Thursday, April 18, 2013

Homeschool Report

I feel like I've really let curricula slide this last month, what with a trip out of town and then DI state.

We're slowly getting back to normal--though summer is fast approaching.

But--[maniacal laugh]--I'm planning to continue educating the kids over the summer. Not only because we're desperately behind in science and need to do make up, but also because I want learning to be a lifestyle choice. Of course we continue to do educational activities over the summer!

Today was the first "normal" day we've had in almost a month. We have done classes, just haphazardly.

Here's my report.


Forced the kids to sit still while I read aloud one chapter of The Secret Garden. (Can you believe they rejected it as a bedtime story?) Due to complaints about the "lack of plot," I started in the middle and asked them to reconstruct what had come before. (It was the chapter where Mary meets Colin for the first time. Based solely on the dialogue, they thought she hadn't yet discovered the garden, bwahaha.)


Modeled quicksand with sugar and water. Daniel modeled it differently with a funnel. Then I was left with a container of very wet sugar. Smoothies, anyone? (Daniel refused to try the smoothie, claiming that the "wet sugar" would make it taste different than "dry sugar." I argued that it was all going to absorb water from the liquid ingredients anyway, and it was all getting mixed together. Plus there was a super abundance of sucrose; I thought kids didn't care about subtleties of flavor, only raw sugar rushes. He still refused. He's very stubborn, sigh.)


Eric and I successfully derived a proof that the diagonals of a kite are perpendicular. We then tried to derive a universal formula for the area of an irregular quadrilateral. We debated whether the formula for a kite (using the diagonals) could be applied successfully to the situation. (Never resolved that one completely.)

Then we got sucked into this diagram and went off on a tangent.

Daniel drew evil, twisty "angle mazes" for me to solve. He got the idea from this:

From the Beast Academy elementary curriculum by The Art of Problem Solving. The photo didn't come out well, but the premise is to navigate the lines using only acute or obtuse angles.

Naturally, he put his own evil twist on things by inventing new obstacles, rules, and unidirectional bridges.

Here is an example, with a key:

(I did manage to solve them, thanks.)


Drat, I knew I'd forgotten something.

Actually, a few months ago I scuttled history as a daily thing and decided we would do it only in the car. On trips to choir and math group earlier in the week, we had fascinating conversations about 1) the Diary of Anne Frank, 2) the social science of celebrity as applies to Justin Bieber, 3) the difference between success and greatness, and 4) an illustration of the maxim "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" using a hypothetical well-intentioned tribal chieftain who starts by deciding a child custody case, goes on to accept bribes, gets spoiled, forgets how to be frustrated gracefully, and, after two decades, ultimately exiles all opposition. Then we hit 5) Hitler and circled back to Anne Frank. Voila! Social studies for the week.

Not bad, but I still need to find the audio books for Story of the World. That was just me vamping. Reading the above, I can see how one thought led to another. It's really cool. I wish I could say I'd done it on purpose, but really, it was serendipity.


These went surprisingly smoothly today! Well, other than dealing with a "depressingly stupid machine" cleaning the upstairs hall. The Danny-bot was very obtuse. "What's a paper towel?" and "You want me to pick up clothes? Okay! I will start ripping the shirt off this thing you call Baby Jeff..." I threatened to reprogram him repeatedly. He called my bluff; I don't know any programming languages.

So it took three times as long as necessary. At least it didn't involve whining.

If I can get through two weeks without adding new items to my life, I might start to make headway on my "to do" list.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Subtle Humor

I just checked my most recent "to do" list and thought it was funny.

Monday, 4/15/2013
Sort through mail
Find registration

Find prescription for Ritalin
Mathleague procedures
DI spreadsheet finishing touches
Play minecraft hide and seek with Eric
Do RS compliments

It's subtle. Look beyond the obvious.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Car Shoppin' with my Sweetie

Today is General Conference, a time to hear sacred words from a living prophet and reflect upon our spiritual progress in this eternal journey.

