wish for my daughters to be kind, happy, healthy, and intelligent. With those four attributes, they'll figure out how to look "pretty enough for all practical purposes." Based on my own experience (I was a bit of an ugly duckling), I seemed to almost magically become prettier when dating someone I wanted to impress. I have every reason to think that things will work out naturally for my girls in the looks department when it's time for them to partner twenty years or so.... :)

Friday, October 25, 2013


I don't do well with scary or suspenseful movies. They make me jump, and I don't find feelings of fear "entertaining". When pressed about my dislike for horror, I just blame having watched The Exorcist all alone as a child one day when no one was paying attention to what was on the black-and-white TV set.

My husband is watching World War Z right now as I use the computer in the same room. Will Brad Pitt's family make it through the zombie epidemic alive? While I initially thought they might not all make it, now that Brad has somehow survived an airplane crash and a huge piece of shrapnel going completely through his abdomen, I think the scriptwriters intend for him to get everything he wants (survival for himself and his whole family, as well as temporal salvation for the not-yet-zombified).

But if I'm wrong, I won't tell you. Spoilers, you know.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Something for future appreciation

Dd6 just wrote a poem. It's cute, so I'm posting it here in order to make sure that it ends up in the book-blog that I'm going to make for my children some day out of this blog.

A good Day,
to go out and Play.
A big clowd,
Back in,
A Snowy day,
Let's go out and Play,
BiLd a snow-man Nice and taLL.
AHH Sun!
Put the snow-Man in the Frige,
now he SHure wiLL Live,
Put the snow-baLLs in the feReZZer.

I'd better check my freezer after the first snowstorm this coming winter....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Privacy on my mind today

Interesting. I just found out that the same White House official, Jeanne Lambrew, who got confidential tax info for White House purposes is the one in charge of ACA implementation. I'm not one to be paranoid about privacy issues, but in the wake of Snowden's revelations and certain IRS actions in the past few years, I'll probably be leaving some questions unanswered the next time I'm visiting the doctor.

One doesn't have to be a Republican to distrust the current administration (though it helps not to be a Democrat because it's much harder to see the faults in people we are affiliated with) and government expansion into the nonpublic details of our lives. I used to think libertarians were nuts; while I don't agree with everything they stand for, I admire them now for standing up for liberty and against government overreach.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Animal care

Our oldest child has been very interested in animals for years. She insists that she wants to be a zookeeper when she grows up. But until this past Thursday, she had never had a real pet.

Last week I found two parakeets, their large cage, their toys, and their food all on sale for just $40 (craigslist, of course). I had a little extra money from their grandmother, so I used it to buy the children the parakeets. While the birds are "part of the family", they mostly belong to our oldest child, in that she is in charge of cleaning the food and water containers and giving the birds fresh food and water every day. I can't wait until she discovers the fun of cleaning the bottom of the cage. Will she decide zookeeping isn't for her after wiping up enough bird turd?* Only time will tell.

* I still like parenting despite the dirty diapers, so maybe cleaning cages won't kill her zoo ambitions.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Captions for everyone!

Sometimes when I'm watching Netflix, I turn on the captions so that I can read in English what is being said on-screen. I especially have to do this when watching Sherlock. To non-British people, British English can be rather hard to understand unless spoken clearly. I have no problems understanding the actors on Downton Abbey, but for some reason, I miss a lot of Benedict Cumberbatch's words. Maybe it's the "intensity" he's trying to convey in his role as a master detective who thinks so much faster than everyone else. Anyway, I'm grateful for the English subtitles that allow me to catch all of Sherlock Holmes' deductions.

It would seem that hearing-impaired people are not the only ones who benefit from captions. A San Francisco State professor of American Indian studies just announced that he saw enormous changes in comprehension if he used captions on videos shown in class. While he focuses on the impact his observation can make for Native Americans students, I don't see any reason why his observation would not carry over to all students (well, those who can read :) ).

To quote from a SUNY Cortland website on learning modalities:

Learning modalities are the sensory channels or pathways through which individuals give, receive, and store information.  Perception, memory, and sensation comprise the concept of modality.  The modalities or senses include visual, auditory, tactile/kinesthetic, smell, and taste.  Researchers, including ReiffEislerBarbe, and Stronck have concluded that in a classroom, the students would be approximately:§         25-30% visual
§         25-30% auditory
§         15% tactile/kinesthetic
§         25-30% mixed modalities
 Therefore, only 30% of the students will remember most of what is said in a classroom lecture and another 30% will remember primarily what is seen.

While videos are nominally visual, the facts they are intended to convey are often presented via spoken words. If the learning modalities theory is accurate, 25-30% of students watching a video may learn a lot from the moving pictures but will have difficulty remembering what was spoken. By turning on captions on a video, that 25-30% of students (and probably many of the "mixed modalities" students, too) will be helped to better remember the information presented.

