Saturday, December 20, 2014

Crazy Easy Homemade Yogurt

I make my own yogurt now. I thought doing so would require the hassle of wrapping canning jars in towels and putting them in a cooler overnight, but I found a much easier way online that has given me good results every time.

Here are the steps:
1) Heat a gallon of milk* in a pot to the point that it starts to have little bubbles around side and forms a skin on top.
2) Discard the milk skin and pour the milk into a cold crockpot liner (the ceramic part).
3) Let the milk cool down for a while. It should be warm but not burn your finger.
4) Mix in about a cup of yogurt starter.
5) Put the glass lid on the crockpot liner.
6) Put the crockpot liner, milk, and lid (all together, of course) in the oven.
7) Turn on the oven light (must be an incandescent bulb because you need its heat).
8) Let the yogurt incubate overnight in the warm oven. (DON'T TURN ON THE OVEN. Just the oven light.)

Voilà!. Yummy homemade yogurt for minimal cost. It's going to be runnier than the stuff from the store because you don't add pectin, but who needs solid yogurt when you're going to be mixing it with muesli or granola or using it in recipes like naan?

By the way, I make no guarantee that this will work in everyone else's kitchen. If your oven light isn't warm enough, if your crockpot liner is thicker than mine, etc., you might just end up with gross milk in the morning.

* I like to use whole milk. It makes thicker and tastier yogurt.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reading Progress

Dd5 and I took a break for a couple of weeks or so from reading lessons. They weren't much fun, for she wasn't remembering some simple things such as the word "the." This afternoon, we finally had a formal lesson (#43 from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and she did much, much better than either she or I anticipated. Where did this pleasant progress come from?

I think we owe it mostly to the Leapfrog Letter/Talking Word/Storybook Factory videos. Those are a terrific resource for children just figuring out the letter-sound code and how to apply their new knowledge. We own some Leapfrog letter fridge magnets, so dd5 and dd2 have been playing with them after watching the videos.

The concept of digraphs has started to really sink in for dd5. Previously she would see "sh" and say "ssss""hhh" nearly every time no matter how often I reminded her that "sh" says "sh." I suspect a few minutes of looking at this old toy, which we just had sitting around in a toybox, helped her realize that it's OK not to break the letters apart when looking at certain letter combinations:

Kiddicraft alphabet toy with 4 of most common English digraphs
The technical name for two letters representing one sound is "digraph." The most common consonant digraphs in English are "ch," "sh," "th," "ph," and "wh," per this phonics website. Note that four of those five digraphs are presented to the children on the Kiddicraft toy pictured above. How great is that! And it's not a fancy-schmancy electronic toy, so I don't have to worry about it running out of battery power. Even the hornbooks used for centuries didn't explicitly teach digraphs.

Traditional hornbook example, sold by Plimouth Plantation
Sadly, the Kiddicraft Flip-up Learning Center is only available used, but if you want one, it appears on eBay sometimes for a reasonable price. I think I found ours at a local thrift store a few years ago.

(I make no money from product placement in my blog posts. I'm just sharing things that I've found helpful.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Great Sand Dunes National Park

We had a terrific field trip yesterday. It was a bit of a drive but so worth it. We went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado. The weather was very nice. It was a warm day for autumn in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, so we were able to play in the sand--some wet and some dry--while taking in the golden aspens, snow-capped peaks, and the beautiful sky of the San Luis valley.

Autumn in the San Luis valley

My children insisted on completing the Jr. Ranger program and getting their Jr. Ranger badges at the visitors center. We all got a chance to slide down sand dunes on a wooden, waxed sand sled. Trudging through the fine sand made for a good teaching moment about what it is like trying to get around in the Sahara desert.

Not fun to walk in after the first two minutes

If you're ever in southern Colorado, try to make time for a visit to this national park!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Graded on Our Moms

When I was in sixth grade, I did well academically. Socially, horribly. I was such a pariah that the school teacher in charge of the school adaptation of Macbeth backed off from his initial plan of having me play Lady Macbeth because the boy given the part of Macbeth refused to act the role of my pretend spouse. (Weird, right? It's not like the Macbeths are renowned for their public displays of affection.) The teacher was limited in his choice of boys that could act well, so I lost out.

The school had me meet with a counselor to help me make friends, but I just didn't "get" social interactions. Twenty years later, I might have been given an Asperger's diagnosis. Back then, at least I could feel good about myself at school when it came to academic achievements. That is, until the (say the next two words in your best nonverbal voice of doom) "Pharoah Projects."

These ambitious projects lasted for several weeks. We were divided into small groups and told to prepare an exhibit about a specific pharaoh. I think my group's pharaoh was Ptolemy I. A woman--probably a volunteering mother--came to class one day and showed us how to stuff pantyhose with cotton to form the head and limbs of a dummy. Each group was to make a life-size pantyhose dummy of a pharoah, sew features onto its head and digits into its extremities, and dress it in appropriate clothing.

Such a sewing project was way beyond my abilities, but somehow I, of the three kids in the group, ended up with it as my lot. I still remember cringingly the night before the dummy was due, how I hunched next to my bedroom closet near midnight, trying not to wake my sister, as I tearfully did my best to work with needle, thread, and running nylons. It was so frustrating, and I felt pathetically alone (so much for "group work") and overwhelmed. Somehow, I managed to finish a pygmy, Greek-ish dummy, but we got an "F." My dummy was a sorry sight next to all the beautiful, life-size pharaoh dummies that could only have been made by parents.

The mother of another kid in my group took my pharaoh home and redid it, so we eventually got a C or D on the whole project. That low grade rankled for years. Why didn't someone tell us we were going to be graded on our mothers' crafting abilities and free time?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Carnival of Homeschooling #456 - "Ozymandias" Edition

Welcom to the 456th Carnival of Homeschooling! This carnival's theme is "Ozymandias."



Doesn't it just make you happy to say the name "Ozymandias"? My voice becomes sonorous and commanding, and I envision stark desert scenes, which I love, having mostly grown up in the American Southwest.

Written in the early 1800s, the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley deals with many themes in its short 14 lines. Among them are travel and history, the effects of time and the natural world, artistic creation, hubris, recording one's deeds, and the collapse of human power.

I met a traveller from an antique land

Christy submitted a post about the Borgia Family and Machiavelli, saying "I love the freedom homeschooling gives, the chance to follow interests and to use silly things like a comedy show as a jumping off point for a unit study. The Borgia Family lived in Renaissance Italy. They knew Machiavelli and Leonardo Da Vinci."

The Cates' daughter wrote an essay for college on her homeschooling experience and used it to help argue that homeschooling is a viable educational option.

April E. contributed ten lessons she has learned during the journey of homeschooling her high school students.

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

No matter how powerful or enormous a monument, the forces of nature slowly erode it away. The blog What DID We Do All Day? includes a fun look at how one homeschooling family learned about erosion.

And speaking of science in general, occupational therapist Sharon Stansfield submitted some tips on how to help children with slow processing blossom when doing their schoolwork: "Children who process information slower than their peers are often very clever but need understanding and correct teaching methods to help them blossom. I give simple and important tips to use for teaching these children. The tips are just as useful for home-schooled children. Knowing the best way to bring out your child's true potential makes teaching and home-schooling so very rewarding."

