Thursday, January 31, 2008

I am ancient

When I was a freshman in college, ATM's were the new thing. I did not for the life of me understand why old people didn't like them. They said they were impersonal and weird. I thought they were neat-- I could do my banking without leaving the campus, even on a Saturday when banks were closed (yes Virginia, banks used to be closed on Saturdays, they don't call them "banker's hours" for nothing), and I didn't have to skip class to go to the bank. When I was a kid I never got to the bank myself, unless I finished my homework early before the bank closed. So I thought the ATM was a much-needed improvement.

Fast-forward to the invention of the self-checkout line. I'm standing there and it keeps yelling at me to place the item in the bag even though I've already done so, and it won't continue letting me check out until I do, so I put an extra item of the same type in the bag and now it says there's an unrecognized item in the bagging area. I have to wait for the attendant to come back to her post in order to get the issue resolved, only to have it happen again with the next item. I sit there fuming, wishing I'd gotten in the three-deep line with the actual cashier, because the person I would have been behind is already on her way out the door.

Oddly enough, I find self-checkout lines impersonal and weird.

Me likey this new MP3 thing though. FH got me an MP3 player for Christmas, and it's just the best thing since sliced bread! I'm a big fan of They Might Be Giants, but I kinda stopped buying music when I was a starving married student, so I'm missing a good many of their albums. (Somehow when I was a starving single student, there was always a bit of money in the budget for music.) Now that I'm no longer starving and a student, and I can afford a bit of music, I had gotten out of the habit of buying, especially because there's nothing that a pack of four impulsive kids likes less than standing around a music store while Mom examines every CD.

So I discovered that I can download entire TMBG albums from the intertubes. And today I downloaded my very first album! It was cheaper and less scratchable than a CD (the kids love nothing better than to find Mom's favorite music CD's and fight over them till they get scratched).

Still, though, I can't for the life of me figure out iTunes. It always tries to boss me around and do everything its way. So I'm still ancient.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Support for the Soup Theory of Disease

I have long been a proponent of the notion that disease is caused by lack of soup. And I was right!
Most of the bone defects that the researchers found [in victims of the Black Death] can be caused by malnutrition, and the scientists suggest that the findings may show effects of starvation on immune function. It is known from contemporary chronicles that many survived the plague, and they, the authors write, were probably well fed and healthy enough to mount an effective immune response.

They don't call matzo ball soup "Jewish Penicillin" for nothing!


The Non-Coupon-Clipper's Manifesto

I will scream it from the rooftops: I DO NOT CLIP COUPONS!!!!!! Everybody around here's always going on about these coupon-clipping programs. There's even a radio show every Saturday just on how to clip coupons. Women are paying good money every month to receive tips on how to shop with coupons. It's like some kind of proselytizing religion-- they're always trying to convince me to do it. I do not give in! And this is why.
  1. My family's food allergies prevent us from eating many of the foods for which coupons are available.
  2. My kids' Asperger Syndrome means I have to have them on an even keel all the time-- always cooking the same foods, always having staple foods available. You should see what happens when we run out of bananas two days before payday. If we lived on what we could get with coupons, they would not be happy campers.
  3. Coupons are only available for name-brand foods. Even at a discount, most name-brand prepared foods are not cheaper than food cooked from scratch, because you are paying someone else to prepare the food for you.
  4. Not only that but pre-prepared foods don't taste nearly as good as home cooking, nor are they as nutritious.
But the best reason of all:

5. Think about how many hours you spend getting your online tips, rifling through newspapers, and clipping coupons so that you can get a packet of Pillsbury rolls for free. Multiply that by $5.15. Add in the amount you pay the Grocery Guru for your hot coupon tips, and the cost of your newspaper subscription(s) (I heard him recommend taking TWO Sunday papers on the radio). Does your savings in cash on the Pillsbury rolls exceed your savings in time-money? No? Then you'd be better off working at the grocery store than clipping coupons.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Princess Rules

We just got back from the awards night for the PTA's annual Reflections competition. Princess had entered a photo she'd taken, while she was still at the public school. Right before she left, she found out that she had won first place in photography at the school level and was going on to the district level. Then last week we got a letter inviting her to the awards night. She was a bit dismayed when they didn't have her photo out on display in the hall or call her name with the others, but this was because hers was selected to go on to the state level competition.