I think my children are too young to appreciate captions right now, but when they become faster at reading and can easily read subtitles while following on-screen action, I will turn on the captions for the educational videos I show them. Maybe I'll even do some experiments - captions for one child, no captions for the other, and the same comprehension quiz afterward. The home is a social science laboratory, after all.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

Our children range in age from 1 to 9 years old. They're not remotely close to leaving us as empty nesters! Yet when I and my husband were singing "Sunrise, Sunset" from The Fiddler on the Roof to our children as a bedtime song tonight, he got so sad that we had to stop singing the song. As youth, he and I never really imagined that we'd actually become adults and have families of our own, and now, even though it's still many years until our children grow up and leave us, we're aware that it will happen someday. What a precious privilege parenthood is.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Each time I come across a government website that has been shut down because of the current funding bill conflict, the stronger my opposition to ACA becomes. Why in the world would we put our health care system even partially into the hands of a government that can shut down access to vital medical services (not just national parks and websites) when the current leaders don't get their way immediately? I've seen "government-provided" health care used to buy votes--no free medicines for desperately poor people unless they vote for the guy in charge and his pals--in a Southeast Asian country. I know that Canada and some Scandinavian countries have mostly successful national health care programs. But we aren't those countries. The USA is a diverse country made up of much more than Minnesotans. (No offense. I love Minnesotans.) Not all parts of our Union exhibit the same work ethic, healthy lifestyles, and respect for the rule of law as we see in the Star of the North. There's no reason (other than partisanship and/or arrogance*) to think that everything will work as promised by ACA's supporters and that we won't end up regretting having given politicians and government bureaucrats such a large amount of control over our health insurance options.

Free markets aren't perfect. Nothing is in this imperfect world. But at least free markets allow for individual freedom.

* "Arrogance" sounds harsh. I don't mean it as a personal insult. When in school (K-grad), we are taught that if we get A's, we're smarter than most everyone else and could likely run things better than they do. Policymakers and would-be utopia-creators who seek to implement their own ideals over the experience and well-founded warnings of less-credentialed folk exhibit arrogance (i.e., an attitude of superiority manifested in an over-bearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.)

Update: In connection with my comments about arrogance, I refer you to this recent article on the history leading up to the ACA exchange debacle. If the bureaucrats involved can't even get a website right, how can they think their regulations will successfully manage 300 million people's health care access?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Math homework

The same sister-in-law that I last posted about just wrote on Facebook that the same child was sent home with math homework today where the teacher had said, "I know you all don't know how to do half of the problems on this sheet, but just do what you can and I'll grade you on 'completion'". No way for them to learn the unknown skills; they're just supposed to fill in the worksheet so they can get credit. Why didn't the teacher just cut the worksheet in half then?

Luckily, my brother is very smart and used to work as an electrical engineer before going back to school to be a physician. He taught his son how to do the problems. But what about the rest of the students in my nephew's class? Who is filling in the gaps in their math knowledge?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A spiritual thought

I don't often talk about religious things on this blog, for that is not its focus. There is an important principle I just wanted to throw out there for anyone who might need to hear it.

Jesus Christ really lived. That is historical fact. The records handed down over the last 2000 years teach us that Jesus testified that God would send His Spirit--the Comforter and Spirit of truth--to witness of Jesus and guide us into truth.

This Spirit is the Holy Ghost (Ghost just means Spirit). When we pray for guidance, humbly listening and sincerely desiring to follow the guidance, the Spirit imparts guidance to us, often gradually yet sometimes suddenly in ways that seem miraculous. If you doubt it, have enough faith to pray to God and ask him to know the truth of His existence. He is there and loves us all very much. He'll answer you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Homeschool Carnival

This week's homeschool carnival is up at The Foodie Army Wife. I contributed to this one.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

National Piano Month

It's National Piano Month! And to celebrate I will...continue fixing up the piano I got in August. I'm so close now.

All I have to do is glue some felt back on (I should never have taken it off, but I didn't want to damage it with varnish) and finish putting the piano back together. And get some polish and a buffing cloth to really make the wood shine. Then I'm really done with it. Really.

And then on to varnishing the new organ bench and refinishing the two tabletops my kids have most utilized over the past five years. Homeschooling is hard on the tables.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Welcome, new niece!

My sister just had a baby girl. It was her third child, and mom and baby are doing well.

She waited a bit too long after the amniotic sac broke to head to the hospital and ended up giving birth ten minutes after getting there. Her husband missed the birth because he had to park the car and register her with the hospital. It makes me grateful for the valet service offered at the hospital in our city. If I ever use the valet service again in connection with a speedy childbirth, I will remember my sister's experience and tip the valets generously and with a good will. :)

Because it happened so fast, there was no chance for her to get an epidural. It's funny to see her grousing about how labor hurt so much. Seriously? She had the baby two hours after the water broke and then she got prescription pain meds after the birth! Maybe it hurt so much because it went so fast. Funnily enough, she's extremely athletic, as in she does triathlons for fun. I do sympathize (I felt like a train had run over me after my third delivery), but I have every expectation that she'll bounce back quickly. And I look forward to seeing lots of cute baby pictures in the near future.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Art and Khan Academy

Each Friday we do an art lesson. I decided to use the art history videos on Khan Academy even though their intended audience is a bit older than my girls. But the videos have been surprisingly helpful and inspire interesting art projects.

Two weeks ago, we watched the video on Greek columns, and then at the park, dd8 sketched playground equipment supported by different kinds of Greek columns. Last week, we watched the video on the vanishing point, and then dd8 and dd6 drew pictures using the vanishing point concept.

Vanishing Point exercise drawn by dd6 in September of 2013

Today, we watched the video on Albrecht Durer and woodcuts; I wasn't about to set the children to carving wood, but I let them make potato stamps and use them in tempura paint to make their own stamped pieces of art.

