Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Food and income...

A good while back, there was a big buzz around the messageboards I was frequenting and all over the internet about the Food Stamp Challenge. Even members of Congress have taken on the challenge, painstakingly planning and shopping for meals that will fit into their "food stamp budget". I've seen this done two ways; basing your monthly shopping on the maximum allowable food stamp benefit per household ($698/month for my family of 5), or a baseline $21 per family member per week (about $420/month for my family). Way back when we were on welfare and food stamps, our monthly food stamp benefit was about $540.

I was never quite sure if the idea was to shine a light on how very little the poor folks have to eat on, to make those in higher income brackets feel humbled and thankful, or to simply make people feel better about themselves. Whatever the reason, for most people, meeting the monthly food stamp goal seemed to be damn near to impossible. I am honestly extremely confused by the difficulty. We got food stamps for a little over three months, and had so much leftover money on our food stamp card that we used it for another two months after we stopped receiving benefits. I can't even imagine how long we could have gone on the maximum allowable amount. My normal grocery store budget per week is about $100 - and this is counting the extras you get at the grocery store, like shampoo and toilet paper. Sometimes I go a couple of dollars over, but well within the $21/week guidelines. If I didn't count the non-food items, our average monthly food expense is about $350.

I've seen and heard people complain while doing the food stamp challenge, that they had to stop buying the fun foods - prepackaged snacks, chips, soda, etc. When we were on food stamps, we always had those things. People mention giving up "good meat" and switching to low quality hamburger and pork. When we were on food stamps, we ate a few steaks and good quality roasts, and on Vic's birthday we even got a live lobster (!!!). I had to eventually just stop visiting the messageboards and other forums where people discussed this challenge, because I seriously wanted to ask, "What the fuck are you people eating?? Caviar??" To their credit, there were several people who were starting to figure out it wasn't so hard to live on that amount of money for food, but they still seemed to be missing the point.

Sometime last week I was discussing this with a friend, and I mentioned that I felt the Upper Middle and above to just be clueless about food and expenses in poorer households. "Of course they are," she said, "They're getting the wrong picture. They're only hearing about the maximum benefit." The maximum allowable food stamp benefit is based on absolutely NO income, and figuring in things like medical expenses caused by disability. The more money you earn, the less your food stamp benefit. According to this chart, the maximum monthly income for a family of 5 to qualify for ANY benefit is $2687, and that's only with other expenses figured in. Even then, you might only qualify for $40 per month in food stamps. In order to qualify for a food stamp benefit large enough to pay for all your food, even when you're super-thrifty, you'd have to have a much smaller income. The income requirements are a little higher for medical benefits, but only for the children in the home - the adults can apparently do without.

And that's the heart of the problem. Those on welfare and the maximum food stamp benefit are not really struggling. With no income, you can qualify for all kinds of things: housing assistance, food stamps, medical coverage, child care expenses, transportation, even education and job placement services. But the more money you make, the less help you qualify for. "The REAL challenge," said my friend, "Would be to see if they could live on just enough income not to qualify for anything. That's where the majority of 'poor' people are. They HAVE jobs and child care and housing, and can barely afford to eat. That's the working poor."

What if your total family income was just over the required amount to qualify for aid? What if you.. I dunno.. homeschooled or something (or were a single mother whose loser ex won't pay child support, or whatever), and had only one working parent in your 5-person household? What if you had to live on $2600 a month (gross, not net), with no disabilities or other deductions - too much to qualify for food stamps, housing assistance, or medical insurance? Could you pay your rent or mortgage? Property taxes or homeowners insurance? Could you buy health insurance for your entire family? Car insurance (required in most states), and/or a car payment? Clothing for your growing children? School expenses? Child care costs for the single parent? Put gas in your car to get to work, and eat lunch while you were there? Keep your lights and heat on? What about all the conveniences you're used to, like cell phones and internet access? And don't forget the unplanned expenses, like replacing a broken washing machine or a car repair, maybe a parking ticket or two. Could you eat on what was left? If something must be cut out in order to afford food, which necessity is the least necessary, or would make the most difference when it's eliminated? Do some quick figuring of monthly expenses for the average household, and you'll start getting a clearer picture of poverty than any $21 per week food budget could give you. Then it begins to make sense why there are so many people in this country without health insurance - the *possibility* of getting sick is much less than the *inevitability* of hunger.

