Monday, October 31, 2005

I'm Not an Ice Cream Lover, But...

I just found the most fantastic ice cream I've ever tasted. I was wandering aimlessly through the local mid-priced grocery store this afternoon, which is kind of a splurge but I like the meat there, and literally bumped into a sample stand. I love samples at the grocery store! This time it was ice cream, so the kids all had to try too. "Double-chocolate please." I was already imagining the faces covered in chocolate and carrying around sticky napkins for the rest of my shopping. But it was fabulous.

Blue Sky Creamery, in Boone, Iowa has ice cream parlors and sells in grocery stores throughout Iowa and Minnesota. They freeze their ice cream with liquid nitrogen, in less than a second, so there are no air bubbles and no ice crystals whatsoever. This results in the thickest, smoothest, richest ice cream I have ever tasted. I bought a pint of double-chocolate and a pint of capuccino, which actually tastes like capuccino instead of some half-assed light chocolate-ish mush.

I'm already visualizing the new pants I'll be buying in about a month ;)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Our Trick-or-Treating Adventure...

It took us longer to get ready to go trick-or-treating than it actually took trick-or-treating. My son was a mummy and we made his costume by tearing two white sheets into strips and wrapping him everywhere. With the help of some safety pins, it stayed completely in place for at least ten minutes. My 6-yr-old daughter was going to be a midieval princess, her costume from last year which still fits, but she couldn't find her crown. After rummaging through her dress-up clothes, we found an old dance costume that was mine when I was 10 or so, and dressed her up in that, over jeans and a sweatshirt since is so damned cold here in Iowa. My youngest daughter wore a puppy costume from last year (thank goodness we could only find one a size too big last year). All three costumes for free. :)

My oldest daughter made 3 trips to the bathroom in the 45 minutes we took getting ready, which meant 3 times redressing her in her costume and tucking the sweatshirt down inside the sequined leotard. On the way out the door, she said she had to go again. I asked her if she has actually been going at all every time she goes to the bathroom, and she told me, "only a really litte." Great. Probably a urinary tract infection. I told her to hold it and she would thank me later.

Ten minutes later, we made it to a nearby town where we planned to do our rounds, and my daughter tells me she can no longer hold it. We stopped at a gas station, where I helped her out of her costume and into it AGAIN. She only went a tiny little bit. We bought a bottle of cranberry juice before we left and I told her to drink it all before we got home. Ugh, I really don't want to have to take her to the doctor.

After walking around for what seemed like forever and filling gallon ice cream bucket each with candy, we called it a night. When we got into the car, we realized we'd only been out for half an hour. Oh well, the kids didn't even notice and we managed to get dinner and off to bed on time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Good Books Are Sometimes Hard to Find...

Over the summer, I bought a set of books from a college student selling door-to-door. They're called Explore and Learn. There are 6 volumes about the human body, the history of civilization, space, technology, nature, and a world atlas. They come with a cross-curriculum list - detailing the science, math, language, etc. in each book - and a large wall map. I didn't buy them to use as a standard curriculum, but they could certainly be used that way. I just keep them on the shelf and the kids get them out at least once a week to read them. I love these books and at $100 a set, it was a very good investment. The company that publishes this series also sells software, audio cds, a large set of encyclopedias, and a fabulous set of K-12 (and beyond) everything-you'll-ever-learn-in-school kind of books. A homeschooler could build curriculum until their kids move out of the house with these books.

The problem is they only sell their books through college students door-to-door. Just like any other exclusive company like Avon or Mary Kay, you can only get the products through a "representative." Unfortunately, unlike Avon or Mary Kay, there is no way to locate a representative because since its a summer job to earn money for college expenses, the salespeople change every year and are only available in the summer. I plan to continue to check their website, just in case they do list contact information in the summer.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What IS Halloween For Anyway?...

I was making lunch today and wondering how I was going to come up with money for Halloween costumes for my kids this year. Beggar's Night is a week away. I could make their costumes, if I could find materials that were cheap, and if I could think of a costume that was relatively simple to make that wouldn't make my children look like idiots. Not to mention the hour-long internet search of hundreds (if not thousands) of costumes with my son, while he complained about each one and continued asking for costumes that didn't exist or were just too expensive to make. In the middle of the second grilled cheese sandwich assembly, a song came on the radio about trick-or-treating. It was the kids' radio station, and the song was the old "Trick or treat, smell my feet," song most of us has heard before, but with lots of other lyrics. Like, "Give me something good to eat. If you don't, that's just fine. I hope you sit on a porcupine." Silly? Funny? I guess if you're 6.

