The Upside Down World

Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I've moved!

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ups and downs

Someone seems to have erased all the cookies on our computer and it took me 2 days to remember my user name and password for blogger - so I've had an extra long break from blogging. I've had some really big ups and really big downs in the past week and a half. However, dwelling on the ups is almost always better for a gal than dwelling on the downs. Soooooo . . . let me share a couple of "good mom" moments I've been hanging onto to even out the down moments.

My 7 year old has been having a hard time getting to sleep since we moved into a new house a couple months ago and I sometimes pray with/over him to try and help settle him and calm him (and to call in the re-inforcements for help!). A couple of days ago he came and asked me to pray with him to help him get to sleep. As always as part of my prayer, I asked God to help me be a good mother to my son. When we finished Collin put his arms around my neck and said, "you don't need to ask for any help being a good mom for me, Mom." That's only because I ask all the time I responded :)

I've never actually made my 11 year old study history because he wasn't interested and I figured we can always study it all in high school anyway. However we have had some talks about various historical events and dynamics. I never know how much he's listening, however and know that I can kill curiosity by giving too much information at the least sign of interest. So you can imagine my delight when Noah explained the relationship between Hitler and Stalin in WWII, how the USSR ended up with half of Germany and Berlin, what the differences between a communist/socialist system and a democratic/capitalist system were and why the Berlin Wall was built when his father casually mentioned something about WWII. I guess that lesson stuck after all.

Noah used the word "non sequitur" in a conversation last week. The poor child's never going to be able to communicate with anyone outside of our family! :)

Collin, who has struggled with controlling his emotional outbursts has kept his cool pretty well for the last couple of weeks. When I mentioned that I had noticed this, he responded, "I just keep remembering that conversation where you explained about big things and little things and I tell myself 'this is just a little thing' and then I don't get upset over it."

Noah has always struggled with fidgeting and focus so when his karate teacher told him he could move into a more advanced class only if he could stop fidgeting and start paying attention, I wasn't surprised. I suggested some mental exercises he could use to harness his excess energy to his benefit in class (it had something to do with visualizing the urge to move as a color, storing it and releasing it with his movements while visualizing calming energies moving in as the energy was released. I don't really remember, I was kind of pulling it out of my belly button at the time.) He's done fine and has moved up a belt since then, but I had actually forgotten telling him this. However, the other day after class he mentioned using this technique (whatever it was) and how it's really helped him.

My kids have always been a little extra challenging and rarely seem to pay attention to what I say or even to the punishments which are doled out as a consequence of their refusal to listen to what I say (like clean your room, stop running, don't jump off the furniture, go to bed, etc), so it's always surprising and gratifying when something I say actually makes an impression on them.
So there are my "good mom" moments for the week. I hope your days are filled with such moments as well.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Children's Movies

This weekend, my husband took our boys, ages 7 and 11 to the movies. I was a bit surprised when my husband said he wanted to take the boys to see the new Jet Li movie "Fearless". He loves karate movies and thought the kids would be interested since they have been taking karate for a while now. But the movie is rated PG-13 and there was that new children's movie "Open Season" which came out on Friday. I didn't want to see "Open Season", but my husband doesn't seem to mind potty humor as much as I do and you never know what's going to show up in a PG-13 movie, so the children's movie seemed like it would be a better bet (or at least the least likely to do major damage). Fortunately, before becoming insistent, I looked up "Fearless" on the Focus on the Family's "Unplugged" website. (This is a great place to check before seeing a movie, BTW - they will tell you about minutiae like how many characters smoke, if wine is consumed, if anyone gets punched, how many times various foul words are used and any sexual innuendo. Some of the things they worry about aren't a big concern for our family, but it sure is nice to know what you're getting into.) You can read their review of "Fearless" here. Since the movie didn't have much of anything in the way of sex or language and the violence wasn't gory, I decided not to press the issue. The boys and my husband really enjoyed the movie and my husband said that it was a very moral movie with good, manly messages.
On the other hand, I happened upon this column by Fredrica Mathewes-Green about "Open Season" and I'm sure glad my hubby made the call and not me. From her column:

Sure, potty-talk has always been funny to kids. But grown-ups didn't teach it to them. They had something more significant to impart: stories to help children prepare for the world they were growing into. The best stories were complex and unafraid to deal with tragedy, like Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, or Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio.
Earlier generations of parents complained that cartoon versions of such classic tales stripped them of all subtlety. The process has gone a step further in a movie like Open Season, where the plot presents only a starkly polarized pair of teams, good guys vs. bad guys, and then whips up a frenzy of vengeance.