I think Khan Academy is a great boon to education.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Civil War

We finally reached the American Civil War. It's near the beginning of Volume 4 of The Story of the World. My children are too young to understand the seriousness of that war, but I'm trying to give them a feel for it. I'm stretching our coverage of it over 2-3 weeks and showing them multiple videos about it. But I know that in four years we will all be able to get much more out of our study of it.

I consider myself a Westerner, and I grew up reading the histories "written by the winners", i.e., from the Northern, anti-slavery point of view. I don't have a good feel for the Confederacy or its motives, but I have a friend from Georgia who I hope can come over and tell us a bit about the Civil War from a Southerner's perspective.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Homeschooling Carnival is up!

I actually submitted a post this time, too. I often mean to, but life gets in the way. Anyway, here's a link to this week's Carnival of Homeschooling.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cease to be idle - check!

After waking up early to take our children to a special event downtown, I spent 1.5 hours this morning doing yardwork. Then I went out and did errands. Then I sanded and stained the piano for approximately 10 hours. After cleaning up myself and the rooms where I sanded, I sat down to read and prepare the Sunday School lesson I agreed (while out doing errands) to substitute teach tomorrow morning. It turns out that I will be be teaching 9 & 10 year old boys about the importance of work and learning to do things. I'm so glad my piano fixing project is going to help me illustrate these principles tomorrow morning. One of the scripture verses we'll be discussing is D&C 88:124:
Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean, cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.

It's nearly midnight right now. I'm not such a good example of "retiring to my bed early". Sigh. Isn't it great that we never run out of ways to grow in this life?

Friday, August 30, 2013

More on that piano...

So now that I've fixed keys, tuned, and reglued a dozen or so catcher shanks in the action, I'm refinishing the piano's wooden case. I wasn't going to do it. But they make a product that doesn't require using chemical strippers. I'm refinishing the piano with Miniwax's PolyShades (American Chestnut color). Of course, the finish isn't going to be as nice as if it would be if I took the piano all apart and stripped and sanded the wood to it's original unvarnished glory before putting on new finish. BUT 1) this piano will be in a dark wood paneled room with lighting issues so blemishes in the finish will not be obvious unless you're looking for them, and 2) I don't have to move the piano much or even take off more wood panels than I have already (although I have to be very protective of the carpet). I'd better take a photo of it now so that I can post a before/after comparison later! If I ever finish this project....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Untangling the Mind - review

I just finished reading the book Untangling the Mind: Why We Behave the Way We Do. It was one of those books that I read over the course of weeks because I was learning so much from it. It was written by David George, a psychiatrist who is a professor at GWU. The book doesn't actually try to explain all human behavior, despite the ambitious title. Dr. George focuses on the PAG (periaqueductal gray matter), amygdala, and cortex to explain why many people overreact to perceived threats with extreme anger, depression, fear, or predatory behavior. As I understand the gist of his book--I'm no expert on the brain--due to past experiences with threats, alcohol, or brain variations, the amygdala (the part of the brain most focused on reacting to help us survive dangers), which works much faster than our cortex (the conscious, thoughtful part of our brain), unnecessarily propels us into harmful fight, sadness, flight, or shutdown behaviors.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. He clearly discusses how past events and current issues can trigger destructive behavior and how various treatments work to overcome the amygdala's unwanted impulses. For instance, talk therapy is helpful because it works to engage the cortex and slow down the fight, sadness, flight, or shutdown behaviors. Quitting drinking alcohol helps because alcohol impairs our brains' own mechanisms to inhibit impulsive behavior. SSRIs and other prescription drugs can help by allowing the brain to slow down. We can change our environment so that we are less likely to face threats that will act as triggers. This book is helpful to everyone, not just those dealing with people with diagnosed mental issues, for I think we all have amygdalas.

I have disliked some "pop psychology" books because I saw a friend use them to justify her own behavior ("I can't help what I do because that's just how I am, according to this awesome book.") and criticize others for not accepting everything she does. This book is great because it illustrates how the brain can be malfunctioning, provides reasons for why it could be doing so, and gives realistic steps people can take to work towards improving their own problematic behavior. It lays out a world I can accept, one where we all have different weaknesses yet possess and, in the absence of severe brain injury, can exercise free will to diminish the power of those weaknesses to hurt us and lead us to hurt others.


Dd8 has discovered the joy of highlighter markers. She is highlighting words in her music theory book, pieces of paper she's written on, and anything else with printed words which she thinks I won't mind her defacing. The worst is when she makes me read what she's highlighted--just the highlighted words and not anything un-highlighted. She giggles and thinks it is so funny. I don't (except that I think her pleasure in it is cute), and I keep coming up with excuses to not listen/read her highlighting.

Monday, August 26, 2013


My first grader (a girl) went to a birthday party for a friend (a boy) of the same age on Saturday. The party's theme was Minecraft, that online game that has lots of blocky structures and things the players build. One of the gifts the boy's mom made for all the children were Minecraft shirts, which were dollar store T-shirts on which she'd affixed a black shape known as a creeper. It looks roughly like this:

   XX        XX

My daughter loved her pink creeper T-shirt so much that she wore it to school this afternoon (she attends part-time, but is still technically a homeschooler). When I picked her up, she reported that lots of girls at recess didn't like her shirt. Only the boys liked it. In fact, all the boys liked it. And only one girl liked it, a girl who had a Minecraft creeper on her folder at school. Ah, recess. So important for properly socializing children....

