Friday, December 18, 2015

Autism Advance

Good news from the field of autism research today! For the first time, they've been able to link a neurotransmitter in the human brain to autistic behavior. Thank you, Harvard.

The neurotransmitter in question is GABA, an inhibitory transmitter. I bet some supplement makers are about to make a lot of money.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Snow Day!

Our exchange student is so excited that our part of Colorado is being hit by a blizzard right now because the schools have been closed for tomorrow. She literally danced for joy when she found out. She does like school and is a diligent, intelligent student. But snow days are just fun!

My children won't get a snow day from their usual homeschool studies, though. It will be too cold--high wind chill expected--for them to go outside during the morning, so they might as well be kept busy learning. They like to learn. For their recreational reading, they more often than not pick non-fiction books. At their age, I was a bookworm who read all kinds of historical fiction and fantasy. My home life was quite stressful, and I escaped into books, often wonderful books that taught me much and gave me a lot of hope. Nevertheless, I'm pleased that my children don't feel the need to escape their lives the way I did.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Psychologists vs Faith (in something bigger than psychology)

The religion-hating media voices are delighted with a recent study, one article even declaring, "religious kids are jerks" (really, that's in the title). Here's a link to the study: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(15)01167-7

To sum up, 1000 children from 6 different countries were asked to help distribute stickers to classmates by an authority figure; religious kids gave an average of 3 stickers away, while non-religious kids gave an average of 4 stickers away. They were also surveyed as to whether and how a person should be punished for intentionally shoving or bumping another person; religious children were less tolerant of the shoving and more supportive of punishments for the shover.

The study shows its bias by declaring that religious kids are more selfish and punitive. Imagine if the findings had been the reverse. We'd have the media trumpeting that religious kids are more likely to try to curry favor with teachers and classmates (i.e., insecure, needy, and obsequious due to thinking there's a supreme being out there who they should please) as well as more tolerant of bullying by others. 

Religious people can't win these days. The psychologists really do hate them. As does anyone who would label a kid a "jerk" over a difference of one worthless sticker.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Addiction

I'm reading a very interesting book right now. It's called The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease. Marc Lewis, a neuroscientist with a past of drug addiction, argues that addiction is a normal process of the brain and is no more a disease than is falling love. Apparently, on a brain scan, addiction and falling in love look alike. He says,

Then why should we reject the disease model?
The main reason is this: Every experience that is repeated enough times because of its motivational appeal will change the wiring of the striatum (and related regions) while adjusting the flow and uptake of dopamine. Yet we wouldn't want to call the excitement we fell when visiting Paris, meeting a lover, or cheering for our favourite team a disease. Each  rewarding experience builds it own network of synapses in and around the striatum (and OFC), and those networks continue to draw dopamine from its reservoir in the midbrain. That's true of Paris, romance, football, and heroin. As we anticipate and live through these experiences, each network of synapses is strengthened and refined, so the uptake of dopamine gets more selective as rewards are identified and habits established. Prefrontal control is not usually studied when it comes to travel arrangements and football, but we know from the laboratory and from real life that attractive goals frequently override self-restraint. We know that ego fatigue and now appeal [the author's term for delay discounting], both natural processes, reduce coordination between prefrontal control systems and the motivational core of the brain....So even though addictive habits can be more deeply entrenched than many other habits, there is no clear dividing line between addiction and the repeated pursuit of other attractive goals, either in experience or in brain function.
(p. 163)

Some of his evidence for not treating addiction like disease is that people can get over substance abuse without medication--since when do 12-step programs cure cancer? If programs that address thoughts and habits can overcome addiction, then it's not a physical disease the way we usually think of it. 75% of US soldiers using heroin during the Vietnam war came home and kicked the habit once they were back in their usual opportunity-rich environments. Merely changing a person's outward circumstances doesn't heal a "disease."

Also, behavior addictions are often just as severe as substance addictions. Video gaming young men in Asia come to mind. Pornography addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, hoarding, compulsive shopping, binge eating, etc. Nearly anything that gives us temporary pleasure can take over our lives, it would seem.

How to beat addiction, according to Lewis? First, protect children from too much adversity early in their development. The more trauma they experience, the more likely they are to grow up and find solace in negative behaviors that give temporary feelings of relief. Second, "redirect" the biology of desire; simple repression is less effective because we get fatigued repressing our desires. People need a long-term perspective that gives them motivation to seek longer-term goals. "Humans need to be able to see their own lives progressing, moving, from a meaningful past to a viable future. They need to see themselves as going somewhere, as characters in a narrative, as making sense. In addiction the relentless preoccupation with immediate rewards carves a small burrow out of the potential richness of time." People need a personal, emotion-saturated story with bigger goals than just short-term satisfaction of an appetite. Cognitive behavioral methods can help people explore their choices and examine and modify their personal beliefs, but they're not enough to beat out desire. Instead, harness the power of desire to serve more ultimately rewarding goals.