For more information on struggling families and food benefits:
One Dollar Diet Project
Feeding America
St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance

On cutting your budget and managing less income:
Miserly Moms
Living on Less
The Dollar Stretcher

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Young mothers"...

A rant. *

I'm 31. My oldest child is 12. If you'd rather not do the math in your head, I'll tell you that I was 18 when I was pregnant with my son, and he was born the day after my 19th birthday. This is not a confession, an excuse, or an explanation. It's simply a fact, and whenever I mention it to anyone, I present it just that way. Often, when I mention it, it's part of another conversation. Such as a discussion of whether wine is safe to drink while pregnant, and I say, "Well, I didn't drink when I was pregnant with Chad, but that's because I was only 18." Just the truth - not looking to shock everyone. But as soon as those words come out of my mouth, the conversation is no longer about whether drinking in moderation during pregnancy is okay, but about how young I was when I was pregnant, the tragedy of young motherhood, and unsettled disbelief. This is fine, really, and I know nobody is trying to offend me. In fact, they may actually be trying to offer some kind of comfort or support, and usually the only reason it gets to me is because it's changed the whole focus of the conversation to me and my parenting.

Maybe I am just overly sensitive. When Chad was a baby, I was talked down to everywhere I went. The obstetrician called me "Kiddo." When I took that long trip on the Greyhound to NC, I was repeatedly approached by strange older women I did not know, trying to take my crying, overstimulated and extremely tired baby from my arms, saying, "Let me try, Sweetie," or offering advice on what I might be doing wrong. With his first ear infection, the pediatrician explained to me in slow, careful language how to read the bottle of infant Tylenol and how to use the dropper, while I looked at her like she was insane. Acquaintances who were older than me often gave me parenting advice, forgetting I suppose that their babies were actually younger than mine. I stopped going to mommy groups and playdates after being repeatedly snubbed and ignored by groups of older moms who were fond of saying things like, "When you're older, you'll know," and, "I'm glad I finished my education before having children, because educated mothers..." Well... those particular women were just bitches, but you get the idea.

The only person that offered full support and a feeling of complete confidence in my competence as a parent was my grandmother. My grandmother was pregnant at 18. "Of course, I was married," she never neglected to add. She was 19 when her first child was born, many years ago. And here lies my point (I'm sure you're anxious for me to make it already). I hear so much about "young mothers these days" as if having a child before the age of 25 or 30 is some kind of societal tragedy. In the 40's women were trained for marriage and motherhood in high school. It was completely normal to marry your high school boyfriend the second you were graduated. And have a baby, because that's what you did. Get married, have a baby. Most women looked forward to it with gleeful anticipation. If you weren't married by the time you were 30, something was probably wrong with you. A result of a now-outdated patriarchal view of an ideal society, possibly, but there it is. It was normal, even expected, and completely acceptable.

There's not a sad and catastrophic increase of young mothers nowadays. In fact, the average age of American women having their first child has actually increased in the last 30 years. And a leaning trend toward older mothers through the decades does not magically make 18 younger than it was 50, or even 30 years ago.

People tell me I was "just a baby" when I became a mother. They say they "just can't imagine being a parent so young." They mean well, and I know that. But I fell in love with my husband when I was 16. I was still in love with him when I got pregnant at 18. I'm still in love with him now, 12 years later. Had I never gotten pregnant, I probably would have eventually married him anyway, because I loved him. Pregnancy simply moved our plans forward a bit. I don't need sympathy or pity because I "had to" get married and have a family so young. I just can't imagine spending the last 12 years of my life without the love, comfort and joy of a family, no matter what age I was when it all started.

*Certainly not meant to offend anyone, in any group, but simply for the purpose of blowing off some steam and pent-up frustration.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The S Word...

Recently, I watched a report about homeschooling from CBS Sunday Morning on Daryl's blog. The report was mostly good, and showed some non-traditional homeschooling in a very good light. Within a few days, I'd seen the same video on several other blogs (to be fair, I'm not sure who found it first, in case that matters to anyone), and almost everyone who posted it mentioned that when the topic of socialization came up, it was handled well. I really don't agree.

In just about every report or newsy article I've seen, there is some expert insisting children need to socialize. They're missing out on prom/sports/clubs, and they need that. They won't have friends, and they need them. They won't be involved in social networks, and they need those. The common way for homeschooling advocates to address these issues is to insist, as in this recent CBS report, that homeschooling support groups and social activities exist, and are used diligently within the homeschool community. You silly people, can't you see we have it covered?

