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.