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Piano Progress and an Organ Bench

I have removed, cleaned, and glued back in place about 15 catcher shanks from the hammer butts of my old, free-off-craigslist piano that I'm fixing up. I'm almost ready to finish tuning the piano and putting it back together. I want to touch up the dings and scratches, too, so that it looks nice (if it looks cared for to the children, they'll hopefully not abuse it). And I need to find/build a piano bench for it.

Speaking of benches, we got an organ for free off craigslist last year that works quite well. It has two keyboards and a couple of octaves of foot pedals, as well as options to do things like play bossa nova beats and such. I've been using it for keyboarding lessons for our children, but it's been hard to do that because we didn't have an organ bench. We usually laid a plank across two chairs, but it was too short and not entirely stable (TESB reference there). My wonderful father-in-law has been visiting us, and he built us an organ bench today out of wood we had sitting in the garage. All it cost was the price of some screws and a circular saw, which he and my mother-in-law gave to my husband as an early birthday present. :) It's going to be so nice to play the organ now. I may even figure out how to play the foot pedals.


My husband's parents are here for a visit, and we were very busy yesterday canning peaches. Colorado produces wonderful peaches, and my mother-in-law loves to come see us in late summer and can Colorado peaches for her use in the winter in a freezing part of the midwest. Unfortunately, Colorado peaches are still not really in season (the ones we found were yellow and hard) and cost $1.50-$2.00/pound, so we ended up getting California peaches (ripe and yummy, but not from Colorado) for $0.99/pound at Walmart yesterday. She bought nearly 60 pounds of peaches!

The produce worker at Wal-Mart was a young guy who asked her curiously what she was going to do with all those peaches. She told him, and he responded by asking, "What's canning?" She tried to explain, but it's a little hard to understand what's involved if you've never seen someone go through the process of canning. It's long, hot, sticky, and rather costly if you have to pay for the fruit. But it's worth it! Home-canned peaches are much better than industrially-canned peaches. And we used some of the leftover peach slices to make peach cobbler last night; it was too late to eat it, though, so the tempting dessert is going to be calling me from the refrigerator all day.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


We live in El Paso County, Colorado, and we have had horrible wildfires for the past two years in this area because of drought conditions. Now we are experiencing a heavy "monsoon" pattern, and two people have died due to flooding in the past couple of weeks. Tonight we're facing flash flood warnings all over the region. We think we are safe in our neighborhood, but we haven't lived here very long. It's going to be a long night for our emergency service workers. We need water, but not all at once!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New old piano

We moved and left our old spinet in the prior residence, so we've been without a piano for almost a year now. I found a free piano on craigslist, and some friends helped us move it into our house six days ago. It is a Bremen console and was neglected and unused for twelve years before we received it. We think it's around sixty years old.

First, I took all the wood panels off the front of it so that I could access the dusty areas. I cleaned out the entire interior (including under all the keys) with a vacuum cleaner. Then I roughened up a damper on a string that was buzzing, glued a broken hammer shaft together (a drinking straw made that an easy fix), and started fixing (sanding, inserting and gluing felt, etc.) a couple of keys that were sticking.

After I'd had the piano for a couple of days, I realized that one of the keys was making an audible, annoying click. I researched for hours on the internet to get ideas as to what could be causing it. I ended up removing the action (the main part that holds all the hammers and dampers and thousands of other parts that allow the piano to have the sound and abilities it does) three times and replacing a couple of felt and leather pieces, but nothing worked. It was so frustrating! And besides dealing with this obsession, I started up our normal homeschool schedule last week. Housework suffered quite a bit.

One funny thing about searching for answers to this question was how often Bing's "safe search" settings kept me from viewing search results. It turns out that piano parts have some names that can set off protections: hammer butt felt, catcher buckskin, capstan screw, jack, etc. For each note, there are at least 57 parts that can go wrong.

What seems to be working now to fix the problem notes (more than one key ended up clicking) is alcohol and Vaseline on the hammer butt buckskin for each offender. These small, hard-to-access leather pieces are very old and hard, and the alcohol and petroleum jelly are a cheap way of softening them. So far I've spent three dollars at the dollar store for supplies during this piano restoration project (emery boards, petroleum jelly, and little brushes) and a few dollars on food at Del Taco so that I could take a couple of their drinking straws home without feeling like a sponge; everything else we already had at home (yes, I had piano tuning felt and leather scraps lying around in cupboards).

The project isn't done yet, but the end is in sight. Then we get to find out if the piano can hold a tune. If it can't, then at least I learned a lot about pianos....

Update: Vaseline did NOT do the job for the worst offenders. I think I have a loose catcher shank causing the click on at least one of the notes. It wiggled right out, so I am sanding it now and will reglue it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The difference between rate and quantity

One of the strengths of science-based medicine is that it can look at large numbers and learn from trends. I find myself frequently frustrated in conversations about vaccines and homebirth by the inability of many to recognize that no matter how many people they know who have had an adverse reaction to a vaccine or had a poor outcome at a hospital birth, they don't have a good handle on the relative safety of forgoing vaccines or choosing homebirth unless they look at the overall rates of negative events.