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

While watching Dr. Who last night (Season 1, episode 3 for the Whovians out there), I was struck by how Charles Dickens, upon meeting a Time Lord, wanted to know just one thing about the future: "Would his books last?" Artistic creations, as ephemeral as they may seem, can long survive worldly powers, just as the sculptor's work in "Ozymandias" outlived the power of the real Ozymandias.

Real Life at Home has a post on "10 Reasons to Homeschool Your Creative Child." I can especially relate to the fourth point about conformity; my children's art appears very individualistic compared to that of their peers at the school they attend part-time.

A blogger I follow, author and linguist Katherine Beals at Out in Left Field, just posted about how her daughter wouldn't have time for all her musical pursuits if they weren't homeschooling.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Not all public school administrators are guilty of domineering behavior, but Dewey's Treehouse links to an account of a family in New Jersey that was (wrongly) told by an assistant superintendent that "policy" required them to conform their homeschool curriculum to the Common Core standards. Mama Squirrel points out that some parents don't want their children's education to be that narrow.

Homeschoolers in the thick of things seem to be a fairly humble lot (at least when not having to defend their homeschool choices to detractors); they want to give their children the best education they can and constantly wonder if they're doing enough. Those worries can be magnified when faced with the task of creating an impressive transcript recording our children's studies. To help keep perspective, 7Sisters gives us "Balancing Life and the Homeschool Transcript."

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Here at my blog, I wrote about how seemingly all-powerful and permanent institutions, including public school systems, can and do go into decline.

Susan Raber submitted a post on why "free stuff" isn't always the best choice. One reason for that is that we may come to depend on a free resource only to have it become costly or even disappear later.

That's the end of today's carnival. Thank you to all who submitted, and for those who want to submit to future carnivals, you can find out how here.


Carnival of Homeschooling

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ancient Egypt

We made it all the way through the four volumes of the Story of the World during the last four years, and we have now started over with Volume 1. That means Ancient Egypt! We're doing the usual supplements - pyramids out of wooden blocks and Duplos (the toy, not the chocolate candy, alas), British Horrible History comedy sketches like "The Mummy Song", library books like You Wouldn't Want to Be Cleopatra, and library videos like Prince of Egypt and Reading Rainbow's "Mummies Made in Egypt." On Friday we are going to begin mummifying a chicken.



And my favorite part of learning about ancient Egypt: introducing my children to The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.




Carnival of Homeschooling
This post is part of the Homeschool Carnival.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inquiry-led Learning

Back in school and college, I wasn't much of an in-class questioner. I benefited greatly from listening to other students ask their questions and get answers from the teacher, but I rarely asked questions myself. I'm still like that.

"Why?" I (rarely) ask myself. I love to learn new things, especially in fields of interest to me. Perhaps I think that the teacher is up there to teach that which he/she deems important and my consternation is relatively trivial and shouldn't take away from the teacher's time to give his/her prepared presentation; after all, I can usually figure out the answer on my own afterward. Perhaps I feel rude asking questions because it implies that the teacher did a poor job of teaching me. Perhaps I believe that there really is such a thing as a "dumb question," and I don't want to ask one. Perhaps I'm more interested in going to lunch.

At any rate, I don't question much, and it would appear my daughter is similar to me in that respect. When I picked up dd9 from school this afternoon, she told me that as part of their study of living systems, they did the first two parts of a "KWL" exercise, in which they asked themselves the following questions:

  • "What do I know about living systems?" 
  • "What do I want to know about them?" 
  • "What did I learn about them?"

She told me that she didn't have anything she wants to know about living systems. This from a girl who has been independently reading a book on genetics recently and is always picking up nonfiction books about animals for recreational reading. Maybe she was thrown off by the nonspecific topic label of "living systems," or maybe she just doesn't have questions about them at present. I hope her teacher doesn't confuse today's lack of questions with an absence of curiosity.

Inquiry-led learning receives a lot of praise these days, both by some advocates of unschooling and proponents of constructivist school curricula. While inquiry-led learning may work wonderfully for some children, it seems to poorly serve curious non-questioners like my daughter and me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Snowed by Kim Jong-il

A few years ago, a visiting scholar to our city gave a lecture on North Korea. He had been to visit North Korea, and he declared that the USA wasn't doing enough to engage with North Korea.

Now, I spent two weeks working at the US Embassy in Seoul during a time when the USA was trying to have six-party talks with North Korea. But North Korea wanted only bilateral talks, in keeping with an apparent pattern of trying to extort money from the USA. It appeared to me that this visiting scholar was not presenting an accurate picture of the USA's attempts to negotiate with North Korea and that he might have been unwisely swayed by the apparent sincerity and possibility of good will from the North Koreans as well as flattered by having been granted access to North Korea.

Fast forward to the just-released memoir of a North Korean defector who had inside knowledge of what Kim Jong-il was up to. Kim Jong-il, who built up the personality cult around his father while stripping away his father's power and taking it for himself, feasted royally--the invidual courses were even specially lit with customized, colored lighting--while government propagandists told the country how he was sharing their hunger and living off mere rice balls. Foreign aid was being given to party officials to keep them loyal while the regular North Koreans starved to death, even being driven to sell their children on occasion. Fake Christian churches were set up in Pyongyang to make it look like religion was freely practiced and to receive donations from South Korean churches, but when a regular North Korean showed up to enjoy the hymns, he was turned in by a "cleric" to the police and arrested.

Diplomacy was never sincere; it was all about counterintelligence work:
The United States negotiates as a matter of diplomacy, to seek common ground on an issue; but when North Korea comes to the table, it's a counterintelligence operation. In other words, North Korea uses dialogue as a tools of deception rather than of negotiation, with the objective being the maintenance of misplaced trust in the other party. And why not? North Korea's opacity is its greatest strength. It allows things to be done on its own terms while other countries continue to take what North Korea says at face value. In fact, Kim Jong-il formally set these three principles as a basis for diplomatic engagment: 'The United States will buy any lie, as long as it is logically presented'; 'Japan is susceptible to emotional manipulation'; and 'South Korea can be ignored or blackmailed.' (p. 252)

My suspicion that the visiting scholar was unwisely influenced has now been cemented. To be blunt, I think the North Koreans snowed him.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fifth Grade Biology

My oldest is a fifth grader, and in keeping with the curriculum ideas laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, we will be studying biology this year. I looked at several texts and curricula online and read reviews on them, but nothing seemed like a good fit for our current needs. Time 4 Learning looks like it has a great life sciences course, but I don't think dd9 is ready to do online courses yet. Maybe next year, when she's not carelessly breaking our computers (a few days ago, while crowding in next to a sister who was playing a computer game, dd9 dropped a speaker on our family PC case and broke something major inside so that it doesn't work now...sigh).

The Time 4 Learning website has been of great help in showing me what topics I should cover with dd9 this year as I set out to cobble together my own science course for her. My formal biology background is one college level course taught by an immunologist, who tended to focus on human illnesses and only briefly discuss other subjects. If I hadn't seen something saying I should teach dd9 about dichotomous keys, she would have likely had a gap there. But I'm certain she'd have learned a lot about Ebola!