But what a horrible attitude for kids to have, even in jest. I just keep thinking about the money parents spend on their kids' costumes. The candy bought by the neighborhood just to pass out to greedy, inappreciative, cavity-riddled children. Just like any other "holiday," Halloween is over-marketed, over-priced and widely misunderstood. Does anyone care about how this holiday developed? Do they care that it stemmed from religions most people don't practice and beliefs that no longer exist? Why do we continue to spend money on a "holiday" only celebrated by traditions we don't understand? My guess is because the heavily-stocked Walmart shelves tell us to, and because everyone else does. (Americans spend about $6.9 BILLION anually on Halloween crap, making it the second largest commercial holiday in the country.)

I really want my children to only celebrate things that are important to them, and by "important," I mean something other than the collection of candy. I don't want to be a big mean mom, but I want holidays to mean something, not just be celebrated because the Mainstream says we should. However, after mentioning to my husband I was thinking about calling off Trick or Treating and just having a nice night at home, my husband insisted I "can't do that to the kids." As if they'll be permanently damaged by not wandering around in the cold rain for two hours and eating two pounds of candy. *Sigh*

I bet a mummy costume would be easy to make...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Really Enjoying My New Freedom...

Since my husband started working at his new job, he's been given a company work vehicle. That means that for the first time since August when his work truck broke down, I am actually able to USE my SUV for errands and things during the day. I never noticed how wonderful this was until a trip to the library today (yes again, its a record LOL).

We wandered around the library for over an hour. My 2-year-old was a bit of a handful by the time we left, but we didn't leave because we had to rush home so Daddy could have the car. I didn't worry about how long we were there or what time we'd be home. I no longer have to plan doctor's appointments early in the morning so my husband can just go in late. I no longer have to wait for him to be home in the evening to run to the store for the toilet paper that's been out since 9am.

And awesome that since I homeschool, I don't even have to worry about being home to meet the bus.

Ahhh, I'd almost forgotten what freedom was like.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Day of Complete Insanity...

I love my children.

Let me say that again.

I love my children.

Several times today I wanted to run away and never come home. Days like these are becoming more frequent. Not a single quiet moment all day. And not just regular noise. I'm talking teeth-grading, nail-biting, hair-pulling, irritating noises. All. Day. Long.

Fighting between my older two children. Me trying to resolve the fight and becoming the target of the yelling from both of them. The 6-year-old taking things from the 2-year-old. The 2-year-old screaming her friggin head off like she was being murdered every time something didn't go her way. Liquids spilled, dumped and sloshed all over the house. Solid items broken, banged on or thrown. And after a friend played his ancient cassette of Peter, Paul & Mary, "Puff the Magic Dragon" being sung over and over and over and over.

I don't like to yell, but I've been doing it a lot. I just want five friggin seconds to read a paragraph, complete a sentence, finish a damn thought. I wish my children would learn just because I don't answer them the very second they say something, doesn't mean I didn't hear them and they should repeat themselves at least 10 times. I wish my 6-year-old would learn the household language instead of falling back on her native language of Whine. I feel like I'm suffering from PPD all over again, mumbling repeatedly, "ok just have this and please for the love of god leave me alone." Then the kids act hurt and rejected and I feel even worse.

Is it bedtime yet?

But I love my kids. Love love love them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Happy Birthday!...

Today is my oldest daughter's 6th birthday, although we've been teasing her for months that it was going to be her 5th. We had a party for her at a local pizza place/arcade. We got off as cheaply as possible, telling the guests we weren't paying for pizza but would cover the cost of wristbands for all the kids to play in a gigantic climbing play area. We paid for wristbands for our kids, but by the time all our guests got there, the girl at the counter told me not to bother with wristbands since we were the only people in the place. Lucky us! We had pizza, the kids played in the huge play area, and the hubby and I played air hockey and lots of arcade games, and we only spent about 35 bucks. Yay!