Hmmm . . . I'm going to have to remember that next time I'm tempted to settle for the "least bad thing". (You really ought to read the whole thing as it goes much deeper than what I posted here. ) Whenever I see a movie like this, or the dreadful Shrek movies, I am reminded of something I read a while ago on the National Review Online. In an interview, Craig Good from Pixar studios says:

We don't make movies for kids. We make movies for adults, actually ourselves, and then just make sure there's nothing in them that the little ones shouldn't see. . . Two things are often forgotten about kids. One: They have no taste. They will watch just about anything. This is normal and healthy. Taste comes later. Two: They are not stupid! Kids are born intelligent, and there's no good reason to make dumbed-down entertainment for them.

Sooooo . . . this post really has no point except to say that my kids saw a movie that was good, even though it was PG-13 and children's movies are generally stupid and a sign of the degradation of our society (like that's never been said before!). Good day! :)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Wall of Taxonomy

Since my 11 year wants to be a herpetologist (reptile scientist), he decided he needed to get more serious about his science so we're studying biology right now. We've been looking at taxonomy (the classification of living things) and I came up with a fun activity I thought I'd share with you. It's basically just a worksheet on a wall, but my son enjoyed it.
In order to create our "wall of taxonomy" I started by creating a sketch of what the final layout on the wall would be. A taxonomy chart is a lot like a family tree where you start with great great grandma who had three kids who had a couple more kids each who had a couple more kids and so on down the line. The idea is that you start at the top with very broad classifications which split off into more and more narrow classifications. For example, kingdom animalia branches into phylum arthropodia and chordata. Phylum chordata branches into class reptilia, mammilia, amphibia, fishes, and ave. Class mammilia branches into carnivoria and cetecea. And so on until you get down to specific species of animals. I looked at charts like the ones found on this page or this page and mapped out how the classifications start at the top with one broad kingdom which gradually split into more and more narrow classifications all the way down to species. Once I had a map on paper of what the end product would look like, I started making slips of paper with the various names on them. The trick here is that if several animals share the same classification (class mammilia for example), you only made one slip of paper with that name on it. When you make the slips of paper, don't include the classification, just the name, BTW. So write "mammilia" not "class mammilia" for example. Once all of the names were on their own slip of paper, I made enough arrows to map the splits. Since my son is just starting this, I put the arrows on the wall where they should go to help him out. For example, on our taxonomy wall, Kingdom Animalia split into Phylum Arthropodia and Chordata, so under the spot where the piece of paper saying "animalia" would go, I put two arrows pointing to where arthropodia and chordata should go and so on.
Finally we're ready to go. To start, I had seven slips of colored paper with the seven classifications (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species) used in taxonomy and had my boys arrange them in the proper order along the right side of the wall. I also made an additional slip which said "common name" to put at the bottom after "species" and made slips of paper with the common name of animals we were working with along with the names of their phylum, class and such. Then I gave my son the pile of (mixed up) slips of paper I had made with all of the various classification names on them. His job was to place them all in their proper spots. I had him start by spreading the slips out on the floor, picking out the things he knew to put up first and then grouping names which he thought went together. I told him he could use books to help him out, but he really tried to do it without looking for help. In the end, he got it all correct and we snapped the picture above before his little sister started trying to tear the pieces of paper off the wall (taking a picture of a wall in a hallway is pretty tough, BTW). One of the nice things about this activity is you can make it very hard or very easy. If you have a more advanced student, you may not want to put the arrows on the wall for him or her so that they will have to remember what the splits are without the help of hints. Also, you can do as many or as few organisms as you want and can use it to study groups of living organisms and how they are related. I'm afraid my explanation may not be that great and I probably made it sound harder than it was, but the prep time for this activity, including hunting down charts listing classifications which I link to above and cutting up paper (perhaps post-it note would have been a more efficient method!) was probably about an hour and a half. I think I got a pretty good bang for my buck. Anyhow, I just thought I'd share!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Since that last picture only took about 5 minutes to load . . .