Rates are what should be looked at when deciding risk. Certain diseases used to kill a high percentage of people, especially children; now that we've mostly gotten rid of those diseases in the developed world, it's understandable to also want to eliminate the risk posed by vaccines (which is real, though quite small). But if you forgo a vaccine, you merely exchange one risk--that of vaccine side effects--for another--that of getting the disease. Which risk is greater? That's the real question, and it calls for an individual answer by each family. If a person is always going to be hanging out in the developed world with people who are never carriers of a communicable disease, than they don't really need vaccines. I want to see the wider world and take my children with me, but I don't expect everyone to make the same choices I do. Homeschoolers tend to interact less with the general public, and given their specific situations, the risk of vaccination to some families might outweigh that of contracting the disease. They should realize, though, that all it takes is one child in their circle of like-minded friends to have been infected at a potluck by a dish prepared by a recent traveler carrying polio, and an outbreak could happen with very sad results. On the subject of homebirth, I already discussed in a prior post that evidence out of Oregon and Colorado shows that homebirth as presently practiced in those states increases the rate of neonatal fetal demise by at least 2-3 times, so I won't discuss it more here.

Many in the homeschool community embrace holistic/alternative/complementary medicine. It's no surprise; we are people used to bucking authority. The placebo effect is real and well-documented, and I don't doubt that some people find real benefit in utilizing CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). In general, alternative medicine does no harm as long as it doesn't lead people to turn away from needed medical measures that would serve them even better than a placebo. Too many, though, who dispense anti-medical-establishment advice spread false information to bolster the alternative medicine they embrace. I have seen a promoter of essential oils claim on their website that the tetanus vaccine does no good if given after a puncture wound, conveying a completely wrong description of how tetanus attacks. What if someone believes that, doesn't get the tetanus shot for an injured child, and the child ends up with tetanus? That's risking an 11% fatality rate from a mostly preventable illness.

Today (the reason for this post) I saw someone on Facebook tell several other homeschoolers that the chicken pox vaccine causes more fatalities than chicken pox. I pointed out that a hundred people a year used to die from chicken pox and asked whether there are more fatalities than that from the chicken pox vaccine, and she had no answer to it. (I did my own brief search and found no reported fatalities from the chicken pox vaccine.) She instead linked to an unsubstantiated anti-vaccine article by an author of CAM books, and then the FB conversation turned into "the CDC is government so it is untrustworthy, some doctors told me I'm doing the right thing, we are open to education and enlightenment but let's stop talking about this now before feelings get hurt, etc." Whose feelings? Theirs? I ask for proof, and they give me answers that sound like conspiracy theories. If they feel good about avoiding vaccines for their children, that is their choice. I can understand it without agreeing or making the same choice myself. But they shouldn't spread false information to feel even more confident about the different risks that they have chosen.

Americans need better education in math and statistics, be it delivered in or out of a school building. While I'm wishing, perhaps a little more epidemiology, too.

Indonesia Week

Last week was our last week of "summer break", so we studied our last country: Indonesia. We watched videos on the internet and from the library about Indonesia, I cooked some chicken coconut curry with yellow rice one night, and the girls had some library books about Indonesia to read. Otherwise, we didn't do much due to health issues.

The whole family learned so much focusing on one country/state per week during this summer break. Getting to try food from different parts of the world was great fun and stretched my cooking skills. We plan to do this again next summer!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Back to School

I wrote up the girls' school schedules last night and posted them on the bookcase with the school books. Then I sorted the school books and put them into slots depending on which child will be using them this year. I'm almost ready for Monday.

There is a used curriculum sale (free for vendors and buyers!) in my area tomorrow where I hope to pick up some more materials in the subjects of Colorado History, Art History, Printing practice (i.e., copywork), English (having a variety of reading textbooks on hand is helpful), and Music (song collections for children). It would be great if I could also pick up an activity book for volume 4 of Story of the World. I don't really need more in most of these subjects, but it would make my life easier and keep me off the computer quite as much if I could locate a few good finds.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

England Week & Germany Week

The last two weeks were dedicated to learning about England and then Germany. However, both countries got neglected due to visits by relatives, a very large family reunion, and illness. We did watch a lot of Paddington Bear videos during England Week. Last week we watched several German cartoons on YouTube (there are some lovely Grimm fairy tales on this channel), and on Friday we finally got out of the house and made it to a German bakery for German chocolate and baked goods (I am simply not brave enough to cook with lye, which is necessary to make real pretzels).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jackie Chan Adventures

During our China Week, I let the children watch a season of Jackie Chan Adventures on Netflix. They love the show, and so I've been letting them watch the rest of the series. The little girl, Jade, always wants to go on adventures with Jackie Chan, her uncle, but he usually says, "No, Jade, you have to go to school/read your school book/do schoolwork/etc." She answers back, "But isn't it better to have this real experience and learn from it?" I agree with Jade wholeheartedly. :) Except for the getting-herself-into-dangerous-situations and general-disobedience-despite-dealing-with-ruthless-enemies, I applaud her fictional character's ability to sneak herself into real-life learning experiences.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Minnesota Week

Because it's important to learn about our own country, too, we dedicated one week this summer to learning about Minnesota. The choice was easy: my husband's parents live there, and they came to visit us this past week. We ate tater tot hotdish (casserole) and bars (cookies baked in, not on, a pan) but didn't try to make lefse, seeing as we lack an enormous griddle and other specialized equipment. We watched How to Talk Minnesotan on YouTube and laughed at ourselves saying "you bet" and "whatever". We got Swedish meatballs at IKEA in honor of the Scandinavian settlers of Minnesota. But we didn't do much serious intellectual work. We were pretty much on vacation from schoolwork. Uff da!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Back in the Classroom?