But between or after the sessions of conference, maybe I could interest you in a little secularism: quotes from early last month when I went van shopping with Jon.

It was the best date I've had in ages. We were relaxed--focused but not stressed--and entirely kid free for hours. It felt a little like being back in college, except with better purchasing power. Some people think of shopping as a chore. As with most things, it all depends on the company you keep. In our case, it was a blast!

Thanks to Ronald Homer for his help with research, especially for his interactive, prioritized google map of dealerships with car information available in a mouse over.

Jon and I also did research, creating spreadsheets based on car features, mileage, and price. It says something profound that his file was called "Cars" while mine was "Vanalysis."

Whatever they were called, doing our homework definitely paid off, as evidenced below:

“And this 3013 Honda Odyssey EXL  is pre-owned but it has only a few thousand miles on it. It was owned by a really rich guy. He had a driver and everything! And he loved it! But he traded it in because there wasn’t room for him to wear his big Texas cowboy hat.”

--a salesman at Round Rock Toyota. We didn’t believe him, but gave him points for creativity.

Salesman: What about one of these eight-seat passenger trucks?
Gail: [skeptically] I doubt they would have good fuel efficiency.
Salesman: They use the same engine as the Oddyseys.
[Gail and Jon both spot this evasion and are not impressed]
Gail: [annoyed] But it’s built on a truck chassis, not a car chassis.
Salesman: [annoyed] Well, yes, but they have this great electronic system that automatically adjusts and if you reach a certain speed, it switches over so it runs like a four cylinder engine. They’re really similar in gas mileage.
 Gail: [calling his bluff] Jon, where did you put the fuel efficiency ratings on that spreadsheet…? [She consults her tablet.]
Salesman: Oh, don’t worry, I can pull up the ratings for you right now. [He makes a show of pulling out his smartphone and speaking into it.] Miles per gallon 2010 Odyssey EXL. [His efforts at superior “gun slinging” are hampered by the very long time it takes for the information to come up.] I guess it’s slow because of the weather…there we are. Um.

--To his credit, he admitted the 6 mpg difference between the two. But he further lost my sympathy when he tried to cover it up with “I really thought that on the later models, like 2012 and beyond…”
Uh huh.

“I find it fascinating that these sales guys remember the story of the car, how it was driven by a talented grad student who traded it in when she got a great job in New York City, but they don’t remember minor details like whether or not it has an eighth seat. ”

--Jon. He’s so cynical! What happened to the honest, innocent man I married? (Right; I corrupted him.)

Gail: Renae warned us that they would try to park us somewhere and then ‘go check with a manager’ but really just let us cool our heels for fifteen minutes in an effort to wear us down. But what they don’t realize is that it’s heavenly to sit here with you and just talk, uninterrupted, without children. I could stay here for an hour…but oooh! I just had a Brilliant Idea! An inspiration!
[Jon waits expectantly]
Gail: I know how to speed up the service! We’re in a corner glass office. Lots of passers-by. Two guys in a control booth right over there. And we’re in full view of the front door. Let’s start making out! Betcha’d only take a minute before somebody would go find our salesman and say “For Pete’s sake, get back in there with your customers!!!”
[Jon blushes. And laughs. Then looks torn: I’m normally not very “kissy,” so he would be foolish to turn down the opportunity. On the other hand, he is definitely NOT an exhibitionist. (Neither am I, normally. Ask my sisters about kissing Jon in public on my wedding day.)]
Gail: Come on, it’s win/win. Either we get faster service, or you get to kiss me. A lot.
[Jon relents, slightly. We giggle. Then laugh uproariously. Then flirt shamelessly some more.]

--It worked! Two minutes later, just as Jon was starting to suggest that we walk out, our salesman magically appeared again. This time with a car he had magically discovered on the back lot. Just gotten in that day, still not completely detailed, a 2008 Sienna XLE, medium mileage…amazing deal…!
Of course, according to the carfax report, the vehicle has been sitting there for several weeks. Which might explain why our salesman was so eager to haggle over price. While (I suspect) staging “calls” from his manager about showing the van to another couple.