I'll probably spend hours putting together dd9's biology materials with much assistance from search engines. We already subscribe to Enchanted Learning, which has some helpful biology printouts--food webs, cell structure labeling, anatomy, etc.-- at the right grade level. The local library has relevant DVDs from the BBC, Schlessinger Media, and Bill Nye. We have a new-to-us 2008 World Book Encyclopedia set. The Bioman website has some fun-looking biology games. Finally, YouTube, ed.ted.com, and other internet sites have slide shows, videos, and informational pages on all sorts of biology topics. It should be a fun experiment to see if I can make an engaging, effective course on my own. And maybe next year, I'll find middle school books I like for astronomy and earth science.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Zimbabwe Feast

The father of a family we know was born in Zimbabwe; he is of European ancestry, so he, like many "white Zimbabweans," emigrated in the mid-80s, and he finished growing up in South Africa. Tonight the whole family came over, and he told us a little about Zimbabwe. He also brought cricket equipment and let us play some cricket at a nearby park. Now I know what a "sticky wicket" is!

I spent much of today cooking, trying to provide both enough traditional African food and food that was what a white Zimbabwean would have eaten. Here was the menu, along with websites that taught me how to make the items:

  • Sadza - http://www.chirundu.com/sadza-recipe-south-african-mielie-pap-nshima-zambia-ugali-2009-08/
  • Greens - http://living-learning-eating.blogspot.com/2014/06/recipe-zimbabwean-style-greens.html
  • Oven-baked chicken (our guests brought piri piri sauce to put on it) - http://www.ehow.com/how_2212924_make-oven-baked-chicken.html
  • Okra - http://www.zimbokitchen.com/zimbabwe-traditional-derere-okra/
  • Mealies (corn on the cob)
  • Sweet potato cookies - http://www.food.com/recipe/cookies-from-zimbabwe-139868
  • Candy cake - http://globaltableadventure.com/2013/11/15/recipe-zimbabwe-candy-cake-chikenduza/
  • Sweet buns - http://www.fisoskitchen.com/sweet-zimbabwe-buns-2/
  • Shandy - homemade non-alcoholic version consisting of pink lemonade (from a powdered mix) mixed with lemon-lime seltzer water
  • Baobab powder in water - http://www.baobabfoods.com/recipes/ (I ended up adding grenadine to this because it just didn't taste that great alone)
  • Water

The sweet buns were probably the biggest hit with everyone. I'll be cooking those for my family in the future for sure. The okra...not so much of a hit....It's just so slimy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Greek Weeks

Between Brazil and Mongolia, we learned about Greece. I had just had the baby, so we didn't do that much. Highlights included watching Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (for the Greek mythology aspect) and tasty Greek food from a local restaurant. The adults (my mother-in-law stayed with us for 2 weeks after the baby was born) also watched For Your Eyes Only (it has James Bond being a tourist in Greece) and My Life in Ruins (the actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding portrays a boring tour guide in Greece who learns to loosen up and finds love).

I was planning to have the girls take a session of swim lessons, but never got around to it while we were on Greece. Maybe when we're studying Zimbabwe...hey, the country may be landlocked, but they still swim sometimes over there!

Mongolia Weeks

I have been witness to the slow miracle of a newborn changing to a baby for the past almost-4 weeks. A miracle which I get to witness just as readily at 3 am as at 3 pm. Our baby is quite healthy except for a little jaundice--more common here in Colorado, apparently due to the high altitude--and a mild cold that has required some use of that bulb syringe they gave us at the hospital. My husband is 75% back at work (having him home when the older kids wake up and need breakfast is SO helpful), and my mother is funding 20 hours of having a local teenager be a "mother's helper" for me.

We are still doing math and a little music on a daily basis and studying countries. Last week and this week, the country was Mongolia. We listened to throat singing and the Mongolian national anthem on YouTube. We watched two movies set in rural Mongolia--which is pretty much the entire country outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar--which displayed modern nomadic life very well. The movies, The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Cave of the Yellow Dog, were in Mongolian, but when I read the English subtitles aloud, dd4 and dd2 unexpectedly found them engaging. We also ate buuz and a cheater crockpot version of lamb khorkhog. Finally, I surprised dd7 and dd9 with horseback riding lessons.



If I had more energy, I'd even be able to take my children into central Denver for the Mongolian summer festival, Naadam. Ulaanbaatar and Denver are sister cities, and Denver apparently has the largest population of Mongolians in the Americas.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Star Wars and Origami

My children have discovered the Origami Yoda books. Dd9, dd7, and dd4 are filling the house with origami versions of Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, Admiral Akbar, and what seems like the entire cast of all six Star Wars movies. To tell the truth, they're kind of driving me crazy with all their paper creations. But at the same time I'm pleased to see them so engaged in a creative pursuit.

Dd9 even includes them in her artwork these days, like in this picture below of a picnic where an origami Yoda protects the S'mores ingredients with a flyswatter while other origami Star Wars characters hang out with family members at a park.

Picnic with Origami Star Wars characters

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brazil Weeks

For the first two weeks of our summer, our family studied the country of Brazil. We watched Rio and educational films about Brazil and its varied geography (the Amazon is an amazing place!), ate feijoada (tasty black bean stew) and drank guarana soda, visited a Catholic cathedral (65% of Brazil is Roman Catholic), and observed a capoeira class.

Thanks to a friend who teaches ESL, we were able to meet with two Brazilian students learning English at a local university, and they did a slideshow presentation about Brazil for me and my children. They were also kind enough to compliment my brigadeiro candies (chocolaty truffles), even though I don't think I made them correctly.

Due to pregnancy limiting my stomach's capacity, I missed one of the highlights of our Brazil weeks: my husband took our older children out to lunch at a Brazilian grill restaurant. If you've ever been to one, these restaurants involve a constant parade of barbecued meats and pineapple, as well as yummy cheese rolls made of manioc flour and lots of cheese.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Just hanging around waiting

I'm 39 weeks pregnant. My next doctor's appointment is the day after tomorrow, and I'm hoping to be induced the day after that. I would really, really like NOT to have to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night this time around.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Already done

Dd9 and dd7 finished the summer reading program already. They got all their prizes and even managed to break one already. But they keep reading. It's fun to see how just three days of long reading sessions made them comfortable reading for longer periods of time than they have been used to. Dd7 picked for one of her prizes the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Ambitious, that one. To be honest, I wasn't planning on starting my children on Harry Potter for a few years yet, but the example of an older cousin was a powerful influence on dd7.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Reading, so much reading

I became a bookworm sometime in the middle of elementary school. I think I became so avid a reader partly out of escapism, for my home life had some issues. For instance, our father thought we shouldn't have friends over (he seemed to have some strange idea that we should be spending all our free time cleaning and weeding), so if he came home early and we had friends over (with mom's permission), we'd have to sneak them out the back door or risk his wrath.

Dd9 and dd7 read very well, but neither of them have taken to burying themselves in books the way I used to. I was so engrossed in books that I would aggravate my parents by sometimes not hearing them and not doing what they said. I remember one week, probably in fourth grade, my father punished me by banning me from reading for a week. Being a conscientious girl, I felt like I was even being naughty when I read signs along the side of the road that week; it was truly one of the worst weeks of my life.

Back to my kids. The summer reading contest at the local library started yesterday. They are constantly reading. The two oldest have already earned the first prize. Since they have to read in 20-minute increments to fill in the spaces on their contest gamecards, it keeps happening that I interrupt them with inconvenient requests right when they're in the middle of a timed reading period. So I leave them alone and forget to come back to them at just the right break in their reading intervals. I'm very pleased about all the reading going on, but I wish they would be more available to do the little chores that I periodically need of them.