One painful conclusion--which the author probably never intended to convey--that I reached from this book is that addicts don't love others enough. The heartbroken family members who cry "You just don't care about us enough to change!" might be right. Is it the addicts' fault that they don't love enough? Are they damaged from traumatic childhood experiences? Should we blame our materialistic, individualistic society that devalues loving service to family and community? What religious beliefs help or hinder the processes of becoming addicted and recovering from addiction?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Eating Well

After five children, would you believe that I weigh more than I want to? Haha. I'm an American woman. I've almost always weighed more than I want to. A 2008 study said that 3/4 of the women in the USA have "disordered eating." We simply have so much food available. Food makes us temporarily happy, and it's nearly everywhere.

I am 5'6" and weigh 180 lbs. Not super dangerous health-wise, but not particularly great, either. I would like to fit in my clothes easily--a challenge for most of my life since I was bullied in fifth grade and stopped trying to play with other kids at recess--and be a healthy weight in order to have our last planned child.

Recently I read an extremely helpful book by Judith S. Beck which applied cognitive behavioral therapy to eating-related behavior, i.e., diets. The four fundamental principles were:

  1. Remind yourself frequently of the advantages of your planned weight loss and how great you'll feel.
  2. Sit down when you eat; pay attention to what you eat and savor every bite.
  3. Give yourself lots of credit for each time that you stick to your eating plan.
  4. Practice portion control.

Other helpful principles included not having unrealistic eating plans, bodies don't care that it's a holiday (extra calories are still extra calories), remembering that hard situations will pass, distract yourself from off-plan eating with things that you really like to do, your happiness and health are more important than the wishes of a person pressing unneeded food on you in a social setting, eating because of stress doesn't make the stressor go away plus it adds more stress in the form of guilt and extra weight, and making an eating mistake doesn't warrant making lots more mistakes for the rest of the day.

Sitting down when I eat has been a big area for improvement for me. Fixing food for my family means I'm frequently in the kitchen, tasting and satisfying hunger with little snacks while preparing food. Also, our kitchen table is small, so during lunch, I often end up sitting at the computer desk to eat, which results in my eating absent-mindedly while I read news, email, and Facebook. I have ceased eating at the computer in the past week. It's hard not to give in sometimes to my old habit, but it's a good change that I'll keep.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Mindfulness

I recently attended a presentation on mindfulness, a subject I've been intrigued by for a couple of years due to its recent use in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. According to the speaker, the three central principles of mindfulness are "Presence," "Compassion," and "Acceptance." By "Presence," he meant being focused in the moment. "Compassion" means kindness toward all. "Acceptance" means embracing suffering and accepting reality while not judging others or one's self. He also talked about meditation, viewing one's thoughts and feelings as though a distant observer, periodic solitude, and diminishing one's worldly ambition.

He led us through a bit of deep breathing and being quiet. He shared a few anecdotes and his own thoughts, but he didn't seem to be interested in sharing any one else's insights. I appreciated some of the information he presented and the chance to think through some ideas without my little children underfoot. I did find his presentation more self-centered than I would have expected from someone who makes his living teaching mindfulness to others, and that was distracting.

One audience member objected to the instruction to be non-judgmental, arguing that judgment is a valuable attribute of being human. I agree with that objection for two reasons. 1) The term "non-judgmental" currently carries the connotation of condemning judgment, which is contradictory and negative; mindfulness is about presence, not avoidance and repression. 2) From what I've read of mindfulness--at least when used therapeutically--it's not so much that one turns off judgment as chooses to delay it while observing and accepting what is. I believe that, instead of wasting effort trying to turn off judgment, it's essential to focus on being humble, for keeping in mind one's own limited knowledge makes it easier to stay judgment while seeking new insights about the thoughts and feelings of ourselves and others.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brazen

Today in the checkout line at the grocery store, I happily waved the DVD cover of the recently released Jurassic World, which I was buying for my husband as a surprise. He loves the Jurassic Park movies. The customer just in front of me told me and the cashier that she had already seen the movie. She said that she has a friend who downloads the movies off the internet while they're still in the theater, that the downloaded versions are of really good quality, and that her friend only charges $5 per movie.

Yeah.

That there's called piracy, lady. And you have no shame at all about funding and benefiting from it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Scandinavia, Socialism, and a Surgeon

Despite the media giants being dead-set on Hillary Clinton being the next president (I remember them already burnishing her public image 20 years ago when she was a president's wife who clearly wanted to be much more), some of my Democrat friends are quite excited about Bernie Sanders. He seems to be promising a lot of "free" stuff.*

From Wikipedia:
A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders favors policies similar to those of social democratic parties in Europe, particularly those instituted by the Nordic countries.

All this Scandinavia-dreaming strikes me as rather racist. The same policies, when attempted elsewhere, rarely work out well (Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China when communist, Italy, Greece, etc.), but fans of democratic socialism keep longing to be like Scandinavia. What they're really saying--but don't realize it--is that they want the USA to be Scandinavian. Sorry to invoke Hitler and his Nazi crew, but they would no doubt feel a bit vindicated by the continuing adulation of the Nordic people.