"The car seemed worth investigating. I was just reluctant because I didn't think I could stand being trapped in a vehicle with that obnoxious salesman for twenty minutes."

--Jon, after test driving the vehicle above. The salesguy was VERY annoying. He kept trying to tell us that we were so excited! And then drawing smiley faces everywhere to show his manager how great we thought his mediocre machines were!!! 

“I’ve discovered it’s a great negotiating tactic to sit quietly and look skeptical. It helps if you really are skeptical. Which, when car shopping, I almost always am. Salesmen start babbling the most interesting things to fill the silence.”


“I enjoyed how we almost psychically took turns being the bad cop.”


"I'd rather go van shopping with you than go to Europe with anybody else."

--Gail, giggling with infatuation.

[While driving to yet another dealership, Gail realizes she's been too forward and switches tactics.]
Gail: This is fun. I like you.
Jon: Thank you.
Gail: [Coyly] Of course, I still want to shop around a little more, look at a few more dealerships, before I sign a marriage contract.
Jon:  Yes, dear. Good luck finding a babysitter.

--His delivery was a perfect deadpan. I cracked up.

Above: the car we finally chose. 2008 Honda Odyssey EXL. All the features we wanted, and no unnecessary frills like attached DVD players. (That's why tablets were invented.)

We held a naming contest. The best suggestions were:

Bloody Mary
Marie Antoinette
Robinson Crusoe ('cause he was 'marooned')

I went with Robespierre Crusoe.

We're calling him "Rob."

Now I'm wondering if I can work in some kind of Asimovian "Robbie" reference. Though the idea of a violent, radical nursemaid is scary. Especially if he is then stranded on a desert island in penance. If I'd wanted that story arc, I should have called the car "Napoleon."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A, B, C, D, E, F, G...Happiness comes from a good education about true welfare principles

When it comes to higher education, we should be teaching our kids the ABCs, or the truth about agency, boundaries, and college. Also the difference between dependency and entitlement vs. freedom and gratitude. Knowing and respecting the truth leads to true happiness.

I just read this blog post about "raising grateful kids in an entitled world" and had some thoughts.

When I was a senior in high school and my friends (all five of them) were getting ready for college, somebody asked me about my arrangements.

"Why the University of Florida?" he asked. I answered, "They offered me money."

My parents made it clear early on that they would assist with college by paying a set percentage of my tuition and living expenses, tied to an index. Basically, they gave me a budget that would subsidize much (but not all) of a reasonable four year college education. I had to furnish the rest myself.

This meant I went through high school understanding that I either needed to get a job or earn a scholarship. I earned the scholarship.

The next thing my parents did was make it clear that their assistance had limits. It was a set dollar amount. If I went to an ivy league school, it wouldn't last a year. If I went to a state school, it would stretch further. If I finished college early, I got to keep the balance that was left, applying it toward graduate school or some other reasonable project. If I bought a bunch of fancy shoes and burned through it early...well, that was too bad. If I changed majors and ended up spending six years in college, it would probably run out before I finished. If I flunked out of school, I would lose it.

They also wrote up a contract in which they explicitly required me to obey basic Mormon standards. (No alcohol. No drugs. No sex. NO male roommates. Mandatory church attendance. Etc.) Granted, this was based on an honor system, since I would be living 1,000 miles away. But they made it clear that they expected me to be honest, and if I got caught violating my promise, I could forfeit everything. I signed it.

When I explained this to my lunch companion, he was appalled. "I can't believe your parents are such control freaks!" he exclaimed. "My parents are paying for college with no strings attached."

I blinked. "Why should my parents pay me to get drunk or move in with a boyfriend?" I asked rhetorically. "They aren't required to help me at all." I thought they were being very generous. He couldn't see it.

Talk about entitlement.

Well, I got my very generous scholarship, and I came in under budget every year. After Jon proposed, I took him out to lunch and explained that I came with a dowry. He started to panic because in the Asian culture in which he served his mission, the dowry was what the man paid to the bride's parents.