Here is the award-winning photo she took:

We are mightily proud of our Princess.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The "P.U.S." Man Cometh

I found a good deal on some shelf-stable tofu at Amazon, so I got that and a book on Isaiah by Avraham Gileadi (THE author to read on Isaiah), and another on medieval Portuguese daily life. I also sent for more math books for the kids-- Sonshine has blazed through half a year of math in just a couple of weeks, mostly because he already knew some of it, and Princess isn't too far behind him. And I ordered Shurley English for the kids too. For the business I stocked up on gift boxes, since my last order of 300 boxes was wiped out by the holiday season and a large wholesale order, so those are coming by UPS, as well as more yarn to cover the large wholesale order that's come in already this month.

So we'll be seeing a lot of the UPS man, or as Bagel calls him the "P.U.S. man", over the next week or so.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dress 1.0

Major construction on the Benabarre dress is over! The dress is now in wearable condition, although it's still got a LOT of detail work left to do. I've only got pearls on the visible main part of the bodice, and the grommets all have to be sewn over to look like eyelets, hooks and eyes need to be added to get the bodice and skirt together, etc. etc. But you can see the lines of it and how it's going to turn out.

The original:

My dress:

That last picture FH took before I had the hoops on and had done my hair, put on my contacts, etc. But you can see a bit of detail in the bodice lacing there. Also I had a spot of trouble lacing on the sleeves-- I told FH to pull the laces tight then tie them and tuck the ends in, and he skipped the part where he tied them, so they came all loose. There's not supposed to be that much of a gap between sleeve and bodice.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why I Support The "Buy Local" Movement

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: a lot of the supporters of "buy local" organizations like Local First Utah are seriously economically ignorant. They think that if we buy local goods, this will make us all better off economically than we would be otherwise. It's pretty clear that the opposite is true-- that Wal-Mart selling jeans for $9.00 a pair puts an extra couple of bucks in our pocket to spend locally, that we wouldn't have had otherwise to spend had we bought $30.00 locally-made jeans. I'm firmly on the "yay for international trade" side of things. I like my cheap Chinese-made trinkets, and I like shipping hundreds of pairs of baby booties to Japan and Australia and Canada.

Nevertheless, I support organizations like Local First Utah, provided that they aren't trying to force people to buy local, but rather urge and facilitate them to buy local. I think that in order for the global economy to work, we can't just be consumers in it, we also have to be producers. And to be producers, we have to produce something. And that something arises out of local culture, and local culture arises out of local interactions, of which commerce is a subset. Therefore by encouraging local commerce, I encourage my community to develop a product or service for which it is well-known locally. This local fame then helps it to compete with nationally or globally produced products or services, improving the local product or service and giving us something we can sell to the world too.

Case in point: Spillman software. [Full disclosure: FH works for Spillman.] They produce software for police departments, correctional facilities, and 911 dispatch. Spillman started in Logan, Utah, and Logan City Police Department has historically been their showcase. From that small start, Spillman developed products that are now in use all over the United States. Buying local was the springboard for development of a nationally competitive product.

Local trade also facilitates local culture, and local culture brings people together as a community. Case in point: Gossner's. Gossner's is a Logan institution. Everyone in Logan who isn't allergic to milk has eaten Gossner cheese and/or drunk Gossner shelf-stable milk. They have it in vending machines at schools. Gossner's local fame made it possible for Gossner products to be depicted in the movie "Napoleon Dynamite". Admittedly that was sort of a cult film and not a lot of people noticed that they were drinking shelf-stable milk instead of juice in the cafeteria, but my aunt did and she came all the way out from California wanting to see the small town of Preston, Idaho (about 45 minutes' drive from Logan and in the same valley) and have herself some Gossner's milk. At any rate, the local fame was a prerequisite for the national exposure.