I know teachers are just humans, and I think there are many great public school teachers. I don't link to this article to criticize all teachers but rather because I dislike how the school district resolved it: this teacher should not be interacting with high school students again so soon. There is no reason to think he won't engage in the same behavior on the sly again. And yet some still wonder why many parents don't feel they can trust the public school system with their children....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Australia Week

What a great country to study! Australia has such unique wildlife and so much material accessible to us because it is in English! Here are some of the things we did to celebrate "Australia Week":

  • Check out and read/view library books and DVDs (about aborigines, British convicts, Great Barrier Reef, etc.)
  • Netflix: The Rescuers Down Under, The Man From Snowy River, Strictly Ballroom, Wild Kratts episodes about kangaroos and Tasmanian devils
  • Food: Pavlova, Vegemite, oatmeal cookies, meat pie, carrot/cheese/raisin salad, fish & chips, Lamingtons 
  • Dress up as marsupials 
  • Culture: Have a playdate with an Australian friend, who showed us a kangaroo skin and bullwhip and shared a late morning "tea" of Australian-style sandwiches (creamed corn/baked beans and cheese inside!) and lemon cordial (I used this recipe as the basis and substituted citric acid for tartaric acid)
  • Craft: Aboriginal dot art
  • Music: Listen to Australian aboriginal musica and folk songs, make a didgeridoo with PVC pipe and decorate it with permanent marker
  • Computer resources -

Friday, July 12, 2013


We've been learning about Australia this week. I tried two times to make a pavlova meringue. The first time it came out much too flat. But the second time I used a recipe that had been altered to work at a high altitude, and we were all very pleased with the result! Here's a picture:
Now imagine that rosy beauty filled with whipped topping and covered with fresh berries, and that's what we had for dessert last night. Multiculturalism can be very tasty!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Russia Week

We finished "Russia Week" on Saturday. Here are some of the things we did to learn about Russia:

  • Library books and DVDs about/set in Russia
  • Netflix: The Hunt for Red October, Peter and the Wolf (animated short film), Space Dogs, Michel Strogoff (cartoon), Man v. Wild (2.08, 2.09), Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, Fiddler on the Roof
  • Color Russia map and country flag
  • Do Highlights puzzle book about Russia
  • Crafts: Matryoshka paper dolls (from this website -, flower garland headbands (finally found a use for my wedding bouquet!)
  • Sport: Ballet (we have a DVD that shows a short ballet lesson geared toward small children)
  • Food: Lox/cream cheese on bagels, pelmeni (I cheated and used frozen pirogis), cabbage and pickled beet salad, Polish chocolate (similar to Russian), rassolnik (barley-potato-pickle-broth soup), jello with sour cream in it, berry juice blends, rich Russian cake (the buttercream frosting had a pound of butter in it!)
  • Music: Listened to many Russian folk songs
It was a great week! Since the U.S. Independence Day fell during Russia Week, we made red-white-and-blue flower garlands and watched The Hunt for Red October; I was struck with how different a world we live in now that the Cold War is over and Lithuania (home of the Red October's defecting submarine captain) is an independent country.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Paper Matryoshka dolls

Here's the finished product from the craft found at the link in the previous post:

Matryoshka dolls

Much as I would love to make actual matryoshka dolls, I don't have a lathe or woodworking skills. So for a Russia Week craft, we're doing this cute paper doll matryoshka craft I found online:

If my children's efforts turn out well, I'll post a picture later.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Philippines Week

Mabuhay! Last week we learned about the Philippines. Among other things, we did the following:

  • Use lots of library books and DVDs (they know me well at the library this summer)
  • Music: Listen to music from the Philippines on Grooveshark
  • Food: Buy/prepare Filipino food from Asian market, including champorado, lumpia, halo-halo, and pancit
  • Culture: Invite a Filipina friend over to talk about her life as a child in the Philippines, dance the tinikling (done with bamboo poles)
  • Craft: Make pastillas de leche, do some weaving (square loom like this)
  • Color flag and map of the Philippines
  • Sport: Swimming lessons

Friday, June 28, 2013

Russian Food Ideas?

Next week is "Russia Week", and it's been hot. I don't want to bake or make soups. What to feed my children that is Russian....

I am planning to make blinis with cream cheese and smoked salmon atop. (Knowing my children, I won't even waste money on caviar!) I've got apricot jam and pickled vegetable jars to crack open, although I know my children won't be too interested in the beets. I know they'll eat eggs, cucumbers, bread, cheese, tomatoes, potatoes, and pirogi, so I guess that's what we'll be eating for most of the next week. I hope I can find some berries on sale somewhere. For herbs, time to use up the cilantro in the fridge and find some dill weed instead. And for drinks, vodka is totally out, but I bet my children will enjoy some sweetened, iced herbal tea.