I do wish I didn't have to be so cheap with birthdays, but we just can't afford the $100/hour party rooms at the fancy party places. We spent about $20 on presents for my daughter, but got away with several of them since purple nail polish and hair accessories are pretty inexpensive. I kinda feel bad that we weren't in a financial position last spring to give my son a good party, but he did get some great presents.

We played all night. The kids had a great time. Big bucks or not.

Monday, October 17, 2005

On My Mind Today: Child Abuse...

I remember staying the night with a girl I knew from school. I was about 12 years old, and I'd known this girl about two weeks. The house was the filthiest I'd ever seen. Dishes were piled on every inch of the countertop (one of the scraggly cats wandering around was covered in grease from a stacked-pans avalanche). The 2-bedroom house was shared by my new friend, her 2 sisters, her mom, 3 men who weren't related whatsoever to my friend or her sisters, and Grandma living in a small camp trailer in the back yard. We ate cold hot dogs for dinner because there were no clean pans or a microwave to cook them. This girl shared a bare mattress on the floor with her two sisters and the dog. I was eaten alive by fleas all night long, and ate dry cereal in the morning because there was no milk, and no clean bowls. I was so relieved to go home I almost cried as I told my mom about all the trauma I'd endured on my visit.

So why didn't she call someone? Knowing what I do now - that this girl dressed like a tramp when she was 12 and was often covered in bruises - and the conditions she lived in, the situation reeked of sexual abuse. At the very least, it was gross neglect.

I'm sure she thought it wasn't her business to get involved. Maybe she justified it by saying that some people might not like her parenting either, and it wasn't for her to judge. I've thought that several times myself while I live in this dumpy house, with a yard full of junk (told ya I was a redneck, y'all). Where is the line drawn between dicipline and abuse? Between laziness and neglect? Who am I, the average citizen, to judge someone else?

I don't know what the answers are. But I know there are lots of kids out there being abused daily while the neighbors mind their own business. And I also know there are perfectly decent parents who are misjudged and lose their children to foster homes for months or years. I know that a lot of parents are afraid to even set boundaries for their children because of the constant fear of CPS. Are parents safe in this kind of system? Are children safe?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pumpkin Day...

This morning I decided to bake the pumpkins from my garden. I bought the seeds for Baby Pam pie pumpkins from an organic seed company in the spring, grew them among the zucchini and acorn squash, and harvested them almost a month ago. Despite the fact that the pumpkin took over the entire garden, growing long prickly vines over everything and choking out my acorn squash, the plants produced pathetically small amounts of actual pumpkins. My acorn squash only produced 4 squash out of 3 plants before the pumpkin took over their roots and killed them all. But the pumpkins, also 3 plants, produced only 7 pumpkins. They're small, but perfectly fine for pies and other recipes. Bugs got to one pumpkin, and my children broke open another, so this morning I had only 5.

I split the pumpkins in half, per the online instructions, and baked them cut-side down on a cookie sheet for about 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. The kids had a great time scooping out the seeds and pulp, which I saved for toasting, and the whole process was performed with very little mess, most of which was the kids' hands and clothes.

I am now toasting the seeds, about 3 cups worth, coated with about 3 teaspoons of oil and about 3/4 teaspoon salt, baking at 300 for about half an hour now. The recipe says 45 minutes with a little stirring, but I think these will take much longer since they were so wet and gooey. I picked out as much of the pulp as possible, but I'm starting to think I should have rinsed them before coating with oil and salt, as they were pretty slimy. We'll see how they turn out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Limits to Learning?...

When I discussed the subject of the Well Trained Mind and its recommended curriculum with my public school teacher friend, I was not at all surprised that she hated the idea. "Why on earth would they need to learn Latin?" she asked me, "And who cares what they're reading as long as they're reading and enjoying it." She does have a bit of a point. There are lots of adults from my generation who read for pleasure, and I think that's fantastic. However, what they're reading leaves a lot to be desired. They never broadened their minds to accept anything more complicated than Harlequin novels. When asked about reading something even slightly more complicated, like Mark Twain, they comment with things like, "I don't like that kind of book, its too boring." Not boring, they just don't get it. The classics, full of complicated terminology and large vocabulary words, are full of adventure, humor, unbridled passion. But if you don't know how to read it - more importantly to understand it - you miss all that. It's like reading a page full of nonsense words.