That, to me, is what slogans like "Think globally, act locally" mean: locally create a competitive product for global trade. Sell it to your neighbors as a test bed for taking the company larger. Of course, the kind of people who have that sort of bumper sticker would probably gasp in shock before they took me out back to the woodshed for a meeting with the "board of education" if they ever found out someone thought of their slogan that way.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Orwellian Goings-On In Canada

I've been watching the questioning of Ezra Levant, a publisher in Canada who was dragged before the Alberta Human Rights Commission after winning a debate about the Danish Mohammed cartoons against a Muslim, who was offended.

This kind of thing really resonates with me. All my life I've had a recurring nightmare where I live in a state where government becomes increasingly oppressive for the public good, and at some point I decide it's gone too far and I try to escape, only to discover that escape is now impossible. Watching the Human Rights Commission question Mr. Levant brings back a lot of those nightmares. I wish him well and I hope that he becomes the first person in Canada to beat a HRC rap. If that doesn't happen, though, I hope they at least allow him to seek asylum in the United States. We could do with a few more people devoted to the cause of liberty.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sorry State Of Science Education

Over at Instapundit, Jenn Oates, a science teacher, writes (emphasis added):
Many of my students—entirely too many—come into my 9th grade classroom woefully unprepared for even the most basic rigors of high school science. They do not study. They do not do homework. They do not get the direct connection between how much effort you put into something and the quality of the results. They do not know the difference between an inch and a centimeter. They have trouble with the simplest algebraic calculations (like f=ma).
Still, I am expected to turn every student into a science genius-in-the-making. Right. I can do that. Give me better prepared students and perhaps I could.. But it isn’t a Science or Math problem, it’s an attitude problem on the part of the students—their education is excellent, as our district has very high standards. What they make of it is, sadly, too often…not.
You'd think that if the district's standards were all that high, they could produce high schoolers who know the difference between an inch and a centimeter and are capable of doing multiplication. Sadly, you'd be wrong.

I believe the underpreparation problem is real, having seen it in my own classroom. But I suspect that the problem Ms. Oates is seeing is not so much a lack of preparation in skills, but a lack of discipline. Ms. Oates correctly notes that her students don't know how to study. In my opinion, this is because students are actually taught not to study by our public school system. All the high standards in the world will never be sufficient if students are actively taught to be lazy.

I can get up in front of a classroom of fresh-off-the-bus college freshmen and write on the board at the front:
and ask them for the answer, and they will all just sit there and stare at me. I've actually done this. Inevitably there's a kid in the first or second row silently mouthing "four... four..." and as the silence edges on, one girl (it's always a girl) will tentatively raise her hand to about the level of her upper arm, until she feels the eyes of the other students on her and drops the hand back into her lap.

They obviously know the answer to this, but they don't respond. Why not? Because they've been trained not to respond. It's "us vs. them" and I'm one of them. They've never had any negative consequences for not responding; in fact, quite the opposite. If they don't give the answer, the teacher will think the class hasn't learned and reteach the topic, make their test easier, and give them work that they already know they can do. Then they get a good grade! They don't care if the teacher then sits in the faculty lounge bitching about how her class is proving so difficult to teach. So they sit there in pretend stupidity, using dirty looks to enforce their social order on the few kids interested in learning, because if even one student seems to be "getting it", the teacher will suspect that she's doing something right.

I do this little exercise to break the ice. I just sit there and say we're all going to wait until someone volunteers the answer, then we'll go on with the lecture, and by the way you'll still be responsible for doing tonight's homework with or without the benefit of the lecture. After that the class usually becomes more interactive, and I find that the students actually know a good deal.

If only their high school teachers had been able to reinforce the idea that work= success, though, they wouldn't have to struggle so hard to succeed in college. But when you teach at a school where the principal is checking everyone's lesson plans like they were student teachers, and where any kid you send to the office for discipline is right back in class 10 minutes later, it's a bit hard to do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

3 Going On 21

Bagel goes to our district's special needs preschool, and he rides on a school bus to get there. Consequently he's gotten quite a swell head over it; he's convinced he's now the biggest kid in the house. He takes every occasion to point out how he is now big enough to ride the bus and even Princess and Sonshine aren't big enough to do that. If you ever slip up and call him a "little kid" he will immediately correct you: "No, I'm BIG." And then he demands adult privileges that he is not ready to have. He just declares that whatever he wants is For Big Kids; once he decides that, there's no convincing him he can't have it, and he will rage and scream when you won't let him.