I'll share this sweet photo of little Sophia. Don't ya just want to eat her up? :)

And no, I don't ever put clothing on my children - we just let them run around naked like monkeys. It's part of our homeschooling cult religion, you know! ;p J/K

One more for "momhood" . . .

You're glad you know how to type because your toddler pried off half the keys on the laptop keyboard and you're typing by touch on rubber nubs until the new keypad gets in. I love you, Michaela Rose!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Education and conservatives

If you are a conservative interested in education, you need to read this excellent column by Neal McClusky on conservatives embrace of big government education muddling on National Review Online. Mr McClusky starts of with this:
For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every public school in America.
As you may be aware, over the weekend former secretaries of education Bill Bennet and Rod Paige had a column in the Washington Post advocating for the creation of a national test for education. Because the solution to something government meddling has already badly screwed up is . . . even more government meddling.
This flies in the face of what we have learned from the few government programs which have had some success in reform; states, when given the freedom are excellent incubators and laboratories for innovative approaches to entrenched problems. Welfare reform and Medicare reform are two excellent examples. I am also willing to bet that in 20 years we will be looking at state experiments like what is going on in Minnesota and Massachusetts as the beginning of healthcare reform.
The idea that education can be improved by giving more power and influence to Washington politicians is laughable. In fact, I would argue that the growing influence and involvement of national politics in the education issue have served to thwart any meaningful movement in improving education. There are, in my opinion, 3 things which need to happen in order for meaningful education reform to happen: teachers must be treated as professionals and have control over the conduct and content of their teaching, parents must be free to make educational choices for their children including enrolling their children in their schools of choice and the influence of large national teacher's unions must be diminished. The nationalization of education works against all 3 of these changes. More and more teachers are being treated like trained monkeys who are expected to jump and hop according to what bureaucrats demand rather than using their brains, experience and skills to meet their student's needs. A national agenda for education makes it very easy for powerful, out of touch national education unions to influence any education reforms which are enacted (one big target is much easier to handle than tens of thousands of smaller, local targets which are less likely to be influenced by lobbying efforts). In contrast, parents find it very difficult to get the attention of national politicians as opposed to local school board members and administrators who might be willing to respond to their concerns (if their hands weren't actively being tied by national politicians and teacher's unions). Not to mention that as long as the national teachers union has a strong influence in the political arena, parent's are unlikely to be given much leeway in determining where their children will attend school.
Although nationalized testing and curriculum are taking on an air of inevitability, we must resist the temptation to short-cut our way into further disaster by giving the federal government even more say over what goes on in the classroom. As Mr. McClusky points out in his NRO piece:
no matter how much conservatives wish it weren't so, decades of monopolistic public schooling have proven that government will never provide desirable standards. Indeed, the numerous inherent problems of government are among the many reasons that the framers of the Constitution gave Washington no authority over education. . . As Congress moves inexorably closer to next year's scheduled reauthorization of NCLB, conservatives must reject calls for federal standards and tests, and remember the principles that they once held dear. Politically compromised, big-government policies will simply never provide the education our children need and deserve. Only pulling government out of education, and empowering parents and families with school choice, will do that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why we're losing the cultural war

I just read an essay in The American Conservative by Claes G. Ryn which I found rather insightful:
Modern American conservatism has been enthralled by politics. It should be obvious to all by now that this has been a debilitating preoccupation. Society's long-term direction is not set mainly by politicians. It is set by those who capture a people's mind and imagination. Conservative politicians and policy wonks have failed to reverse any of the main deleterious social trends of the last half-century not because they have lacked financial resources but because efforts like theirs have limited efficacy in the first place. . . To recover, American conservatism would have to reorder its priorities and most especially put politics in its place. America's crisis is at bottom moral-spiritual and cultural. . . The problem, simply put, was lack of sophistication - an inability to understand what most deeply shapes the outlook and conduct of human beings. Persons move according to their innermost beliefs, hopes, and fears. These are affected much less by politicians than by philosophers, novelists, religious visionaries, movie makers, playwrights, composers, painters, and the like, though truly great works of this kind reach most minds and imaginations only in diminished, popular form.
Yet the conservative movement did not direct its main efforts toward a revitalization of the mind, imagination, and moral-spiritual life.