I think I'm most favorably impressed by Ben Carson. As a man with a scientific background, he seems to be the only candidate aware of how numerical and physical realities get in the way of ideologies making good on their promises. Any experienced doctor knows that no matter how good your intentions, mortal weaknesses mean your patient might not benefit from your ministrations. Also, after what our foreign policy has been for the last long while, I'd love to see a "do no harm" approach in the White House. At the very least, we should be focusing on not doing harm to our allies.

* Nothing provided by the government is really free, is it? Unless we plan to repudiate some of our national debt down the road, which would be pathetic considering the size of our economy. From what I can see, the Tea Party movement exists because some people (but rarely politicians) quite rationally think that the federal and local government should rein in spending so that we don't overtax producers and eventually sink in a Greece-style debt quagmire. The US federal government is up to nearly 18.5 trillion USD in debt, and almost nobody in politics or media wants to mention it anymore.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Baking soda in the washer

Why did I not hear of putting baking soda in with my laundry until a few weeks ago? I was visiting a sister, and I noticed that she had no laundry detergent. There was just a box of baking soda and a small bottle of something pleasant smelling sitting by her clothes washer. I used some of each, hoping they were what I was supposed to use to clean my clothes, and my clothes were surprisingly clean and soft afterward.

Now I use baking soda all the time in our wash. I do add a little regular laundry detergent because it's hard to shake my conviction that one should use soap to wash clothes. It's probably a bit more expensive than using laundry detergent alone, but why pay less only to have clothes that don't get as clean?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Capitalism Defense

One never hears of a nation facing famine that experiences a resultant flowering of black-market co-ops.

Capitalism organically flows out of normal human desires to enjoy life to the highest degree possible, and it doesn't need the might of the government to force it into being. Unlike socialism or communism.

Capitalism is the enshrinement of "thou shalt not steal." Someone works to create or bring about something. Then they get to keep it. Thus the motivation to work is protected, and more work and creativity will typically ensue.

If a person tries to steal from another in a free market system, the law should step in to prevent theft. The law can also can be used to prevent force or tyranny from distorting the freedom that should be inherent in a free market (mafia, monopolies, etc.).

The free market is not a free-for-all. Regulations to protect basic human health and property are good. Regulations that protect one noisy or well-connected group from its competitors, however, are government-backed monopolies, and black markets can be expected to grow up wherever such regulations have been put into place.

A capitalist system can have a social safety net, but it must be minimal. The net should not be one that rewards an idle person with a more enjoyable life than a worker, or the system will eventually implode as too many opt to be more idle (i.e., "go John Galt"). A hardworking culture can keep that implosion at bay for a couple of generations (see Scandinavia and Germany).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Math delay

Dd8 has been done with her homeschool studies early nearly every day for the past few weeks, while dd10 struggles to get through with her work before lunch and the drive to their charter school. Dd10 doesn't have that many more subjects, and I let her do her grammar exercises verbally most days. I think dd10 spends so much longer on her work because math facts just don't come as easily to her as they do to dd8; she seems to spend a lot of time sighing while sitting over her open math book.

Over lunch today I asked her if she sits over her math sometimes without doing it, and dd10 replied that she often looks off into space. I have challenged her to change that habit so that she doesn't let herself stare into space until after she has finished the problem she is currently doing. A little mental down time is fine, but taking it in the middle of a problem makes it so she essentially starts the problem all over after her stare break.

Hopefully, she can make this small behavior change so that her math lesson doesn't fill all the available time in the morning.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ads and Joy

A friend lamented today that her one-year-old daughter finds joy in everything, while her six-year-old boy finds joy in nothing. She wondered what the world is doing that it steals happiness away from little children so quickly.

She is a very involved mother who takes her children many fun and interesting places. I suspect a main culprit in causing her son's joylessness is advertising.

The purpose of advertising is to make us aware of a product and hopefully desire to obtain that product. How do the creators of advertising manufacture in us a desire to obtain the product, though? If we, the targeted audience, are content with our lives, we are unlikely to disturb ourselves to go out and get the product. What would be the point? We're already happy! So advertisers--sometimes knowingly, sometimes not--frequently present to us messages aimed to diminish our feelings of well-being. Then we're more receptive to the idea of seeking to get our happiness and contentment back by buying their product, which they promise us will make us feel better!

If you want happy children, minimize their contact with ads. Advertisers don't love your children; they see them as market share.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Taiwan (well, food from there)

Studying Taiwan was fun, but the end of the summer was so full of back-to-school events that we really didn't do have time for much besides eating Taiwanese food, which was a mixture of Filipino and Chinese foods.

We ate steamed buns, potstickers, three-cup-chicken, shaved ice desserts, and various stir fry dishes. We ate out at a Chinese restaurant run by a man from Taiwan. We drank grass jelly and basil seed drinks.

Our exchange student from Germany thought it was odd but fun that during her first month here she learned so much about Taiwanese food. I pointed out to her that any food made in America by Americans is technically American food! After all, hamburgers and hot dogs? German-American food, actually. Hamburgers even get their name from the German city of Hamburg.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Carnival of Homeschooling: Yes, Summer is Really Ending Already

Carnival of Homeschooling

Welcome to the Carnival of Homeschooling for August!