It's really cute if it happens once or twice, but it's really wearing when it's day in, day out:

"No, you can't have that."
"I want that knife!"
"You're too little for that knife."
"No, I'm not LITTLE, I'm BIG!"
"You're big, but you're not that big."
"I AM that big!"
"Only big kids like Princess can handle Mom's sharp knives."
"I AM a big kid!"
"Big kids like you can have this [rather dull] dinner knife."
"NO, I want THAT KNIFE!"

Every day, about six times a day, we have this discussion or one like it, and it usually ends in him storming off to a different room in a rage. If we once slip up and use the "L-word" (Little), it's over. The word sends him into a meltdown. Of course, Sonshine, with his laser focus on absolute truth and an instinct for needling those around him, never misses an opportunity to point out that Bagel is littler than him.

Yesterday I had finally had it. I'd had to strap Bagel into the shopping cart for his own safety and he was protesting that big kids didn't need straps. I turned to him and I said, "Listen, Bagel. You are not now an adult, you have never been an adult, and if you keep this up you may never be an adult. So sit down and get strapped in like the kid you are!"

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why is it so hard?

OK, it's Confessional Time.

When I was a brand spanking new 18 year old freshman in college, I got involved with costuming a student musical. I got "hired" on as the principal costume designer, and my deputy was an older woman of 20 or so, named Stacy. Stacy was a member of the SCA and an invaluable help in researching and sewing costumes. I really liked Stacy, she was a real role model for me. She too was a math major, and she talked me through the trouble I had when I flunked multivariable calculus. If Stacy hadn't been there for me, I probably would have changed majors or dropped out of college. It was through her that I first found out about the SCA.

Long story short, I have always wanted to join the SCA, if for no other reason than I'd get to research and make cool medieval costumes. And this year I finally carried out my dream. I got my membership and made some really keen garb, for both myself and my family... and now I can't bring myself to participate.

I tried last year, but it was kind of a disaster from some points of view. It quickly became apparent that I was not going to be able to make this a family activity. My Aspies didn't do too well at events, and I spent so much time shepherding them around that I didn't get to enjoy the event the way I'd wanted to, so long as they were there. I feel selfish, though, for wanting to attend events by myself. At the same time, I know that I need to do SOMETHING by myself, for myself, or else I'll go insane. And at the moment, the SCA is what I've got.

Now add to that mix the fact that I've never been able to participate well in group activities, especially group activities where there's a strong "insider" current or where intelligence is valued. I used to watch my friends play cards and Risk when I was in high school. They would always invite me to play with them, of course, and I did play a few times, but the strain of doing so was so intense that I couldn't keep it up. Was I afraid of losing? Not losing, so much as not playing correctly. That's not an adequate description, but it's the best I can do. I really don't understand it myself. And it wasn't just games, either. My parents, friend, and teacher had to peel me out of the ladies' room when I went to the awards banquet for the Rockwell competition, where my group project won an award. I think I probably left some fingernail marks on the doorframe.

Now I want to get involved-- scratch that, need to get involved-- with the SCA. I really have nothing else that can fill that hole I have in my life for pampering myself quite the way that wearing handmade medieval clothes and entering Arts and Sciences competitions and generally fulfilling my 15+ year dream can. But I just can't bring myself to even so much as write an email to the Artemisia mailing list. What's wrong with me? Why is this so difficult?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Illness Update

No further febrile seizures, but Knuckles has still got a fever. He refuses to drink Pedialyte. (Have you ever tasted the stuff? You'd refuse to drink it too.) He coughs like he's going to throw up, but as long as we keep him on Dimetapp nonstop, he doesn't actually do it. Bagel's fever seems to be gone but he's still coughing, and he does actually throw up if he coughs too much.