My sister-in-law once commented that she isn't going to teach her children most of the things she learned in school because, "I never used that information. They don't need it either." Sure, if you want your children to grow up to be unemployed, or work at Walmart or McDonald's, that's perfectly fine. But why wouldn't someone want to give their children as many options as possible? I would certainly rather my child be capable of rocket science but choose to work at Walmart because they enjoy it, than have them want to be a rocket scientist but lack the knowledge and skills to be anything but a checkout girl.

I have been (as well as most others still are) too focused on "he has to learn this to get through second grade." I've presented him with all the stories in his basal readers, given him all his worksheets, and when he was done we just did something else in our "free time." Most people never consider what else their children could learn, because "that's not something he does until 4th grade." We are raising a society of people who only want to learn the absolute bare minimum to get by. Few are the college students taking classes just because that subject interests them, they don't even want to take the classes required to graduate. In high school, the general attitude of the students (as well as myself) was just to suck it up and get through the class, and in a few years it would all be over. Learning is treated as something you have to get through to move on in life, not something you should actually enjoy. The result is a society of lazy, unmotivated people, content to leave their learning behind at 25 and spend the rest of their lives just going through the motions of adulthood.

Why do they need to learn it? Obviously they don't. But why would they want to learn it (or why would you want to teach them)? The same reason Boy Scouts learn to tie knots. Because you might use it someday. Because you might actually have better ejoyment out of life due to your knowledge. 20 years down the road you could buy a sailboat and already know how to tie off your sails because of a month-long lesson in Boy Scouts. And those who can see a benefit to learning throughout their lives could someday enjoy Homer, see a play in Italian, or even be a rocket scientist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Well Trained Mind...

I became curious about this book from the Denim Jumper website I mentioned a few days ago. Most of these people came from something they called "the WTM messageboards," which left me absolutely clueless. The funny part was, even after I saw the book referenced, I didn't put it together. It wasn't until I borrowed the book from the library and saw the Well Trained Mind website referenced that I understood. I had read quite a few posts about kids learning Latin. Latin! I wasn't sure what to think of this at all. My decision to get this book from the library came just as much from curiosity about this strange practice as it did interest in what good points the book may have.

I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with this program. A whole homeschooling curriculum based on classic literature, history and reading, reading, reading. The authors of this book are big on reading original texts, hence the Latin lessons. The awesome part about this kind of program, however, is that it can be tailored to your needs or desires. I am interested in my kids reading the classics. And I'm not just talking Where the Red Fern Grows. I'm talking Shakespeare. I'm just not so sure the structure is what I'm going for.

My evil mind is imagining the reactions of family members at Christmastime. "What are you learning now?" "We're learning about the fall of the Roman Empire, and reading the Iliad, and .." Hehehehehe.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Trip to the Library...

Ok, I admit it. I haven't taken the kids to the library in a long long time. Not that I haven't wanted to, or certainly not that I haven't intended to. I lost my library card. Maybe the dog ate it ;)

We live in the barely-populated triangular void made by three nearby cities. One of them huge, the other two fairly normal-sized (10,000 people, give or take). City #1 is too large and I honestly have no clue where the closest library is. Not to mention the recent kidnapping attempts and child sexual assaults that have happened at libraries there the last few weeks. I love the library in City #2, but have already lost my library card there once and had a replacement made, which I have now lost again. To spare my embarrassment, I went searching City #3 for their library. I drove around for almost an hour before I found it, and this was based on directions from a resident (sad, really). The library was too small for the number of books it contained. The play area, while very nice, was in the open and literally 4 feet from the adult section. I thought it would be best if I looked for the books we came for, so my son sat reading books to his sisters in the play area. The entire time we were there, I only found one book between taking children to the bathroom and dodging dirty looks from every adult in the place because of my "noisy" children. I ended up leaving the book and just getting out of there.

So today, I swallowed my pride and went back to library #2. Their children's section and play area are in separate room, with walls and doors to reduce any noise coming from there. They understand that children have only two voices - whisper and yell - and often use them at the inappropriate times. And they have puppets, which keep my toddler from yanking every book off the shelves. I turned my kids loose in the play area and headed for the "card catalogue," which is now located on the computer. Easier to use, but I sure wish I could find a real catalogue to at least show my children how to use it.