Not once have I seen or heard an expert explain WHY kids absolutely and unequivocally NEED regular activities with children their age. Never have I seen or heard anyone explain why children NEED social interaction with other children at all. I know it's important for children to have social interaction with other people. I'd just like to see the evidence that suggests those people must be children. The "experts" say interaction with other children (preferably in a school setting, of course) teaches kids they can't get their own way all the time, that rules must be followed, and all about the complicated experience that is friendship. They suggest this is the only way children will learn how to interact in the "real world." And the rebuttal from the homeschool community is: they DO get social interaction with other children. They list all the recreational classes their kids take, the clubs they're involved in, and the social activities ad nauseum, even saying exasperatedly that, "we homeschool, but we're never home!" Never once do you hear a homeschooler say, "Socializing with other kids? What makes you think they need to do that?"

There are problems with defending your homeschooled kids' social development with a list of their activities. Not only does it reinforce the idea that children somehow NEED other children around them to be mentally healthy, it makes attaining that goal seem like an exhausting task. One that requires a huge amount of your time, energy, and probably money. And one that could be easily attained without all that effort just by putting your kid in public school. The seemingly overwhelming burden of meeting their kids' social needs intimidates people that might consider homeschooling otherwise. It suggests that homeschooling alone is risking social detriment. It instills guilt in homeschool parents who can't keep up, or don't want to. Because most children are involved in lots of social activities, we quickly and blindly accept that it's necessary for proper development, leaving the door open for accusations of neglect when we don't provide it. As long as homeschoolers continue to agree with the educrats on the importance of child social groups, we allow ourselves to be criticized by their standards.

I understand that children play together in ways adults can't comprehend, and that children, when playing together, reach levels of imagination unfathomable to adults. But aren't they already getting more time at imaginative play than their public school counterparts with their siblings at home? A neighbor kid or two? Can they not learn they can't always have their way from their parents? From the fact that they're all out of blueberry pancakes at the diner today? From the car repair that prevents them from going to the amusement park? LIFE doesn't let you have your own way all the time. Can they not learn about rules and how to follow them from their parents? From the "No Running" sign at the swimming pool? From watching Mom get a speeding ticket? LIFE shows you there are rules that must be followed. Interacting with other children, in school or in homeschool group playdates, does not teach kids about the real world. Interacting with the real world does.

Emotional bonds with other humans is necessary for proper mental stability. That those humans be unrelated to you is not. We homeschoolers need to stop agreeing with the experts in the necessity of socializing with justifications, explanations, and excuses. Socializing with other kids? Who the hell needs it?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today's rant: Unhealthy foods...

More and more folks are jumping on the "Be Healthy, it's the Law" bandwagon by banning the use of trans fats in restaurants, and demanding full disclosure of caloric content, making the sale of unhealthy foods an issue of public health. It makes sense, especially when consumers are completely unaware of the ingredients... right?

Laws like this get to me because they clearly demonstrate Americans' general inability to take responsibility for themselves. This cannot possibly be the first time people were aware french fries and hot wings are bad for you. Did they really not know burgers were bad for the arteries? Were they seriously unaware eating donuts can make you fat? What really pisses me off is the suggestion that restaurants are deliberately causing obesity and heart disease. Oh, I'm sure they'd rather you didn't know precisely how fattening their foods are, but they aren't exactly cramming it down anyone's throats. Restaurant executives aren't sitting around trying to think of ways to add more calories and fat in an attempt to slowly kill their customers. Whether or not they disclose caloric content, they're not making a secret of the fact that their foods are deep-fried in grease and covered in butter and cheese.

It's the attitude in articles like this, apparently shared by the majority of Americans, that's aggravating. How dare you clog my arteries with your french fries?!? I can't believe you'd put a bunch of sugar in your smoothies!! High fructose corn syrup?? You bastards!!

Time-Life had a book series in the 80's called Healthy Home Cooking. We've known home-cooked meals were cheaper and healthier than any restaurant could offer for at least 20 years. Yet in 1998, almost half the money spent on food in America was spent in restaurants (would have liked to find something more current, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't changed much). Thank goodness lawmakers decided to step in and save us from unhealthy food. It's obvious we can't be trusted to do avoid it ourselves.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A good reason to beat up a kid...

Via Daryl: We have to protect our school children from The Gays, so we refuse to protect Those Gay Kids from being bullied. You know, for the children.