Knuckles REALLY hates taking medicine, and we have to restrain him and pour it down his throat. It reminds me a lot of Sonshine. When Sonshine was younger, we used to have to do that, and then we watched as he gagged himself and threw it all up. Nobody believed us that Sonshine was deliberately gagging himself to throw up the medicine. They all said "well of course he's throwing up, he's sick!" and were deaf to our protests that he was only sick with a mild cold and only threw up at times when he was given medicine. If we gave him no medicine, he didn't throw up. At one point, when Sonshine had a fever so high that we had to give him medicine to keep his brain from cooking, we offered him a choice between liquid and suppositories, and the kid literally bent over in response. (Nowadays, Sonshine's big enough that he just dry-swallows pills. He likes that much better.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

How To Afford Anything

An excellent article, full of good advice.

Fun Weekend

We had a REAL fun weekend. Friday night a huge windstorm started, with 50 mph winds gusting up to 75 mph. The power was out overnight into Saturday morning. It went out while the boys were having their baths in a windowless bathroom after dark. Our furnace has electric ignition. :)

I had suspected the power would go off for a while, so I'd lit a candle which I brought into the bathroom, and the kids finished their baths by candlelight while Hubby and daughter assembled and lit the oil lamps. I took every blanket we had and put all the kids to bed in one bed to keep them warm. They were like little heads popping up out of a huge sea of blankets, it was really cute. However, when I went to check on them in the middle of the night, I noticed that Knuckles was extra-warm-- feverish. He'd been throwing up for two days but I figured it was just the food allergies. FH is fond of grating cheese, and even before the food allergy diagnosis he'd been oblivious to the fact that if you grate cheese, cheese goes all over the place, not just under the grater. (He used to grate cheese on top of the stove burners, making a huge mess on the stove.)

About midnight we heard a huge, bad noise. FH went out to investigate and found that the soffit from our front porch had hit a car in the next door neighbor's driveway. He retrieved the pieces of soffit, but there was nothing he could do to repair it with the wind blowing like that, so he just brought them inside the house. Fortunately that was the only damage to our house. Other houses in our neighborhood weren't so lucky. Several of them lost siding (some houses lost an entire side of siding and pink house wrap too), and anyone with an east-west fence at the end of a block had damage to their fence. The fenceposts snapped like toothpicks. I'm sure we're missing some shingles too, but we won't be able to tell until the snow melts. Our yard was full of shingles, but if they ended up in our yard they probably aren't ours.

The power came on about 9 am Saturday morning, but we spent a lot of the day sleeping and resting, because we'd gotten very little sleep the night before. Bagel turned up with a fever as well.

A bit before 5pm, Knuckles had a febrile seizure. It was totally unexpected since just a few minutes before I'd taken his temperature and it said 102.1, nowhere near the high fever that's usually associated with febrile seizures. We took him to the doctor and had him checked out just in case, but there didn't appear to be any damage from the seizure, and he was back to his usual self. But that meant we had to have McDonalds for dinner, because I wasn't able to cook while taking Knuckles to the doctor.

Knuckles and Bagel had to stay home from church this morning because of their fevers, so Bagel missed his first day of Sunbeams. It was just as well, since Friday night we were supposed to meet with his new teacher and have a chat with her about Asperger's Syndrome, but had to stay home because of the extreme winds. This gives us a week to arrange another meeting with her.

The homeschooling is going better. Princess started studying fractions. On Friday we went to Salt Lake and put down the $80 to get library cards for the family. The kids had a great time and finally got enough books to satisfy their insatiable reading appetites, although Sonshine complained that the children's books on black holes were too unsophisticated for his taste. Next time we'll see if they have any adult books on black holes.

I'd better sign off now. I'm two days behind on laundry, we're out of clean towels because of all the baths and vomiting, and I still have to prep lessons for tomorrow. I'm having to come up with many more science lessons than I had planned on. Sonshine wants to be on an all-science, all-the-time diet.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Homeschooling: First Day

We didn't get very much done today.