Friday, May 30, 2014

School's Out!

Both school-age children were in part-time programs, which came to an end as of yesterday. Thus our school year is over, too. We celebrated with corn dogs and soda (mixed with juice) last night. Today the only thing I've required of them is basic grooming and a trip to the grocery store. I refuse to post their summer schoolwork schedule, light as it is, for them until Monday.

We're going to be learning about Brazil for the first two weeks of June, during which time I will hopefully be having a baby. Much as I'd like to go pig out at a Brazilian grill restaurant, I've learned from sad experience that overfilling my belly during the third trimester leads to great pain and regret. I'll just have to make myself some pao de queijo to make up for missing out on roasted pineapple and churrasco. My family generally isn't one for watching sports, but we'll try to catch some of the World Cup soccer championship in a couple of weeks, for it's being held in Brazil! And we hope to catch Rio 2 at the movie theater, if we can squeeze it in. Tico, taco, ya, ya, ya!!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Clutter

I am a fairly relaxed housekeeper. My kids have piles of stuff--er, treasures, including toys, hair things, school projects, folded paper crafts, books, etc.--on every non-mattress horizontal furniture surface in their bedrooms. But I insist on floors being picked up. It's a safety issue. It's dangerous to leave things where someone could step on them during a midnight trip to the toilet. Or where a pregnant, clumsy mom could trip and hurt her abdomen.

For over a year, there has been an old kitchen sink sitting in the middle of the garage floor. I wanted to get rid of it as soon as we took it out of the kitchen, but dh thought there might be a use for it and resisted tossing it. He has since consented to me getting rid of it, for I think it has become clear to him in the last year that we really don't have any use for an aged porcelain-covered sink. However, I didn't get his OK to trash it until I was too far along in my pregnancy to lift it into the back of the car myself. So it's still sitting in the middle of the garage. I've thought the whole time it's been there, "Someone is going to hurt themselves on that thing someday, and then won't my husband be sorry."

Tonight that someone was me. Whimper. While rushing to close the garage door to keep moths out of the house, I banged my shin hard against the edge of the old sink and broke my skin. I'll probably have a horrible looking bruise and end up with a scar. See? Clutter can be dangerous. I'm glad I got injured instead of one of my kids, but I'd rather no one had been hurt at all.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fast food

I took the kids out for fast food today, which I almost never do. I was lured by the cheap ice cream cones. They were SO whiny afterward. It will be a long time before I make that mistake again.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Summer 2014 Planning

In just twelve days, we finish our official school year. Three days after that, the library summer reading program begins. And within two weeks of that, I will be having a baby. Instead of studying one country each week as we did last summer, we are only going to study five countries, spending two weeks on each one. That should be doable with a new baby and also allow us to go more in-depth for each country.

Here are our "summer school" plans, ready for posting on the evening of May 29th:

Summer 2014 (Daily Learning – except for Sundays)

DD9 
Reading – Whatever you WANT!! (Especially for prizes from the library J )
Math – two pages from Math 4 (need to finish before school starts)
Music – 5-10 minutes each on two musical subjects (can be singing, piano, music maker, trumpet, violin, or recorder but NOT theory worksheets)
Art, PE, history, etc. – any awesome or fun stuff, especially having to do with the countries we'll be studying 
DD7 
Reading – Whatever you WANT!! (Especially for prizes from the library J )
Math – 1-2 pages from Math 2 (Try to finish before school starts)
Music – 5-10 minutes each on two musical subjects (can be singing, piano, music maker, bandurria, violin, or recorder but NOT theory worksheets)
Art, PE, history, etc. – any awesome or fun stuff, especially having to do with the countries we'll be studying
DD4 
Reading – Reading  Lesson & being read to for library prizes J
Music – 5 minutes on a musical subject (can be singing, piano, music maker, violin, recorder, etc.)
Art, PE, history, etc. – any awesome or fun stuff, especially having to do with the countries we'll be studying
DD2 
Reading –Being Read to for library prizes J

Just looking that over makes me really happy at the prospect of summer. The kids will have enough to keep them from too much boredom and mischief, but I won't be constantly supervising assignments!

This post has been included in the Carnival of Homeschooling, found online at http://whyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2014/05/carnival-of-homeschooling-eliza.html

Carnival of Homeschooling

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sickness and Homeschooling

Happy Mother's Day yesterday!! I spent it all at home, drinking copious amounts of water and resting. Dd7 was sick all of last week, and now dd2, dd4, and I are all suffering from illness, too. These things seem to hit pregnant ladies particularly hard. What better weekend for a mother to be incapacitated, though? No one expected me to make food for them yesterday!

But dd9 has been fine and doing her full load of schoolwork. One unplanned but great pro of homeschooling is how easy it is to keep it up when stuck at home. Be it snow (which is still falling today from a big spring snowstorm that started yesterday), car problems (which really immobilize a family that only has one car), or illness which makes Mommy unable to even vacuum the house, homeschooling still can be done. Not only can it be done, but it should be done. The children get antsy and irritable if they don't have some time spent on concrete learning each school day. Even dd4 has gotten to the point where she requires some reading instruction or a mini violin lesson every school day, or she complains.

Obviously some subjects--most PE, field trips, etc.--will fall by the wayside for those actively suffering from illness. However, in a world where "sick days" are so often total losses as far as productive activity, it's nice to still feel like we're accomplishing something despite sniffles and aches.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Circuses

Dd9's reading texts for the past few days have been on the theme of circuses. Circus bikes, circus clowns, clown makeup, and acrobats. So I showed her this video of several circus acrobats plunging 20+ feet to the ground; the accident--in which no one died--happened just Sunday, making it timely. She wasn't bursting with enthusiasm to be an acrobat before watching the video, but she's quite certain now that if she were to work for a circus, she would want to be an animal trainer. Mostly of smaller animals like parrots, but she'd like it if there were one or two tigers, too. I'm tempted to show her video of this tiger attack....

Never mind. I couldn't even watch it for more than a few seconds. There is no way I'll let her see that. Circuses are exciting because of the possibility of danger, but I don't like it when they're actually dangerous. I approach life with a safety-net-for-all-acts attitude.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

I find it ironic that a holiday celebrating the defeat of French invaders in Mexico now has pro-amnesty rhetoric attached to it in the USA.

Having been a consular officer in a place that used to be a US colony but where now intending illegal immigrants to the USA would have to cross the Pacific ocean--which is far larger than the Rio Grande--to get to US soil, I view the push for "open borders" (amnesty is just delayed realization of an open border) as biased and more than a little racist. It is pro-Mexican, in that it is primarily to the benefit of Mexicans. Yes, other Latin Americans cross the Rio Grande...if they're desperate and willing to pay exorbitant fees to traffickers (mostly Mexicans). There are even some Asians who indebt themselves to organized crime syndicates to make the trip over the southern US border. But what about the non-trafficked Asians and Europeans and all the Africans who just want to make a new life for themselves? No, sorry, finagle to get a visa somehow or you can't come. It's totally "unfair" and based on mere geography.