It's been summer. Supposedly a period of lazy, hot days of doing nothing much, right? Um, yeah.

Besides welcoming an exchange student from Germany into our home, finishing up math curriculum from last year, and tutoring a teenager in math, we've also been learning about other countries all summer. Right now, we're learning about Taiwan (the grass jelly drink is not going over well, but rice is an eternal favorite in this house). You can read a bit about our less-than-successful trip to observe competitive table tennis at my last post, "Taiwan, Table Tennis, and Toddlers."

What are you doing this summer? Better do it fast, because summer is about over. The teenager I tutor starts school tomorrow. My children are starting the new school year on Monday. The exchange student starts public school next Wednesday.

Did you know that exchange students must attend a regular brick-and-mortar, full-time school? That's one thing the Cates of Why Homeschool found out upon agreeing to host a Japanese exchange student this year, and now they are diving into the experience of being public school parents. Read about it at their Carnival submission, "We are finally going to experience public school."

Mama Laws, who is introducing her new blog, did summer schooling in math and reading with her children. She posts about it in "Mama Laws."

I am intrigued by the Star Wars math and language arts workbooks that Mama Laws mentions. I'll be looking those up on Amazon once I finish posting the Carnival. Coincidentally, last night I finished a project that seems similar to those workbooks. The boy I tutor in math is obsessed with Spider-Man and genetic engineering, so I wrote him a short story in which Spidey goes up against genetically-altered dinosaurs. My daughters helped me illustrate the story, and in each chapter I utilized an algebra concept that the boy has struggled with. It turned out rather well. I think it qualifies as fan fiction, so I'm going to make it available at this Google Docs link for anyone who'd like to download and enjoy it!

Carol at Journey & Destination submitted a beautiful and inspiring post entitled "Culture of Character." Using many quotes from Charlotte Mason, it meditates on the formation of character and helping our children develop the ability to serve others.

That's it for this month's carnival! Thanks to those who submitted, and I hope to see many more submissions in future carnivals because I look at them all and learn much from them.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Peace of Peru

We've been learning about Peru for the past week or two. Today a little Peruvian-American girl presented me with a carton of alfajores (sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche) and informed me that yesterday she and her family were celebrating "the Peace of Peru." It turns out that yesterday and the day before were the Peruvian Independence Days, or Fiestas Patrias! What a fortuitous coincidence.

I'm going to make more alfajores tomorrow with another Peruvian-American friend. We're also going to drink some Inka Cola, a bright yellow beverage that is supposedly super-sweet. My kids should enjoy tomorrow.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Learning about France

I think I gained weight in just the past two weeks. Curse you, tasty French food!

Here are some of the things we did to learn about France this summer:
  • Learned about life in France from my niece, who recently returned from an LDS mission in France and Belgium.
  • Set up a playdate for my daughter with a French friend from school.
  • Did some ballet, taught by my talented sister who majored in dance long ago.
  • Listened to French impressionistic music while viewing slides of French Impressionists' art and painting at the kitchen table.
  • Went to a French bistro and ate croissants and snails. Dd10, dd8, and dd5 all ate the escargot and liked it.
  • Read and watched Madeline books/shows.
  • Read library books about France. You Wouldn't Want to Be an Aristocrat in the French Revolution!: A Horrible Time in Paris You'd Rather Avoid was a favorite of the older girls.
  • Ate a lot of Nutella and some French cheeses.
  • Watched non-fiction videos on Amazon Prime about children living in France.
  • Invited a college student to dinner so she could tell us about her recent study abroad experience in France and show us her souvenirs.
  • Made or bought, then ate apple galette, ratatouille, macarons (not to be confused with macaroons), croque monsieur sandwiches, French bread and baguettes, quiche, chocolate sandwiches (yes, pieces of bread with chocolate between), and several rich dishes seasoned with garlic and herbes de provence.
  • Watched Phantom of the Opera, Aristocats, and Ratatouille.
Macaron cookies. Not sufficiently cylindrical, unfortunately. 

I feel fortunate to have many relatives and acquaintances who can help me teach my children about other countries. Traveling abroad with a large family is prohibitively expensive, so I appreciate everyone that helps fill our home-bound summer country studies with authentic experiences related to those countries. 

I also greatly appreciate the food bloggers and recipe posters and reviewers who make it possible for me to cook Yemeni, French, Lithuanian, Peruvian, and Taiwanese dishes almost immediately.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Learning about Lithuania

We recently finished learning about Lithuania for 2 weeks. Among other things, we did the following:

  • Invited over a friend from church who served as a missionary in Lithuania. She showed us her souvenirs and pictures, wore traditional Lithuanian clothing, and read part of a Lithuanian children's book to us. We baked aguonu sausainiukai--which are poppyseed cookies--ahead of time so we could eat them with her.
  • Made bracelets and necklaces out of wood, shell, and amber beads.
  • Cooked lots of Lithuanian food, including cold beet soup, beet potato salad, cepelinai (blimp shaped potato dumplings filled with meat), and kugelis (a VERY tasty baked dish made of potato, egg, bacon, and milk).
  • Played a little basketball because it's a favorite sport in Lithuania.
  • Celebrated the Lithuanian midsummer day by making flower wreaths and putting them into the water (see the previous post).
  • Ate a lot of thickened yogurt (it should have really been sour cream, but that was just too fattening for me).
  • Watched versions of the folktale about Jūratė and Kastytis. It is about a mermaid sea queen who lives in a castle made of amber underwater; when she falls in love with a mortal fisherman, a jealous thunder god blasts her castle into bits, and that is why amber washes up on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

What fun we had. :) Now we're onto a fortnight or so of studying France. French food is so good, though, that I might squeeze in an extra day or two on France.