After hunting up The Well-Trained Mind and How to Reach and Teach Children With Dyslexia, and discovering my fruitless hunt for origami books was caused by my lack of ability to spell "origami," I walked to the desk and confessed my disorganization and irresponsibility to the clerk. She told me I could borrow these books today without my card, which gives me more time to look for it at home (yeah, right), and the replacement card if I need one would be $3.

Well, I wanted to support that library anyway. May as well be in fees.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Today while discussing our all-consuming game rental Mortal Kombat, my son called one character "Doom-Smoke" when the actual name is "Noob-Smoke." An honest mistake, really, except the whole time we had this game I was constantly correcting him about it. This by itself wouldn't be a big deal, the boy still says "merchine" instead of "machine" and I didn't think much of it all week. But this afternoon something made me think more about it. And I realized that he does this often when the middle letters are the same. He'll read "leer" instead of "reel" or "toob" instead of "boot." He's done this for a while.

So I decided to look for some symptoms of dyslexia, since I really know so little about it. Turns out dyslexics are notoriously bad spellers (as is my son), have difficulty remembering sequences or facts (like his multiplication tables), and often skip or change small words while reading aloud (which he does constantly). All these things may be coincidence. He might just be a bad speller and not so great at math and reads too fast to get all the words right. But from the list of about 20 symptoms, he had at least half of them.

I called the portfolio reviewer/ supervising teacher I am using, asking if she knew of any way to test for dyslexia. She told me she knew someone who was trained in testing for it, and also offered tutoring for dyslexic children. While I don't intend to schedule any tutoring with her if the tests are positive for dyslexia, its nice to know she at least knows what she's looking for.

In all honesty, I actually hope he is dyslexic. It would not only explain his spelling problems, but it would explain everything. And it would open a whole new area of training and methods to help him learn that I may never have considered before.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nature vs. Nurture?...

This morning my husband and I had an argument. It started as a simple discussion, which I should admit I started. The question was: Are boys in this culture persuaded to a sexual obsession by their peers/media/ parents, or is there really such a strong sexual drive in males that causes them to be so preoccupied with sexual thoughts/ actions? My husband believes its strictly nature, that a boy/ man cannot help but think of sex almost constantly. I should have just accepted his answer as opinion, but the further we got into the discussion, the more I wanted him to simply admit that his attitude (as well as most other men I know) could have been at least partially formed by his surroundings.

With my obsessing about menstruation, I realized how much my opinion of myself and my body was tainted by advertizements and public attitude. Since I have some issues with bodily fluids, specifically blood (a little OCD possibly?), its quite possible I would have been bothered by having a period anyway. But I now understand that the shame and secrecy I've had my entire menstruating life was caused by negative public opinion and advertizement.

I think boys are raised around other boys, who are raised around fathers, uncles etc. , in a never-ending cycle of sexual obsession. I think when young boys feel the first twinge of sexual interest, they're welcomed into the sexual world with an expectation of ogling everything that walks past. They're ushered into adulthood with commercials, television programs, magazines and an internet websites that objectify women. Of course, as scientists say, men think about sex every 10 seconds. It's everywhere you look. I believe boys learn that this is the normal behavior of men, and they are somehow weird if they don't participate. (Possibly even gay, and what a social massacre that would be.) I shudder at the thought of what the other girls at school would have thought of me if I ever said, "I love my period! It's representative of womanhood." eek.

Am I way off here? Is it possible all media is filled with sex because men are obsessed with it inherantly instead of the other way around? I don't think my husband and I will ever agree on this.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Violent Video Games...

We just rented Mortal Kombat: Deception. We like it, would like to buy it, but the game is 30 bucks so that won't happen until I can find it for a reasonable price on ebay or elsewhere. Rent is 5 bucks ;) Hubby and I used to play the original MK on Nintendo, years ago and were looking for something we could do together. We rented it on a night when my parents had the kids overnight, and halfway through the second fatality combo I said, "The kids are gonna love this game."

Its funny that while I am so overprotective about what my kids watch or hear that I don't care at all about violence. Movies, music and radio are censored for drugs and sex at my house, but not for violence or gore. Of course I'm not going to let them watch Halloween, but that's scary, not just violent. I honestly don't believe violent media makes someone violent unless they already have violent tendencies. My kids know the difference between tv and reality. And they know why you don't kill people - not because the cops will put you in jail, but because its wrong. Even my 5yr old understands this. We don't kill anything we don't intend to eat. (It puts the lotion in the basket... lol eww)