I'll resist the temptation to dwell on the deterioration of the rule of law that amnesty efforts promote. Suffice it to say that the main thing that keeps the USA from being as unpleasant a place to live as Mexico is the rule of law. After all, Mexico has natural resources galore, tourist sites aplenty, and a language common to many other countries; people tend to prefer Tuscon to Nogales because of criminal and civil issues, not because Americans are somehow inherently superior to Mexicans.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Common Items and Communism

Yesterday we covered the rise to power of Mao Zedong in China. Initially, his version of Communism made the poor people of China much better off. After all, he took away the land from rich people (and then killed a lot of them) and gave it to the poor people! But that's not really communism*, is it? That's actually theft and land redistribution. These actions could have been justified in the minds of some as a "good of the many outweighing the good of a few" scenario except that then he took the PRC in a really communist direction. In the Great Leap Forward, he had peasants' private lands consolidated into huge communal farms that removed individual ownership of even furniture. Among other causes, the lack of material rewards for individual efforts on these communes led to decreased agricultural production and famine that killed approximately 30 million people.

*   Communism, per Merriam-Webster: : a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property

I wanted my children to understand the problems with communism, but because most of their time is spent with family--at its heart a very communal unit, especially our home, where I use King Solomon's method of dealing with fights over objects ("work it out or Mommy confiscates the toy")--I wasn't sure how to illustrate why communism keeps failing in a broader setting. I ended up using Play-Doh as an object lesson.

We have a family collection of Play-Doh canisters and Play-Doh shaping toys. Because it is arid here, Play-Doh dries out if not stored promptly and properly. Also, our Play-Doh tends not to stay nice because the children mix colors together and end up with muddy-colored stuff. Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw a sale on individual containers of Play-Doh: just $0.49 each! Each little girl got to pick out her very own color of her very own container of Play-Doh. When we got home, all four played and played at the small kitchen table with their Play-Doh yet never mixed colors. And, except for dd2, they cleaned up the Play-Doh off the toys without adult help and stored it neatly away in the containers.

Give people--even children--private property, and they'll tend to take better care of it and be less wasteful than they would be with common property. I pointed out to my children that their behavior with the Play-Doh illustrates one very basic reason why communism works so poorly.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Obstetrics Wish List

I'm at 32.5 weeks of pregnancy! Hurrah! The home stretch is in sight. My OB even gave me the "go straight to the hospital if you think you're going into labor" spiel this morning. :)

I've been reading a lot about childbirth recently, as I often do when pregnant. Modern medicine is amazing at helping women and babies get through the risky event of birth relatively unscathed, as is evident by what happens in countries that aren't as blessed. Here is a 2004 WHO compilation of perinatal mortality rates by country. The US was at 7/1000--average for developed countries--while less and least developed parts of the world had perinatal mortality rates of 47/1000 and 60/1000, respectively. I feel very grateful to live in the USA and have access to good health care.

However, there's always room for improvement. I have a short wish list of birth-related technology advancements I'd love to see implemented in this country in the next few years:
1) Universally available wireless fetal monitoring during labor; in a time when people are tweeting and Facebooking on smart phones about the progress of their labor, it seems really antiquated that fetal monitors are still mostly wired rather than wireless. It would be great if they could be waterproof, too, for those women who want to use birth tubs.
2) Use of the Odon device to speed up labor and help with obstructed labors. It may have been developed for poorer countries, but it can help decrease the hazardous use of forceps and vaccums in the US, too.
3) More accurate technology to measure whether the baby is suffering from oxygen deprivation during labor. It would be good if we could have fewer unnecessary C-sections and more prompt C-sections for babies beginning to suffer brain injury; unfortunately, at present we often can't know which C-sections were or were not necessary until after birth because fetal heartrate monitoring cannot tell us how much oxygen a baby is getting during his descent. This recent report of MRI usage to "evaluate fetal cerebral venous blood oxygenation" looks like a promising step towards measuring the baby's oxygenation rates during labor, although it's just a first step, for I can't imagine the adoption of a protocol to put laboring women into MRI machines anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Finally some good news in history!

We just finished learning about World War II and the creation of Pakistan and Israel in our history studies. So much fighting, hatred, death, and destruction! We covered the atom bombs in Japan, the Holocaust, and the mass displacements of people when Pakistan was created. After learning about the creation of Israel and the continued security issues in that region, dd9 said it should be called "Problem Land"; it's ironic how close that is to "Promised Land."

To my relief, I get to tell my children about something good today: our country helped rebuild Europe under the Marshall Plan. This was a very positive part of our national history. Yes, the US did it partly to counter Soviet influence, but at its core, it was a large humanitarian effort, and Germany and France would likely be very different today had they not received this assistance right after the devastation of WWII. It takes time to rebuild infrastructure and harvest crops, and immediate aid saves many lives after disasters.

We even found a pro-Marshall plan propaganda film called The Extraordinary Adventures of a Quart of Milk (1951), which showed how good French roads made it possible for milk to get from a dairy to a factory to be made into powdered milk. It can be viewed online for free thanks to the Deutsches Historisches Museum.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ship Captains

Remember that saying, "The captain always goes down with his ship"? He (or she) is entrusted with the welfare of everyone on board his vessel and is expected to use his ultimate efforts to save the lives of his crew and passengers. Yet as we saw with the Costa Concordia in 2012, ship captains sometimes choose personal survival instead.

Given the importance of honor in Asian cultures, I suspect that this South Korean ferry captain is going to spend the rest of his life wishing he had gone down with his ship. He allowed himself to be rescued before hundreds of his passengers, most of whom were just school-age students, and those left behind most likely are all dead. I can't imagine the shame of living with having saved my own skin while doing nothing to save hundreds of young people for whom I was responsible. A Korean school vice-principal, who was among those rescued, has already taken his own life.  In light of the current suicide rate in South Korea, I wouldn't be surprised if Captain Lee eventually goes that route, too. The Korean ferry sinking was a tragedy for everyone involved.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Long vowels

Dd9 has known for years that long vowels generally say their name and that they are indicated by a horizontal line over the vowel. She couldn't resist getting involved as I was teaching dd4 a reading lesson today, butting in and telling her what the long sound of a certain vowel was. Just as I thought that we'd moved on and that dd9 was back to doing her own schoolwork, dd9 stood up, held her pen horizontally over her head, and said her name over and over again. She was being a long vowel. She laughed at her own joke till her face turned red.

I admit I inflict some painfully puerile jokes on my children, and I suspect that what I make go around is going to be coming around for a long time to come.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kites

It's finally spring. We went out two afternoons last week and flew kites. Only one kite flew really well, though, and it was a flimsy little plastic thing that looks as though it might have come from the dollar store. Our bigger, fabric kites just never stayed up for long. The flimsy kite stayed aloft so well that I could get it up in the air and then hand the string over to dd2 to "fly it" for a while.

We hit the dollar store yesterday and bought three cheap-o kites. Also, dd9 used a garbage bag to make a diamond kite, which she wants to try out. Now we just need for the breezes to pick up again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#432 Carnival of Homeschooling: Homeschooling & Farms

With spring finally here--although I fully expect some more snow before the month is out because that's just how weather is in Colorado--for this Carnival of Homeschooling, I thought I'd look at intersections of homeschooling and farming.