This post will be in the July 2015 Carnival of Homeschooling.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Joninės

Happy St. John's Day! This is the midsummer folk festival celebrated in Lithuania right after the summer solstice. We are studying Lithuania right now, so my oldest daughter gathered grass and flowers from the yard, and we all made wreaths. The girls wore them to a park where they launched the wreaths onto the surface of a duck pond.

Joninės wreaths

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Yemen Fortnight

We are finished with our fortnight of studying Yemen. Among other things, we did the following to learn about life there:

  • Ate mangoes, saltah (national dish of Yemen, eaten with a condiment made of ground fenugreek), honey, dates, yogurt, cardamom rice, etc.
  • Listened to Yemeni music on YouTube
  • Watched a movie on Yemen from Amazon and learned about Socotra (like the Galapagos islands as to remoteness and unique flora and fauna, but located in the Indian Sea) from YouTube videos
  • Visited a spice store and did a scavenger hunt for spices used in Yemeni cuisine (fenugreek, pepper, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, etc.)
  • Bought some frankincense incense sticks and burned part of one
  • Toasted spices and ground them with a mortar and pestle to make hawaij, a Yemeni spice mixture
  • Cooked several dishes using hawaij as the seasoning
  • Recited poetry to each other (poetry evenings are a common evening entertainment in Yemen)
  • Learned about oil exploration at the Hunt energy exhibit in the Perot Science Museum in Dallas, Texas (petroleum is Yemen's primary export and approximately 25% of its GDP)
  • Imitated the Yemeni sport of camel jumping by having my kids and their cousins run and jump over each other's backs
  • Learned about social issues such as child brides and the current civil war in Yemen (we visited friends and family for a week, often sleeping on cots or the floor, so we could show the children what life is like for a displaced person fleeing civil war)
  • Learned how to say "Good appetite!" in Arabic: bil-hanā' wa ash-shifā'

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yemeni Food

While Yemen is not a wealthy country, its cuisine benefits from its location near India. They make heavy use of coriander, cumin, and cardamom. Some of the Yemeni recipes we've been eating this week have been delicious. My husband--a Midwesterner who kindly tolerates all my cooking experiments even though he would just as soon eat pizza, lasagna, and deli meat sandwiches all the time--really liked the cardamom rice I prepared yesterday. He would actually like me to make it again, which is a rare request coming from him.

If you're looking for Yemeni recipes, I recommend the website Queen of Sheba Yemeni Foods. It's in English and has clear instructions and helpful photos for many Yemeni recipes. Besides the cardamom rice, our family has enjoyed hawaij (a Yemeni spice mixture which we toasted and ground ourselves), banana milk (banana, milk, a little sugar, and almond+vanilla flavoring all in the blender) and a rose lemon drink (basically lemonade with a little red food coloring and some rose water).

Monday, June 8, 2015

Yemen and Girls

As I posted before, we're learning about Yemen right now. I have five daughters, and nearly everything I find about life for girls in Yemen makes me very sad.

The disparity in education between boys and girls in Yemen is possibly the worst in the world, according to this 2007 article. One of the barriers to education for girls is the lack of female teachers (male relatives don't want their girls taught by male teachers); although there are projects aimed at increasing the numbers of female teachers, there aren't remotely enough yet. Technology could help with the teacher-gender issue, but in Yemen, they are woefully behind at actually implementing new technology. According to this 2013 article, only young government employees in Yemen really utilized computers at work while the older employees persisted in using only paper, and a mere 15% of the country had access to the internet.

Then there is the abominable practice of marrying off young girls, which Yemen refuses to make illegal even though it periodically results in deaths of the poor girls from foreseeable internal injuries. Approximately half of Yemeni girls are married off before turning 18. Their consent is not required by the law; their fathers can simply give them away as wives, often to much older men. Death at childbirth is the primary cause of death for women of reproductive age in Yemen, and women typically cannot receive even emergency medical care at medical centers without authorization from their male guardians (usually their husbands). As if all that weren't bad enough, one strain of Sunni Islam practiced in Yemen promotes female genital mutilation as a religious obligation.

On top of all the above, half of Yemen lives in great poverty and there is currently armed conflict between a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni countries and Iran-backed (i.e., Shiite) Houthi rebels, which has further allowed an Al-Qaeda offshoot to gain territory and influence in Yemen.