I explained that in European cultures, the dowry was what the bride's parents gave to the young couple. In this case, they had given me money toward college and I had several thousand dollars left over, which we could use on a honeymoon...or as a downpayment on a house. We skipped the honeymoon.

We used a little bit to get us through that final semester when Jon was still in school. We lived in a miserable little married student apartment on campus. The shower was unspeakable. My mother-in-law almost broke down weeping when she saw the place. But when Jon graduated and got his first "real" job, we used the balance as a down payment on a house.

The final lesson my parents taught me is that money always has strings attached. An employer pays you to do a job. The government can provide you with assistance, but that always comes with some curtailed freedom or privacy. Same thing with church welfare. As Robert A. Heinlein said, "Tanstaafl."

"It is better to live in poverty," my mother hammered home to me when I was twelve, "Than to lose your independence. If you and your future husband need some assistance early on, one or both sets of your parents might be willing to help. But with that help comes the inevitable belief that they have a right to interfere. ('You're using the money I gave you to buy a CAR? You should use the bus and pay down your credit cards!') A young couple needs to learn how to work these things out by themselves, without anyone else meddling in their marriage."

Very wise.

When Jon and I bought our first house, we did borrow several thousand dollars from my parents. We paid it back Very Promptly, and never asked them for help again. (Not that my parents meddled; they were very respectful. But we understood the principles involved and wanted to be independent.)

When we moved to Texas, people who saw us struggle with just one vehicle thought we were poor. People who saw our house thought we were rich. We thought we were just choosing our priorities.

The federal government wants to do everything, all at once. In the abstract, citizens say they want budget reform--until it threatens their favorite program. "But not social security! Or medicaid! Or defense!"

Real people need to budget and make trade-offs. ("I would love to travel to my good friend's wedding, but I can't justify the credit card debt right now.")

The more we live in a culture of entitlement, the more government spending and private debt will spiral out of control.

Let's all just choose to be grateful for what we have, hm? That gratitude should include a deep appreciation for the personal freedom that comes from fiscal independence.

I know I could be doing a better job raising my kids. But I never feel guilty when I tell them "no" or, even better, "no, we can't afford it." I feel guilty that I don't say it more often.

John Rosemond, a child psychologist I really respect, has it exactly right: "Spoiled children," he said, "never become happy adults."


I love my house. LOVE it. I also appreciate it, because Jon and I are Invested in it. We have made sacrifices and balanced trade-offs for years to get this home. But even when it was threatened with a wildfire two years ago, I knew it wasn't as important as my family. Everything else I've mentioned is important to happiness, but relationships are what really bring lasting Joy.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mommiest Moments: March, 2013

[For half of March, I was in Indiana. I have decided to post quotes from the trip separately. -- ed] 

[I'm also trying out horizontal bars to break up the anecdotes. Are they helpful? Annoying? I welcome feedback. --ed]

“Eric, where did Jeff’s bull go after it tried to kill you?”

--Gail. Eric dropped the poor bull over the stairs. The bull retaliated by trying to gore Eric. “Go for the jugular!” I encouraged, though his horns were still too little to effect real damage. Eric wrestled with the stuffed animal briefly and then ran away. But once it was time for Jeffie to go night-night, I made Eric join in the search for his erstwhile enemy…

I don’t recall how we started having a conversation about childbirth while driving somewhere in the car. But somehow I found myself stuck in the following conversation: 
Gail:…so when the baby comes out, he needs to breathe on his own because he’s no longer getting blood through the placenta. But his nose and mouth are plugged with this hard, dry mucus. So the doctor needs to suction that out quickly. And then sometimes the doctor will spank the baby to make him cry. Because after he cries out, he’ll breathe in.  
Eric: Actually, I do not think the placenta allows a true blood transfer, only an exchange of nutrients and oxygen. 
Gail: [gaping] Uh…well, okay, yes. Because mom and baby can have different blood types. (Where do you read these things…?) I was trying to simplify, obviously unnecessarily. 
Jon: Also, the mucus isn’t hard and dry, just…solid. 
Gail: Just because you have always been on the other end—I’ve read many books about this! 
Jon: I’ve actually seen it. In the trenches. While you were just lying around…Ow! 
[I hit him. HARD. He admitted he TOTALLY deserved it.] 