Many parents, homeschooling or not, have a strong desire to teach their children about nature in-depth. My father liked to take us hiking, and my parents had us children grow a garden and raise chickens. One year we even raised a steer in our backyard for a while. He was rather bad-tempered (I wonder if he understood our nickname for him, "Dinner") and got out sometimes, wandering up and down our residential street, which taught us the importance of locking up gates securely.

While this is by no means solely a homeschooler phenomenon, I've seen many of my friends and relatives who lean towards homeschooling raise chickens and/or other livestock, grow big gardens, and dream of the little farm they're going to have someday out in a rural setting. Here are several blogs I found of homeschoolers living (or at least pursuing part of) that dream:
For those like the Bruggietales in Australia, who have achieved the dream of country life, it's a field trip for the children to go to the city where the buildings and planes are so close together.

I love to encourage my children in their desire to grow a garden. Last week, we focused our Friday schoolwork on learning about seeds and Colorado agriculture.

Of course, there are several carnival submissions that don't really have to do with farm life:

O'DonnellWeb gives us an  informative post on college admissions and interviews. (I can't help but point out, though, that he gives partial credit for his daughter's scholarship-winning interview skills to the nine years experience she has in competitive horse judging, which is loosely connected to farming.)

Henry Cate of Why Homeschool posts about how in both software development and life, it is often not the first solution but the second, third, or even fourth that turns out to be the best one. It's a valuable lesson to teach one's children.

Down a Rabbit Trail: Interest-Led Learning with a Charlotte Mason Flair submits this insightful post on narration a la Charlotte Mason.

Tea Time with Annie Kate shares a summary of the books in the Camp X historical fiction series about WWII. It looks like a really fun series; we're not Canadian, but I might be handing it to my children to read in a few years, especially since it shows that not all the German officers were Nazis (I'm part German :) ).

Nerd Family announces the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which looks like an awesome contest. I wish my children were old enough to participate. The deadline to enter is April 22.

In closing, here are some free homeschooling resources I found on farming.
Thanks to all those who submitted blog posts!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Seeds at Springtime

Although we're getting a snowstorm tonight, it's still officially springtime, and my girls are trying to start their gardens by planting seeds in egg cartons and keeping the soil moist until the seeds sprout. Yesterday for our Friday schoolwork--usually light and consisting mainly of PE, Art, Science, and Colorado History--we learned about seeds.

For science we watched a YouTube videos on how seeds germinate. We were all surprised to learn that seeds need oxygen to sprout. It turns out that until sprouting plants can do photosynthesis to make oxygen, they need a little oxygen from outside sources. The children especially liked a time lapse recording of bean seeds sprouting.

For Colorado History, we watched YouTube videos on Colorado agriculture. Given a long local drought and my failures at gardening here during those years, I thought that agriculture in this state couldn't be very significant. Was I wrong. Besides Olathe sweet corn, Rocky Ford melons, and Palisade peaches, Colorado produces greenhouses of lettuce, lots of cattle and sheep, and even potatoes. Maybe I need a greenhouse....

For PE, I found a "farmer" inspired workout on YouTube that I had the kids watch and imitate. It was the least successful part of our formal studies on Friday.

For art, I told them about "seed art" (much like making mosaics with seeds) and showed them many examples of seed art from the internet. Dd9 was interested enough to pull out our bag of wild birdseed and make a little flower. Here's a photo of her work.

"just a flower"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Carnival of Homeschooling will be here next week!

Hi! I'll be hosting the next carnival of homeschooling here on Tuesday of next week. Please submit entries to be included in it by 6 p.m. on Monday. The instructions for how to do it are at this link. I look forward to seeing all your great posts!

Carnival of Homeschooling

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Homeschool Carnival

I will be so happy when this day is over. My girls keep yelling to try to surprise other family members or playing dumb pranks on each other (grated cheese in a sister's hair at dinner? really??). I need some ideas for harmless, genuinely amusing April Fool's Day jokes. There's a homeschool carnival up that makes it almost sound as though April Fool's Day could be fun. Maybe next year I'll try some of their ideas.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fonts

Every week, I send out a newsletter to our extended family. When I'm pregnant, I come up with possible and/or silly names for the coming addition to use in the signature line.

This pregnancy, I've been using names of typefaces available in MS Word: Vrinda, Helvetica, Euphemia, Ebrima, and Perpetua. As long as they end with the letter "a", they can work as a girls' name, given U.S. naming trends. My mother was appalled at Ebrima; she thought I was seriously considering it as a name. Heehee.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Break

We did hardly anything that would qualify as "school work" this week because it is the local schools' spring break. As part-time school attenders, we decided we were on vacation, too.

We went to the zoo, visited the library, hung out with cousins who live an hour away and sewed and stuffed long snake toys, and had a playdate with some friends. My children learned more about sewing and crafts, grew better at rollerskating, and worked on developing their social skills. :)

My oldest child even learned to use a glue gun in the course of making a gray jay's nest for a school project; it involved gluing a lot of leaves and twigs together. And lots of running her fingers under cold water in the kitchen sink, which was right by where I was having her use the glue gun. However do those birds make such strong nests without glue guns? Nature is amazing.

Dd4 started seriously acting up about a week ago, and I realized that she was probably bored. She wasn't ready to learn to read a few months ago, so I dropped it. But now she is ready and needs her mind stimulated by non-destructive pursuits such as reading, so we started doing the lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We already finished 11 lessons, and she's doing great. She surprised me as we were driving into the zoo by looking at one of the zoo signs and saying, "Mommy, that sign says zoo!" It's such a great pleasure to watch a young child "crack" the reading code.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Boring trend in children's movies

I've noticed a trend in children's movies during the last few years. It seems that the big breakthrough that makes it possible for the hero/heroine to prevail is that they learn to "be themselves" and then maybe die for some greater good. That's it? Death is unpleasant but relatively easy. Whatever happened to putting forth some effort to be skillful knights, clever damsels, or even prettily-singing princesses and poor-but-honest shoeshine boys? Maybe I'm missing something as I observe these recent movies with half-minded attention from the kitchen, but they seem to be fixated on telling kids that they're awesome just for being themselves. Oh, and that heroes win by dying.

Now, I see nothing wrong with teaching children that they are of worth. They are. But awesomeness goes quite a bit beyond regular human worth. Most children truly haven't done anything to merit the label "awesome." Mozart, the four-year-old-concerto-composer, is notable for being an exception to this general rule.

It's really easy to be one's self (who else are we?) and rather boring on top of that, unless one thinks that one's self is just so cool. We can't all be that cool, or the word loses its meaning (i.e., excellent).

I love the movies where the children's heroes actually have to do something hard--besides just die in the face of doom that was impending anyway--to overcome the odds and give us a victory worth watching. For example, the Incredibles and Mulan showed great examples of effort, skill, and intelligence combined with sacrifice, and both movies can still bring me to tears. Flynn from Tangled is an acceptable hero because of how he turns away from his former selfish ways and cleverly figures out a way to save Rapunzel instead of himself. Anna from Frozen was a mediocre attempt at a heroine (she was already dying with no guarantee that Kristoff, whom she'd met even more recently than her weasel-fiance, could save her when she chose to run over to shield her sister), but judging from my Facebook feed, Elsa is the more popular character, and her character is an unfortunate victim, not a hero, so I'll probably not buy that film. Wreck-It Ralph was the primary inspiration for this blog post.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Third Trimester

I made it! Less than three months until this little girl joins our family.