This really doesn't make any sense to me. I think they're going at this backwards. Instead of adding more details to the bullying and harassment laws, why don't they remove them all? Is bullying and harassment ever okay? For any reason? Listing specific reasons someone may not be harassed or physically abused only suggests that there are reasons not specified where bullying is acceptable. I see this being a perpetual problem in the future. Will the inclusion of tattoos and piercings be proposed next? How about "unnatural hair colors"? Will we someday have to include "artificial body parts" to the harassment laws? And what about the details of the harassment itself? Right now, it probably says something like "physical or verbal assault or threats, in person or through mail, email, phone, text, or website forum." Must we change the laws every time a new form of communication is invented?

We cannot possibly stay on top at the legal level of all the reasons a person can be harassed or bullied, nor can we keep up with the ways in which they're harassed and bullied. Wouldn't it be easier just to say "ANY form of harassment or bullying in ANY way for ANY reason is illegal"?? The bigots conservatives insist that they don't advocate hurting a child, but that the inclusion of such terms as "sexual orientation" will open the door for gays to have equal rights more gay propaganda. Eliminating all specifics in the law seems to me to serve both the fears of the paranoid bigots concerns of the conservatives, and kids who are subjected to bullying.

Sometimes, simpler is better.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Love and Hate...

You know how when you have a ferret (a beautiful ferret named Daisy, because we didn't like Sally), and you let her out to explore in the morning, and she climbs the couch and over the bookshelves and across the table to the plants to dig and throw dirt all over the place, and then you have to give her a bath where she completely freaks out, and then after you've fought the terrified creature through towel-drying, while you're draining and washing the fur out of the tub, she's back in the livingroom in the plant again? I hate that.

But that part where you're frustrated because you've bathed the ferret (Daisy, not Sally) twice, and found out that she can climb the gate you put up in the kitchen doorway and get into the dreaded under-the-sink, and she's spilled the bathroom garbage can, and you found a stash of sticky twizzlers that she's stolen and piled up in your bedroom doorway for your bare feet to step on, and you say to the ferret, "You are so naughty!".. and then your five year old says, "Mama, she's not naughty. She's a ferret. It's her nature. That's what makes her special." Well that part, I really love.

And you know how you finally get a day at the salon, when you haven't had your hair done in an honest-to-goodness salon in forever -like, years- and you find this trendy awesome place, and the hairdresser is super nice and instinctively knows exactly what will look good on you and fit your personality, and you leave looking like a supermodel? I SO love that.

Then, after spending money on expensive shampoo and something called "hair wax" at the salon and buying some more hair stuff here and there until you're afraid if you confess how much money went into your hair your husband may divorce you, you find out you can't recreate that supermodel look at home. And that blows.

And you know how Mother Nature seems to be holding a serious grudge and dumps rain on you for weeks and weeks, with a few sunny days scattered in between just long enough to clean up the yard from the last destructive storm, and you can't even burn the ever-growing brush pile because it Won't Stop Fucking Raining?? And how you're up half the night because the tornado sirens in every nearby town are roaring away, and you sit listening to the boring news guy for hours in case you need to wake everyone and hide in an "interior room without windows".. for like three nights in a row? I really, really hate that.

But then the storms stop - or actually just fade and fade until they're gone - and everything is completely still, and the flowers in the yard hang their heads with the weight of the water, and lights from the city look pink and gray in the sky, and the only sound you hear is the drip drip dripping of water from some nearby tree, and the smell of the rainwater on the thick green trees and summer flowers is just intoxicating. And then you start thinking the Deep Thoughts about rebirth and cycles of nature and human potential and the wonders of the universe and just how utterly beautiful the whole world is. I think that's about one of the best things ever.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In case you were wondering...

Some of you may have noticed a lack of homeschooling posts in the last few months. Springtime is my normal time of reflecting over our school year, reviewing what we've accomplished, and subsequently freaking out over what we haven't gotten done. But this time, I'm remarkably calm about the whole situation. We're only on chapter 36 when we should be on chapter 47, and I'm okay with that. We have this summer, right? And the kids are learning tons of stuff they wouldn't be learning otherwise if we were focusing solely on our textbooks. See? It's all good.