Any suggestions from readers as to what to eat that is typically Russian on a hot summer's day? (In a house with no AC running?)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

China Week

Last week our topic of study was China. While it's impossible to cover such a large country fully in just a week, our children are pretty young, so we think the following activities gave them a decent overview of China:
  • Numerous library books and DVDs about China (both fiction and nonfiction)
  • Netflix resources: Wild China, Kung Fu Panda sequels, Jackie Chan Adventures (the last was set in the US, but still contains much related to Chinese culture)
  • Find all animals at our local zoo that live in China (there turned out to be only a few)
  • Food: Eat with chopsticks; shop at an Asian market (live fish!); cook dimsum, egg rolls, and noodles; and drink milk substitutes (almond, rice, and coconut milks)
  • Culture: Host two Chinese women for a day (one was a specialist in ancient Chinese calligraphy and taught our children a lot about Chinese characters)
  • Craft: Make a Chinese gong, make paper, and make (and try to fly) kites
  • Religion: Learn about Tibetan Buddhism from a family friend, who led us in a short guided meditation and helped me cook "Buddha's Delight"
  • Computer: Chinese fables on
We had a great time and ate well. I have a lot of leftover Chinese food this week, but since we're studying the Philippines, which has a large Chinese population, it won't go to waste!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ecuador Week

In case you were wondering about the two most recent posts, we were just learning about Ecuador last week. Llamas hail from the Andes, part of which runs through Ecuador, and Panama hats are from Ecuador, despite the misleading name.

Here's a summary of what we did during our Ecuador Week:
  • Read/watch library books and DVDs about Ecuador
  • Find a llama (surprisingly easy to locate in Colorado nowadays)
  • Culture: Invite an Ecuadorian-American couple over for dinner (I made seco de pollo and cured my own red onions in salt and lime juice for the salad!)
  • Food: Cook empanadas de pina, arroz colorado, and arroz con leche (this website is a great resource for Ecuadorean cooking)
  • Craft: Braiding hair, learn about Panama hats, make little figures out of migajon clay (white bread and glue) and paint them
  • Sport: Soccer with cousins
  • Music: Sing anthems of Ecuador and Guayaquil, make and play an antara flute
  • Religion: Tour the interior of a Catholic church
  • Netflix: Man vs. Wild (2.05), Voices of the Andes

Thursday, June 13, 2013


I saw this handsome fellow today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Canada Week

This summer we're doing little formal schoolwork. What we're doing instead is learning all about a different country or U.S. state each week. Last week we learned about Canada. Here is a list of what we did to learn about Canada:

  • Read/watch miscellaneous library books and DVDs about Canada
  • Read aloud of an easy adaptation of Anne of Green Gables
  • Go to the zoo and identify animals that live in Canada
  • Color the Canadian flag and a map of Canada (easy to find these on the internet)
  • Food: maple syrup, butter tarts, apple juice, currants, poutine 
  • Culture: Invite a Canadian-American friend over and have her share a little about Canada with us
  • Watch some shows that take place in Canada (Dudley Do Right, Red Green Show)
  • "Reverse curling" on the garage floor (freeze disk of ice with a pipe cleaner handle in it, and use chalk to draw the skip)
  • Go camping in the U.S. Rockies (they are fairly similar to Canadian Rockies as to vegetation, appearance, and wildlife)
  • Craft: Make cheese curds for poutine (I ended up doing this one alone, my kids having shown no interest in it)
  • Computer: free time to play on websites Poisson Rouge and UpToTen since they are bilingual French/English sites
  • Listen to Inuit music, Canadian folk music, and Great Big Sea (a Canadian folk-rock band know for sea shanties) (Grooveshark was a good resource for finding much of this music)

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Earlier today: "Mom, we need more white paper. There's none left in the drawer. Or in the printer tray."

Tonight from the three-year-old as I try to sort paper and throw away (after photographing!) my children's creations and recycle their used paper with blank sides into the printer tray: "Mommy, don't throw any of my artwork away!"

How did people raise children before the invention of inexpensive paper?

And why did the three-year-old take a nap? It's past ten o'clock and she insists she's not tired yet. I am.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Successful experiment for dinner!

Ever since we were newlyweds, my husband and I have often had funny and/or disappointing culinary experiences due to my tendency to dispense with the straitjacket of a recipe in favor of experimentation. The first time he really suffered from it was when I cooked one of his favorite dishes from his mother's recipe collection: Turkey Tetrazzini. Except I altered it to use olive oil instead of butter. For health reasons, you know. He was not amused.

But tonight I went complete recipe-less and made up a new dish that borrowed a little from chicken adobo (the Philippine national dish). I used the crockpot, so it required minimal labor. And my husband really liked it! He happily served himself seconds. He complimented the dish without my having to ask him how he liked it! Whew! After the avocado shakes last week that no one liked and which I had to turn into avocado chocolate cake (not too bad, actually, thanks to numerous chocolate chips and chocolate frosting), it was great to have a culinary success. :)

Here's my recipe if you want to try it -

Put the following in a crockpot:

  • A big bunch of bok choy, cleaned and sliced into bite size pieces
  • 1-2 lbs uncooked chicken (I used three chicken thighs)
  • 1 can water chestnuts (drained)
  • approx. 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • approx. 2 tsps minced garlic
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cubes chicken bouillon
  • 2 ginger tea bags (I've had ginger herbal tea bags floating around in my spice drawer since I tried them for nausea relief during my last pregnancy)

Cook on high for 4-5 hours.