In the past, I have gone past 40 weeks of pregnancy, but I refuse to do it this time. There is nothing to be gained by waiting to go into labor naturally once I'm past 39 weeks unless my body surprises me by not being ready for labor then, which would be extremely unusual given my past history. My Bishop score (a measure of how successful induction will likely be) is already halfway to where it needs to be because this will be my fifth baby. Also, I'm approaching 40 years old, and I know women near my age who have miscarried around 40 weeks. Recent research makes it clear that, given my circumstances, I can maximize my chances of my baby surviving and even minimize my chances of harm to myself by delivering her at 39 weeks. I'm already planning to take myself out for Indian food in 11 weeks...and then having a medical induction if that doesn't work. :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Vitamin K shot for newborns

Today I came across this blog post by a mom who neglected to get a Vitamin K shot for her newborn little girl. The mom didn't intentionally opt out of the shot; she had a postpartum hemorrhage that made it so everyone at the birth center forgot about discussing whether to give the shot to the baby. Her one-month-old baby became lethargic and ended up having a very serious medical issue due to Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB):
Dr. Mellema explain that a clot had developed which was placing immense pressure on Olive’s brain. Not only that, but there was bleeding on the back of the right side of her brain as well. The water pockets that are within the brain were completely destroyed, and the tissue on the left side of the brain looked mostly damaged. He said that the lack of Vitamin K in Olive’s system resulted in her body’s inability to clot. Anything as small as putting her down in her bed could have caused this bleed. Since she couldn’t clot, the bleeding didn’t stop. There had been one other case of this that the doctor had seen – I asked what had happened then, and was told that the baby hadn’t lived. We were told that in the small chance that she did survive, Olive would most likely suffer from severe brain damage.

The mother is LDS, so it was easy to put myself in her shoes as she described her reactions and then her reliance on doctors, faith, and priesthood blessings. I'm happy to say that the baby is doing much better and doesn't show signs of severe brain damage now.

The mother recently posted that her baby's brain bleeding was nearly 100% preventable and encouraged everyone to get the Vitamin K shot for their newborns. I second her encouragement. Vitamin K is not a vaccine, and it's distressing to see the Vitamin K shot get lumped in with childhood immunizations and declined by those worried about vaccine risks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Radioactive

Over Christmas, my children's visiting nine-year-old cousin introduced them to the music video for "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons. They love the puppets, and the actors in it are talented and well-known--hurrah for Lou Diamond Phillips, who will always be a calculus-learning Angeleno to me even if he really is a Filipino-American raised in Texas--so the video became an oft-played favorite. So much so that when dd9, dd7, and dd4 were swinging at the park today, they started singing "Radioactive" at the top of their voices. Pretty much the whole song. As loud as they could.

And since I was pushing dd4's swing the whole time, I couldn't escape and pretend not to be associated with them. Those were my sweet little girls, filling the park with these shouted lyrics:
I'm waking up to ash and dust I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust I'm breathing in the chemicals
I'm breaking in, shaping up, then checking out on the prison bus This is it, the apocalypse
Whoa I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones Enough to make my systems blow Welcome to the new age, to the new age Welcome to the new age, to the new age Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh, oh, I'm radioactive, radioactive

Parenthood is great.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Field Trip to Texas

We have mostly recovered from a field trip to Texas last week. My husband's work sent him to the SXSWedu (South by Southwest Education) conference in Austin, Texas, so we decided to all go along.

We saw the longhorn cattle in Fort Worth, the Alamo and the River Walk in San Antonio, and the Texas State Capitol in Austin. We also visited relatives and friends and spent some unplanned time getting the car serviced.

River Walk in San Antonio, Texas

For my animal lover, dd9, we made sure to go to SeaWorld San Antonio. I know there is a lot of controversy right now about orcas in captivity, especially due to the recent documentary Blackfish, but I think she is too young to try to sort through the competing claims of that issue, so I haven't shown it to her. Personally, I consider it valuable for some well-cared-for animals to be on exhibition to the public. If it weren't for the existence of zoos and similar places, my children probably wouldn't love animals nor be concerned for their welfare. Not everyone can (or probably should) go chasing whales and dolphins around on tour boats.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Old stuff

On Friday, we were learning about Texas history and geography. I found a 10-minute video online from the 1950s about the Southwest states (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma) that was quite interesting for its historical value. For starters, it is all in black and white. That's unusual to my children. When talking about agricultural products, it shows a line of black men picking cotton--calling them "Negroes", incidentally, which is a term my children never hear--but nowadays cotton is mechanically picked in the USA. Cotton is only picked by hand in developing countries. It's sobering to realize that my mother and father grew up in a country that was similar in many ways to today's developing countries.

Among other fun parts of the video, all the people, male and female, walking down city streets wear hats, and the women are all in skirts. It talks about the large herds of Angora goats being raised in Texas to meet the demand for mohair; I'd bet those herds are quite a bit smaller now. The Northeast is described as being the source of manufactured goods for the Southwest; nowadays, it seems we get most everything manufactured from Asia, especially China.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Inevitable?

My husband overheard someone talking yesterday about feminism and the fight against "patriarchy." It made me think: It's a truism in relationships that the person who cares less about the relationship has more power. And aren't men, for whatever reason, less committed on average to staying faithful to the women in their lives? The evidence seems to point that way. So doesn't that make it inevitable in the realm of western heterosexual relationships that men will tend to have a bit more power than women? Doesn't that cause a small degree of male dominance, i.e., patriarchy, to be inevitable? And are there other areas of life where the matriarchy, i.e., women, will inevitably end up more powerful on average? What would they be? My first thought is parenting, for biology makes it so that mothers are more likely to be physically proximate to their children than are fathers.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Venezuela and Communist Ideals

Venezuela has an enormous amount of wealth in oil reserves, but the people there don't even have enough toilet paper. I sincerely hope that they oust Maduro soon. They're never going to get a perfect president, but surely they can get one that doesn't destroy businesses like nationalizing Chavez (who enriched himself to the tune of a billion USD by the time he died) and Maduro have done.

If there is one thing that last century's history teaches us, communist systems do not work for long. Even voluntary communes (kibbutzim, United Order, Brook Farm, etc.) fall apart or move away from communist ideals over time. People are, on the whole, beings that look out for their own interest. People need to be able to profit from their labor and investment, or they will not labor or invest. People need free markets, or they will create black markets.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happies

My baby just turned two. She says "Please!" when she wants something, draws "happies" (happy faces) on pieces of paper (we think she might finally have figured out that she really isn't allowed to draw in books, especially library books), and likes to dress up in dresses and pretend to be a ballerina.

I love seeing my children grow up. Sometimes the process seems so slow--I blame pregnancy and postpartum fatigue for that--but as I put old-fashioned clip-on earrings and a grown-up necklace on dd9 last night for a church "tea party" (no actual tea, just water, but lots of sweets and flowers), I had a momentary vision of her in ten years, a lovely, fun-loving, and self-assured 19-year-old dressing up for a special evening.