I meant to start the morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with lessons at the ready, but when we got home from visiting my folks I had to give haircuts to every one of my male family members, and by the time we finished that and the baths and the bedtime routine (which is always difficult after a change in routine) there wasn't enough left of me to even watch TV with FH. I just went to bed. I didn't sleep well until the wee hours of the morning, so I ended up sleeping in. I normally get in some computer time in the mornings, but that was complicated by our computer needing several million reboots, only to discover that for some odd reason all the print jobs are vanishing, even though the printers themselves are all working. So I couldn't print anything out-- no shipping labels, no invoices, no worksheets. Figuring that out got me to about 10 am. In between things we did Planet of the Day (at Sonshine's request) and Dictionary Exploration.

I have a new all-in-one that I hadn't bothered installing because tonight FH is wiping the hard drive and reinstalling Windows, so I hunted down a USB printer cable and hooked the thing directly up to the computer, not through the network. I managed to get it to print out a test page, but all other print jobs went directly to nowhere without getting anywhere near the printer. So I hauled the new printer and USB cable up two flights of stairs to Princess' computer, hooked it up, installed it up there, and managed to print out the kids' math drills, only to discover that they came out with random numbers and characters instead of the usual ones. I suspect this is because we hadn't bought a subscription to that site where I got the worksheets, but I was out of time to test out any hypotheses, and I had to get around to, you know, actually schooling the kids. By this time it was about 11 am.

We got Knuckles down for a nap and sat down for math time. I was going to teach Sonshine first and then teach Princess while Sonshine did his work, but Sonshine wouldn't do any math. Instead he started rollling around on the floor moaning that his left wrist hurt too much to hold the paper, leaving him incapable of doing math. Sonshine injured his wrist horsing around on the stairs about 5 days ago, and it was bad enough that we suspected it might be broken, but decided to wait and observe it. He had injured it while in a frenzy, and thought there was a chance he was exaggerating the pain because of the frenzy he was in. Within a few hours he said it still ached, but it didn't seem to be hurting badly enough to keep him from eating large quantities of food, running around the house tormenting his siblings, or cutting out paper toys, so we figured he'd probably just sprained it and it'd feel better in a week. With him acting like that, though, I was worried enough to make him a doctor appointment for the afternoon.

After lunch we did History and then I had to take a break. All through History, Sonshine kept questioning me about when we would be talking about Sputnik. Evidently he was under the impression that homeschooling was going to entail non-stop astronomy. He was mightily disappointed. I was also very tired, and not just of being questioned about Sputnik and the precise length of the Revolutionary War. I had to eat something too, since I'd spent lunch time trying to get caught up on the computer stuff I'd not done in the morning.

Right before Bagel got home from preschool, Knuckles threw up all over the stairs, the living room, and the kitchen, in the home's main traffic area. So I had to clean all that up. As soon as Bagel got home and I finished cleaning, we had to turn around and leave for Sonshine's doctor appointment. So Bagel hadn't had a diaper change, and neither little boy had had a nap (except for Knuckles who had his brief morning rest).

At the doctor's, Sonshine got his X-rays and we discovered that he has a hairline fracture in his radius. So the doctor sent us to the orthopedist for further evaluation, to see if it needed to be re-set to a better position. Fortunately it didn't, and Sonshine got a brace instead of a cast, and doctor's orders to do just what his Mom has been telling him to do for ages: quit horsing around on the stairs. He has to go back in two weeks, sooner if he falls on the wrist. I'm guessing that means he'll be seeing the orthopedist in about three days. All bets are welcome on that; I should start a pool for how long it'll take Sonshine to fall on the wrist and have to go back to the orthopedist. Prize is a one pound bag of "contraband" milk- or peanut-containing candy.

By the time we got back from the orthopedist's, we'd been 2 1/2 hours in doctor's offices with two napless, snackless little boys who were just about ready to explode, with Bagel ready to explode from the diaper end as well. I got them changed up and herded them into their beds for naps that they of course resisted. And now I'm cooking dinner. It's just pasta, nothing really nice.

So that was our first day of homeschool.