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?