When I hear feminists' complaints about "manspreading" on public transportation, I just want to throw something sometimes. Like an atlas. At their desks and opened to maps of places other than Europe or the "Anglosphere." I'm appalled that they waste the energy of their movement on New York subway trivialities when there are places like Yemen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

xyAlgebra

For the last few months, I've been tutoring a smart--but very behind in math--teenage boy with ADHD. By the end of his geometry class, he was fairly confidently using the formulas he'd been learning and had improved a lot in his testing. Then the second semester came, and his class began precalculus. Thus far, it's been all algebra (albeit at a precalculus level), and he is abysmal at algebra.

Thanks to ADHD and being promoted in math for years without really being forced to get his algebra (or even sometimes arithmetic) foundations solid, he's been like a person forced to do a triathlon who still just doggy-paddles. Yes, sometimes he gets through the water, but it's only with incredible effort, and sometimes, despite lots of effort, he just goes under.

Until I proved to him a few months ago why two negatives make a positive, he didn't believe it and certainly didn't apply it correctly. Yet he is supposed to be doing long division of polynomials. Sigh. At least his multiplication facts are solid; otherwise, I'd despair. He mastered those through the video game Timez Attack.

Now that school is almost out, I've got him working independently on algebra basics for the next month. I found several algebra programs online that looked promising--interesting videos and visuals, interactive problem sets, etc.--and tested them on him one afternoon. Without fail, he spaced out during all the videos. The only program that forced him to pay attention and learn something is a free, downloadable one called "xyAlgebra." It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is a great program. A retired professor created it and gives it away for free. While one needs a computer to use it, one doesn't need the internet, which means no YouTube/FB/email distractions for the user. Very good for kids with attention issues! It gets good reviews from others who've tried it, and I found myself "trying it out" for nearly 2 hours the night I downloaded it. It's a solid, engaging (because it goes nowhere till you hit the right buttons, and the "right buttons" change) program.

Yesterday, I had the tutee start working on it at my house to make sure that he didn't have any problems with it. I let him listen to music of his choice while he worked, and he made it through the first 20 lessons (out of 375 total) in an hour. I have high hopes that this will be the tool that helps him finally lay down a solid foundation in algebra. He's supposed to do 20 lessons a day, so we'll see where he is in a month. And if the learning sticks.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Reciprocals

Dd10 is about halfway through her fifth grade math book. She has been learning to multiply and divide fractions. As she started her math lesson today, she asked, "What's a reprotocal?"

"Oh, a reciprocal!" I said excitedly. "Let me show you."

I put her in a standing position directly in front of me saying, "Stand up straight. You're a fraction."

Then I had her lie down on the floor and grabbed her feet firmly. Next I started to lift her into an upside-down position. She's still a foot shorter than me, so I mostly succeeded. Then I said, "Now you're a reciprocal!" She and I shared a good laugh.

Sometimes I really, really love homeschooling.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

Love it, hate it, tomorrow is still a good day to remember that no matter how problematic our family relationships might sometimes be, we owe our lives to our mothers. If my mom knew of this blog's existence, I'd wish her a happy Mother's Day in this post. Instead, I'll just call her after church and talk for a while. I think she'd prefer that anyhow.

Speaking of church, my eight-year-old daughter might be giving a talk in Primary (the LDS children's organization) tomorrow. I was informed of that possibility 2 hours ago, so I quickly drafted a talk for her. The given theme is "Jesus Christ went about doing good." Here's the talk:
Why do we talk so much about following Jesus Christ? Because he saved us from death and from sin, and he showed us the way to live!
How did Jesus live?
He did what Heavenly Father wanted and didn’t break any commandments.
He taught people what to do so that they could become like him.
He healed sick people.
He was kind to people who were being bullied.
He was friendly to everyone.
He gave everyone the gift of resurrection.
He suffered for our sins so that we can repent and live with Him and Heavenly Father in the Celestial Kingdom.
He was nice to his mother—which is worth pointing out on Mother’s Day!
Jesus was the best person who ever lived on the Earth.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Happy Mother's Day to all women who mother!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Footie pajama fix

When a person has five children of the same gender in a row, "passing clothes down" is an integral part of the parental job of providing sufficient clothing. Especially when it comes to the babies and toddlers, who really don't care what they're wearing unless they're on a dress-up-like-a-princess kick.

Footy pajamas are a popular item in our home, but they always wear out first on the bottom of the feet. Then the little toes stick through, making the children uncomfortable. I came up with a fairly quick way to get another couple of years out of footy pajamas when that happens. Here is how:

See the hole at the toes? Not fun to wear.

Turn the pajama foot inside out and place over base a piece of cloth that covers it entirely. 

Pin the cloth to the bottom of the pajama foot.

Sew it on. It doesn't have to look great because it'll be inside the footy.

Trim off excess fabric.

Turn right-side out and trim up anything that needs it. Done!


Friday, March 20, 2015

Self-published!

To help my oldest child learn her math facts, I have written two adventure stories. One teaches addition facts in the context of traveling to different parts of the world. The second, which I just finished, teaches multiplication facts in the context of traveling through time and space (but only on Earth). My daughters are assisting me with the task of illustrating them.