Serve over cooked rice.

Super simple, very tasty. And that's according to a guy from the Midwest who doesn't generally appreciate spicy food or untested food combinations involving exotic ingredients.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A new blog in town

Dd6 has decided that she wants a blog, too, so she started Space Facts. Feel free to comment here on anything you think she would find good fodder for her blog!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thoughts on Benghazi

Background: I left the Foreign Service in 2007 to take care of my growing family and because I'd been told my career would be harmed if I didn't do a dangerous, unaccompanied tour in Baghdad or Kabul. I was told this while a breastfeeding, working mother doing all I could to meet both family and work obligations. In joining the State Department, I signed up for a civilian job, not to work in a war zone. I accepted "worldwide availability" and served with a good will in two polluted, high-crime cities during my time with the State Department. In my resignation letter to Secretary Condoleezza Rice, I noted that Foreign Service career requirements were no longer within the bounds of what one expects in a civilian job. State's bureaucracy chose to categorize my resignation as "for family reasons" and not deal with my complaint about sending diplomats to overly dangerous areas.

Forward to six months ago: We had State Department personnel in an under-protected consulate in Benghazi, Libya who were attacked, and we lost some dedicated people. For some unknown but likely political reason, administration spokespeople (specifically Susan Rice from State) tried to blame the attack on a spontaneous crowd protesting a video on YouTube rather than telling the truth about it having been terrorism (on September 11th...imagine that...). The previously unknown maker of that video was quickly arrested and is still sitting in jail in the USA for a probation violation.

Few in the mainstream media have kept talking about what happened in Benghazi because it is clear that the Obama administration doesn't want to talk about it. A White House spokesperson recently said "it happened a long time ago" (six months), and Hillary Clinton in January passionately said in a Congressional hearing, "What difference at this point does it make?" (right after again downplaying the terrorism aspect of the attack by trying to make the Benghazi attack sound as though it could have been spontaneous). I admit to having started to think that maybe those still talking about Benghazi were just doing it for political reasons. I was wrong. Benghazi is a big deal in that it reveals 1) ineptitude and dishonesty at the highest levels of the current administration, and 2) a lack of courage at the highest levels of the current administration when faced with an urgent need and then a failure to protect individual Americans at our diplomatic posts abroad.

My change of mind on Benghazi came from reading this CBS article from November 1, 2012. No, this isn't Fox news or Glenn Beck. Yes, somehow, I missed it back in November. Apparently, we had an interagency task force designed to deal with events like the attack on our Benghazi consulate. But it wasn't convened. Apparently, we had an ability to send a rescue team to the consulate within four hours, but we didn't use it. Instead, the administration dithered. Apparently, counterterrorism officials knew almost immediately that the attack was a terrorist attack, but Susan Rice fed the nation a lie about it being a spontaneous crowd reaction to a video.

I have many former colleagues whose service in dangerous areas I respect and honor. I fear that our President and his highest officials do/did not similarly honor them. They have shown they cannot make tough decisions quickly to protect State Department civilians under attack. They have shown that they will lie about the circumstances of such attacks to the nation. The State Department definitely leans left and Democrat, but that didn't get its employees treated right by Obama or H. Clinton when it really counted. Of course, our executive branch should meet its responsibilities to all its employees, no matter their political leanings, but if even a supportive department like State gets its employees abandoned during a terrorist attack and then is used to disseminate lies domestically for political reasons, the current Presidential administration deserves to be the recipient of greatly diminished trust in its integrity and abilities.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Science Fair Time

Dd8 seemed to need guidance on picking a subject, so I asked her (for my own culinary purposes) to see what effect soaking whole wheat grains in different liquids would have on their subsequent sprouting. She made observations over the course of several days (including weighing, which wasn't very informative due to the water involved in sprouting), and we found out that vinegar and salt water will pretty much kill off the sprouts. Tap water yielded good sprouts, and Brita-filtered tap water was even more productive.

Dd6 had to be dissuaded from mashing a variety of kitchen items (flour, sugar, bananas, etc.) together and "seeing what happens". She eventually came up with (on her own, bless her stubborn little heart) a project where she blew a whistle at a flag with various objects placed in front of the whistle. She learned that air flow can be hard to predict. :)

I like science fair projects. Now that we have computers, making the displays is a cinch. I type in what they tell me, and they glue the printed words and other eye-catching materials on a posterboard. Sure, sometimes my kids need more adult assistance with their projects than teachers think (or hope?) they will.* However, this annual ritual gives my children a chance to plan their own experiments and make their own observations at home where there is no "right answer". (Not that I'm above telling them if their conclusions are nonsensical....) Proper experiments can be quite difficult to plan and carry out. Just making sure that observations are accurate requires some knowledge about what can be measured and how best to do it. I think that my children's beginning efforts in doing science experiments will give them a greater knowledge of both the power and limits of scientific experiments.

* No worries, my children won't be getting awards they don't deserve due to my assistance. Their projects and posterboards aren't really competitive, based on what I've seen at their school in the past. And surely a project where Mom helped is better than a project that didn't get done at all because of a child's fears and indecision. This is just elementary school! Still, I look forward to when they can go solo on these projects.