I think she actually will be a confident young woman. I'm very grateful for the chance to homeschool/part-time public school her these past few years. She has an Aspie streak and exhibits social delays similar to those which made some of my school years miserable, and I think our current schooling arrangement is going to allow her to skip a lot of that misery herself. Children need socialization time in a group setting of peers, but it's torture for some children to have to be in those situations 35+ hours a week (much more if one counts extracurriculars and social media interactions). I didn't really start recovering from my "pariah years" in grades 5-6 until I was homeschooled for a semester in 8th grade. Sometimes kids just need a break. Emotional wounds are like scabs in that they need to be left alone for a while in order to heal.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Too much choice? Ain't no such thing.

Both my family and that of one of my sisters live in Colorado, a veritable wonderland of school choice options. My sister lives in an affluent area with good schools, especially the multiple charter school options. She has homeschooled in the past and utilized a part-time enrollment option at a charter school, and her children now go to a Core Knowledge charter school full-time, and everyone in the family seems very pleased with it. But she was telling me that sometimes she worries that maybe she should be sending her children to a different charter school because that might be a better school. She complained that having "too many choices" made life harder because she didn't know for certain whether she was picking the best choice. I've heard the claim that "too much choice doesn't make people happier" from a local parent, too, after she had taken her child out of the charter school that my children attend part-time.

I energetically proclaim that there is no such thing as "too much choice" when it comes to school options! One might as well complain that life is "harder" because we have the option of shopping at stores besides Kmart or picking our own spouses. Yes, there are opportunity costs to worry about, but freedom to choose the stores and spouses we most prefer easily trumps those.

My husband is happy at his job, but as savvy workers do, he gets emails from professional organizations about job openings in his field. Today he forwarded me one from a smallish city in central Texas. Since we're snow-and-cold-bound (the kids are watching Wild Kratts and weaving today), I spent a couple of hours researching the city in Texas, and the educational options there are appalling for a family like ours (bookish, non-sporty, interested in different cultures and science, etc.).

The public schools there have drug and gang problems and don't seem very focused on academics (which I thought was kind of the point of schools, silly me), and the only charter school in town appears VERY focused on sports with just a teensy mention of academics on their website. There are no part-time enrollment options; unlike nearly half the country, Texas hasn't figured out how to let homeschooled kids attend choir, band, and track at the local public schools for which their parents are paying property taxes--opposition to such participation appears to be based on worries about multiple Tim Tebows "unfairly" competing against the public school jocks. Again, silly me for thinking that schools care about a little thing like actual education when there are sports to worry about. 

The university in town doesn't appear to accept part-time enrollment of high-school aged kids unless they are dual-enrolled full-time high school juniors or seniors. The local community college is geared towards very low level academics (cosmetology?). The private schools and one homeschool co-op are nearly all associated with specific non-inclusive religious views, and from an earlier post you can probably guess how unwilling I would be to put my children in educational environments that construe the Bible to require the rejection of modern scientific findings. There are online charter schools in Texas, but I don't need some bureaucrat's favorite curriculum jammed down my throat for the entire school day; I can choose my own textbooks, thank you. What I need is a moderate amount of classroom enrichment for my kids as a supplement to their personal and academic development, and there seems to be nothing of the kind available in central Texas.

Here in Colorado, we have school choice (i.e., one can "permit" into schools outside of the assigned ones, space allowing, and funds follow the student) and many different kinds of charter schools, including ones that fund college classes for students who are ready for them. The public school districts have to actually try (gasp!) to attract families, so they offer Montessori-style schools, part-time programs for homeschoolers, part-time enrollment at regular schools, etc. And yet somehow we haven't seen an explosion in homeschooled kids destroying the local athletics scene for everyone else. 

Viva la choice! To misquote Trace Adkins' country song, "I Ain't Never Had Too Much Fun,"
Too much choice, what's that mean? It's like too much money, there's no such thing. It's like a girl too pretty, with too much class, Being too lucky, a car too fast. No matter what they say I've done, well, I ain't never had too much choice.

My husband can just ignore that job posting in central Texas.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Weaving

Dd9 learned to weave on a cardboard loom at her part-time school program today. She was so delighted with the product (a little 2x8 inch four-color weaving) that she taught dd4 and dd6 to do it this evening. They spent around 2 hours or more on it. Dd6 was very frustrated several times, but dd9 patiently helped her, as well as doing most of the work on dd4's weaving. 

I would have never attempted this craft with such young children, but dd9 can sometimes be quite dogged about things she is interested. Glad it worked out well tonight!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

So sad, so unnecessary

Two years ago, a friend lost her baby due to attempting to give birth at home. My youngest daughter is about the same age that my friend's baby would have been. Today my daughter is feeding herself Cheerios in milk (with only a little bit of spilling) and delighting in hearing the same few books read to her over and over. She says "yank-oo" ("Thank-you") and cries when one of her parents leaves the house without her. She is, to get to the point, a darling.

While I get to be happy with my little daughter, my friend is left mourning because she trusted that "natural childbirth" was superior. While I'm the first to say that relatively uncomplicated labors are terrific for those fortunate enough to have them, nature is often very unkind and, without modern medicine, would damage or destroy many more infants and mothers than it does in the developed world. I'd far rather have had four surgical births than lose one of my babies.

On a brighter note, I had my 20-week ultrasound this week. Baby #5 appears healthy and is also a girl! Five little girls. I never imagined I'd get a string of just one gender. I now call my husband Mr. Bennet (as in Pride and Prejudice) sometimes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Learning disabilities

I'm torn when I hear that someone has been diagnosed with a learning disability. It's clear that some people's brains work differently from others, and it's important to know what those differences are in order to help them work around or better utilize the brains that they have. But, on the other hand, the practical effect of getting a learning disability label often seems to be a long-term lowering of expectations for the labeled person, which is unfortunate.

Other people have covered this subject far better than I could. For instance, Bright Hub Education gives a summary of the pros and cons of being labeled with a learning disability:
Pros - IEPs, extra learning support, and specialized instruction
Cons - low self esteem, low expectations, and peer issues

At the end of the Bright Hub Education summary, the author gives a few ideas of what can be done to lessen the cons of being labeled:
Teachers can help prevent the negative consequences of the label by taking a few proactive steps to minimize the chance of problems occurring. Counselors and teachers should talk with learning disabled students and their parents and explain that a learning disability does not take away a student's value, that each person learns at a different pace and in a different manner and the school intends to provide the specialized education required to help the student achieve success. Parents and teachers should also be careful not to lower their expectations for the student and instead offer positive encouragement. Finally, teachers should talk to the class about learning disabilities and how different paces and styles of instruction are used. Open classroom discussions about learning disabilities can help to create an understanding between peers.

Those sound like laudable ways to address the problems, but I don't think they are as generally effective as educators and parents hope they will be. How can parents and teachers not lower expectations when they're being told that a child is not as able at learning as his/her classmates? And positive encouragement can backfire when used with children who are insecure about their abilities. Anti-bullying programs are associated with a increased rate of bullying, which makes it questionable whether open class discussions about learning disabilities will decrease bullying of those with learning disabilities. Schools may "intend" to provide "the specialized education required to help the student achieve success" but might fail at actually doing so due to lack of qualified personnel and resources.

Given that homeschooling helps a parent address both low self esteem (no classmates to compare one's self with) and peer issue worries, I can see why many parents choose to homeschool children with learning disabilities. At home, they can provide individual educations and extra learning support to their children, and they can independently seek out the specialists that their children need. It's a lot of work (and money to pay for the specialists), and I'm impressed by their efforts on behalf of their children.