This brings to mind a recent discussion I saw which pointed out that the most politically conservative parts of the country have the greatest problems with divorce, out of wedlock birth, crime and other modern social ills. If conservative politics was reallpanaceancea for what ails our country, wouldn't that be just the opposite? I think Mr. Ryn is correct in his assessment of the problem. We have been looking for shortcuts - elect the right person, enact the right laws, structure the social programs correctly and then we can recover from the mess liberals have created. In the meantime, traditional minded people have lost the culture wars. We've made some progress in recent years in reducing teen pregnancies and abortions, but overall we're losing the war. I don't think many of us even expect to have a shot at reversing the trend anymore. Our entertainment becomes crasser and more obscene all the time, yet it keeps making money. Who's buying this stuff? I doubt that it's only (or even mainly) liberals. I also doubt that liberals are the primary ones getting abortions, std's or having babies before getting married. We've been looking to politics to solve our problems for too long. While those on the left spent their time crafting ideas and promoting them vigorously in media, education and the arts, we've given the world Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
I have thought for a long time that the only thing a traditional minded person can do in today's world is withdraw, regroup and set about getting their own little world in order. Whatever change is going to happen is going to come from the bottom up. Then again, as Mr. Ryn says, it is the "philosophers, novelists, religious visionaries, movie makers, playwrights, composers, painters" who change hearts and minds. What can we do to become those who inspire people to change? How do we take on this task? Ideas?

Monday, September 18, 2006

You know you've achieved full "Momhood" when . . .

- You go to the bathroom while holding a baby (bonus points if you were breastfeeding at the time).

- You find yourself saying odd combinations of words like "don't lick yogurt off the window".

- It occurs to you that if you kick your oldest child really, really hard you could have everyone in the house crying at the same time.

- You yell at the kids for not being dressed even though it's 1 in the afternoon and you're still in your bathrobe.

- Your toddler follows you into the bathroom and helpfully tries to wipe your bottom.

- You allow your child to draw all over themselves with marker simply so they will stay occupied long enough for you to finish making their lunch.

- You share a couple of cookies with the kids just so when your husband gets home and finds the empty package you can say, "well, the kids ate some too."

- You give your children cookies with their breakfast so that you won't eat them all yourself.

- You can carry on a 10 minute conversation with your child about Pokemon without him catching on to the fact that you haven't heard a word he said. (Trick: repeat the last 2 words of every second or third sentence and it seems like you're actually listening - my husband's been doing it to me for years.)

- When your 2 year old proudly says the f-word you encouragingly respond: "that's right, Sweetheart - truck!"

- You see your toddler tearing up an artificial flower arrangement and figure, "it can be re-assembled" so you don't bother stopping him.

- You insist on being the one to get the mail because you need your daily exercise.

- You plan all of your trips out of the house to minimize the number of times a child will have to be removed from a car seat.

- You know that trip planning has nothing to do with buying plane tickets and everything to do with grocery shopping.

- Your version of a cost-benefit analysis involves weighing whether cutting out a round of getting kids in and out of car seats is worth paying 50% more for diapers at the grocery store.

- You respond to a kid's "why?" with "because I'm mean and I don't like you very much."

- You know that one day your child will tell his own child, "because I'm mean and I don't like you very much" after being asked "why?" for the 5th time.

- You think other people are jealously admiring you and your attractive, smart, fun kids when really they're just watching you so they can go home and start a conversation with, "I saw this poor woman while I was out today . . ."

- Even when all of your kids are crying at once - except for the oldest who wandered off to look at Pokemon cards and is now having you paged over the store intercom system because he didn't see you when he looked up to ask if you'd buy him a pack of cards, you never think of yourself as "this poor woman". You're too busy enjoying your attractive, smart, fun kids.

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