--It’s still awful that I was corrected—about obstetrics!!!--by an eleven year old Aspie boy.

--Also, now I'm second guessing everything. Does the doctor's slap cause the baby to gasp in surprise and then scream? How can the baby breathe out if he has oxygenated blood but no actual air in his lungs? Sigh. Now I'll go look it up on google or wikipedia and lose an hour of my life...

"I used one of mathleague's brownie area problems with Daniel during our math lesson today. It asked how many square-shaped brownies with an area of 4 inches squared could be carved from a 10" by 14" rectangular pan. He argued for an incorrect answer. (He skipped a step and forgot to divide by 2 a second time.) I wasn’t getting through to him. 

"Obviously the only scientific solution was to make a pan of brownies and divide it up into square sections. Granted a 9 x 13 pan isn’t a 10 x 14 pan, but we fudged the inches slightly. (Yes, that pun was intentional.) 

"Later, Eric asked how many 1”x4” rectangles we could carve from the same pan. Without thinking it through, I said “It’s the same area, so it should still be 35.” He corrected me, and, naturally, he was right. I blushed in shame."

--Gail. That's okay, because later that evening, I had more embarrassing things to worry about. I was composing an important email when Jeff came along, pounded on my laptop keyboard, and sent a very unpolished--well, raw--version of the the president of mathleague. (Ouch.) The story above was part of my effort to cajole him during my second attempt. 

“Eric, we few, we singers—when there’s a really unusual hymn nobody knows, we have to sing the melody because—well, honestly, we carry the whole ward. So don’t be mad at your mom, though I’m delighted you want to sing alto.”

--Sister Russell, the children’s chorister at church. She was explaining to Eric (at my request) that I was right when I said I’d had a Public Duty to sing the soprano line during an obscure closing hymn, instead of singing the alto line as he requested. (He was so upset, he was barely speaking to me.)

"In the abstract, it's hilarious that Eric and Daniel now sit on either side of me and fight with each other, and me, about which part I am going to sing on which verse. 

It's not very amusing in the moment, of course, but I'm sure that ten years from now, I'll look back and laugh about those memorable moments when the congregation's worshipful hymn, about reverence, forgiveness, and God's 'boundless charity', were interrupted by shouts of 'Noooo! Sing Soprano!!!!'" 

--I should note that Eric has been amazing me this last month with his ability to sing alto independently. Some of the more common songs he seems to have memorized, but on Easter Sunday (March 31st) he was sight-reading the alto line and getting the intervals right without help. (That is, I’m assuming Eric was sight-reading. After all, we only sing the Easter hymns once a year.)

I kept poking Jon and pointing, but Jon, who was sitting on my other side, couldn’t hear what I was hearing. It was awesome! Way to go, Eric!

“The whole point of exaltation—well, I also want an eternal family—but the other main draw is eternal progression. It promises that I won’t be bored for eternity. I HATE being bored.”

--Gail, to John Edwards, after his testimony on why God doesn’t provide us with “all the answers” right now.

"He's driving me bonkers!"

--Gail, to Jon, in a routine update. This time the source of my insanity was Sam, who had finally wheedled his way into a personal "creative mode" world in minecraft. He built bookcases like mad, destroyed pressure plates, replaced pressure plates, erected a perfect fence around his porch...and then shouted "I can't fly!" every sixty seconds because he wasn't checking his headroom. Over and over and over. Some toddlers just obsessively empty and then reload the laundry bin...

“Jeff has learned to ask for sympathy. He walked up to me, pointed to his head, and said “aaah.” I patted his head and said “all better,” after which he toddled off again, satisfied.

--Jon. Why should Jeff learn to talk when he can get so far with mere imitation?