To share the stories with a wider audience, we are "self-publishing" them on Amazon.com. I just uploaded the first book this afternoon. It is called Adding Adventure to Life. The book is about as cheap as it can be ($0.99 for the first one), but it's so fun to see one's own nom de plume in print! (I used a pseudonym because my children are still young, and I want to protect their privacy.) Maybe by summer, we'll have earned enough to go out for ice cream. :)

Here's the link to the book if you are interested in seeing what a self-published e-book looks like on Amazon.com. Or if you feel like donating to an ice cream fund. Either one works.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Refurbishing a blue loft bed

We have a blue and natural wood colored loft bed that looks like this:

Particle board with paper thin veneer
The veneer is attractive, but it is also super thin. After some children had put stickers and clear tape on various parts of it--"but we're decorating, Mommy!"--and I eventually removed them, there were several spots where the blond particle board underneath showed. Not pretty.

I decided to try using a dark blue permanent marker to cover over the ugly areas, but that was less than lovely because the marker's tip always went outside the patch area and got on the undamaged veneer.  So I took a paper towel and soaked it with rubbing alcohol. Right after I colored a damaged spot, I went over it and the surrounding veneer with the alcohol-soaked paper towel. It looked so good that I did the same thing with a regular brown marker on the natural wood parts, and I ended up with a lovely, quick refurbishment job. Under normal room light, the furniture looks nearly new!

Update: I put a 60 watt reading lamp in the recessed area, and I'm sorry to say that my fix doesn't look so good under strong light. Oh, well. It's still much better than it was before I pulled out the markers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Under contract

We are selling a house. It's the one we moved from a while back. It is stressful selling a house, even a starter home. Today we signed a contract with a buyer. Now maybe I can be less preoccupied about house-selling and spend fewer wakeful hours thinking about it when I'd much rather be asleep.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homeschool Carnival

The Carnival of Homeschooling for the month of February is up here. The carnival recently switched from being weekly to being monthly, so there are a lot of submissions. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Subtracting Negative Numbers

Dd10 and dd7 are starting to learn about negative numbers. Not because we've reached them in their math books. (Although, actually we have. Many of the "temperature" problems they do in their math worktexts require them to find differences between positive and negative numbers. It's sneaky, BJU Press, but I love it!) They overhear me talking about negative numbers during tutoring sessions with the teenage boy I tutor.

On Friday, I spent nearly an hour trying to help him see and internalize why subtracting a negative number is the same thing as adding the absolute value of that number. No matter how I approached it, he seemed to view it as some kind of mathematical black magic and not based on reason or reality. There are many ways of explaining why 3-(-2)=5 (this blog post has a few good ones), but nothing seemed to convince him. This is a big problem because he is currently working on line equations at school and has to be able to calculate the slope of a line when given two points on the line. It's difficult to correctly calculate "rise over run" if you can't properly find the differences between x- and y-coordinates that aren't all positive.

The last explanation I tried seemed to work. He is comfortable with the definition of zero and with the algebraic rule "If a = b, then a + c = b + c." So I showed him a brief version of this proof:
______________________________________________
x - x = 0                    (0 is always what we get if
                                 we subtract a number from itself)

(-x) - (-x) = 0            (ditto above)

                       Now add x to both sides of the second
                       equation, which we can do because of
                       the rule "if a = b, then a + c = b + c."

(-x) - (-x) + x = 0 + x

Which, because of the commutative property of addition (order of addition doesn't matter), is the same as...

x + (-x) - (-x) = 0 + x

Which simplifies to...

x - x - (-x) = 0 + x

Which simplifies to...

0 - (-x) = 0 + x

Which is the same as...

- (-x) = x
------------------------------------------------------------
And there you have it. Two negatives make a positive.

He now believes it and is properly applying it.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Crawling

My baby can crawl now. She was working her way up to it for weeks, often backing herself under furniture and yelling for help to get out. She's more content now that she is mobile enough to reach much of what she wants to touch and/or mouth. I love her wide, toothless smiles. :)

I always put her to bed in her crib, but sometime during the night she cries, and then she often ends up with me in bed for the rest of the night. If I leave my bedroom in the morning before she's awake, I have to keep an ear out for her because if she wakes up and lies on the bed too long without being fetched, she can move herself off the bed. It's not super high off the ground, but it's still best to avoid a fall. If you haven't been around a newly mobile baby recently, there's a distinctive "thump-waughh!!" sound they make whenever they fall.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Eating paper & a homeschool morning

Why does my seven-month-old love to chew paper? Is she lacking sufficient cellulose in her diet? She delights in sitting on my lap and pulling papers out of the desk drawer so she can chew on them. Just now, she creeped (mostly backwards, as she hasn't figured out forward motion yet) around my chair and under the low table beside me, where she is happily trilling as she--oops, never mind, she just bumped her head and the happy trills are gone--seeks new paper and plastic toys to stick into her mouth. I have soggy, ragged pieces of paper all around my feet.

Dd2 is playing with her Duplo blocks and zoo animals. Dd5 was just climbing on a bench to get into my "off-limits-to-the-toddler" shelf and came down with a pencil compass, which she announced she will use to make circles. Dd7 is playing with a tricky/magic worm instead of reading about the human body in her Core Knowledge book like she's supposed to be doing. Dd10 is reading from the encyclopedia about the Punic Wars and narrating to me the main idea of each paragraph.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Twins...sort of

Last night I noticed that dd7 had been growing again. In fact, I put her next to dd10--who is not a short girl--and realized that they appear to be the exact same height now.

How did I get "twins" 2.5 years apart? I know children grow at different rates, but isn't it a bit extreme for a seven-year-old to be handing clothing "down" to her ten-year-old sister?

Still, the realization that they share so much DNA yet still are quite different in some ways is a valuable one that ties in with our biology studies for the next few weeks. We will be focusing on genetics.

UPDATE: One of the biology topics we studied today was sexual vs. asexual reproduction. Afterward dd10 did her 1/2 page of Bible reading, which coincidentally was the story of Lot's daughters getting their father drunk and using him to impregnate themselves. She couldn't bring herself to narrate a summary of her reading. What a pity Lot couldn't just clone himself after his wife perished.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fasces

Today my children made a fasces, a bundle of sticks with an axe in it that has been used as a symbol of government power for thousands of years. Here's a picture. (Rubber bands are a very useful invention.)
Fasces

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sick baby

My seven month-old baby is ill. I think it's a cold because she's been snotty. But she definitely has a fever. That means lots of holding and nursing. She's still pretty active, so we just keep monitoring her and taking her temperature once in a while. I'm fairly sure she's not too badly off--she just energetically turned towards the TV screen when the opening song of Dr. Who came on.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Belief vs. Faith

In German, the word for "faith" is "Glaube." In German, the word for "belief" is also "Glaube." Somehow in English, we've ended up with two different words for the same concept: the act of believing, or accepting that something is true. So "faith" often gets treated like an inert noun, a bit like "church" or "religion," while "belief" retains more of an apparent connection to the verb "to believe."

I think it is unfortunate that the English word "faith" isn't obviously linked to an action verb. Faith is a choice, a voluntary acceptance of something that isn't proven to everyone to the point of being considered a "fact."

This subject is on my mind because yesterday, some very bad men thought they acted on God's errand when they slaughtered the staff of a satirical magazine in France. They appear to have acted on three main beliefs: 1) Muhammed was a Prophet so holy his face can't be drawn, 2) any disrespect of Muhammed is blasphemy that merits the harshest punishment, and 3) God approves of them forcing adherence to their own beliefs in brutal ways.

Addressing these beliefs in order and attempting to do so within a framework acceptable to faithful Muslims, 1) Muhammed was drawn by good Muslims for centuries. The Quran does not prohibit drawing Muhammed. Only some hadith do, and they, unlike the Quran, are not accepted by all Muslims. If Muhammed was the last prophet, as Islam claims, then who cares if some imams a while back came up with a new restriction on permissible illustrations? Those imams don't speak for anybody but themselves because they are NOT prophets.

2) Disrespect of a cherished individual or object can be emotionally painful to see and hear (I personally never will watch The Book of Mormon musical), but it doesn't justify violence in response. Even if one follows an "eye for an eye" retributive philosophy, disrespect only justifies more disrespect in turn. Disproportionate punishments--such as execution for a mere verbal insult--is something most of the civilized world considers barbaric, and people are not bound by a book--the Quran--that they don't believe in.

Which leads me to my last point. 3) A religious movement, such as the Taliban or ISIS, that violently forces others to submit to it is an abomination in God's eyes because it removes the opportunity to choose to believe. When God--who has not even given us indisputable evidence of his very existence--tells us to believe in him, he is giving us a choice: to accept him or to not accept him. The ability to choose for ourselves is what makes faith meaningful. There is no such thing as forced faith in the same way that rape cannot be termed an amorous encounter. For that reason, I reject and oppose any interpretation of Islam/Christianity/LDS doctrine/etc. that uses violence to force others to follow it. Such violence removes the agency of a person to choose to follow God, thus destroying faith and enslaving others. (And yes, that criticism applies to some followers of the Pearls almost as much as ISIS.) Good Muslims choose to submit to God according to the teachings of Muhammed. Many people do not choose to submit to Muhammed's teachings, but they must be given the opportunity to make that choice without their survival being under threat or else the choice TO submit (i.e., Islam itself) is made meaningless. I hope that faithful Muslims promote religious movements that do not make a mockery of their own beliefs.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Orthodox Christmas

We've been temporary host parents for a Russian-speaking exchange student for the past three weeks. As one might expect for a sixteen year-old girl during the holidays, she has been homesick. Today is Christmas per the Orthodox Church calendar, and I let her skip school to go celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas at a nearby church. She got to be at an Orthodox worship service, talk to many Russians, and eat Russian food at a potluck lunch. When I picked her up afterward, she looked the happiest I've seen her since we met her.

This afternoon she showed us many pictures of her family and continued be very happy.

It often takes leaving home to realize what we cherish most there.