Right after Christmas, I started my regular freakout sessions, "We haven't done spelling since November!! AAACK!!!" With an upcoming tax refund (whenever they worked out what I owed and all that), I was planning on buying new books for next year and stuff too. So one day I'm telling the kids we're gonna skip science today (because I'm going to buy from a different company next year), and telling them watching Animal Planet or The Weather Channel, or playing with kitchen ingredients will be sufficient. And the next day I'm yelling at them, doubling up on assignments in subjects we're behind in. And threatening them! Because if they don't be quiet and do their damn Language work Right This Second, the lady that reviews our portfolio will think they're not learning, and they'll have to go to public school, and I'll probably go to jail or something.

Can you feel the crazy, people? It radiates from my body.

Then one night while I sat drinking my tea and reading some math geek book, I remembered a funny family story. See, my great aunt had a cat that was not allowed on the furniture. The story goes that the cat had a litter of kittens, and when they were big enough to get around, she got on the couch for the one and only time of her life and taught her kittens not to go on the furniture as well. She meowed and called them, and every time they jumped up, she would hiss and bat at them until they went sprawling back on the floor. After several minutes, none of the kittens were willing to jump from the floor. Lesson learned.

Then I saw that this is what I've been doing to my kids. I suddenly realized that as much as I talk about being a relaxed homeschooler, I haven't actually been one. I've baited them with the wonderful ideals found in all those books: learning should be fun, learning is a natural process, learn at your own pace, c'mon you'll love it... and then switched on them, lecturing about the importance of education and staying at "grade level", punishing them with extra work and guilt trips about laziness. (Hello? Hypocrite??) My great aunt's cat was pretty darned smart. But me? Not so much. Why this story popped into my head that night I'll never know. But my next big thought was, "Pretty soon, they'll stop trying to jump." What happens when they stop believing that learning can be fun? What happens when "school" becomes a code word for boring drudgery, or worse, forced work on the whims of a crazy lady? And *choke* how do I look to them, with this homeschool teacher schizophrenia?? How will they look back on our homeschooling experience? Holy hell.

So I've made a deliberate and pointed attempt to let go. They are learning, without my pressure. They can learn those few things I feel they need to have, but they can do it on their terms. I will no longer look at lesson numbers, or count days until the end of the year. Despite all the former attempts at this kind of calm, I don't think I ever achieved it before now. Don't get me wrong, I don't think for a second that I will feel this way every day (and I don't). But it's March, and I haven't forced double lessons or yelled about schoolwork since January. It's a step down a long, long path and I realize that. But I feel so much better about homeschooling than I ever have before. And it's all good.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Monday afternoon, as I sat with the kids in the lobby of the oral surgeon's office waiting to take my bleeding husband home with one less tooth than he came in with, I perused the Family Fun magazine and found this awesome idea for leaf-printing eggs. I was planning on trying egg-dying with the kids this year anyway, but this was the most fabulous thing ever and I was anxious to try it. I imagined doing them, and taking pictures, and posting them here so people could ooh and ahh and then go try it themselves. I was really excited.

After buying all the dye and eggs and stuff and promising to dye eggs this week, imagine my surprise to see that Poppins had seen the same article, and tried it with great results. Ah, well. She is the queen of fab, and one can't be first all the time.

We still did leaf print eggs, and we still had a really fun time doing them, and you can still ooh and ahh over them if you like:

This is the first time I've ever dyed eggs, and Vic had never done it either, so it was a first for everyone in my house. My leaf print was the green one in the middle, which turned out pretty cool, and Cadence's blue leaf egg and Riley's orange (top right) were neat too. But I was especially impressed with Chad's (top left) where he dipped and soaked a million times in red, green, and blue, until the contrast of the leaf print was the most dramatic. I'm so glad we tried this. It was so much fun!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rednecks in the Snow...

Our most recent snowstorm dumped ten inches of perfectly sticky "packing snow" all over the neighborhood. A snowman builder's dream. I sent the kids out yesterday to shovel the driveway, and when they were finished, they played for at least another hour out there. When Vic got home, it was dark, and he was kind of bummed to miss out on all the snow fun. So after the kids were in bed, my husband went outside to build.

What glorious snow structures can a kid-at-heart, creative-minded redneck build? The Parthenon? The Statue of Liberty? The Great Pyramid? Nope. He built this:
A life-sized lawn tractor. Complete with wheels, blade cover, seat and steering wheel. I'm so proud.

This morning, the guy from the gas company wandered through the yard on his way to the meter. Cadence watched him from the back door and said, "Mama, he's taking a picture!" I opened the door and chatted with him a few minutes. He said he couldn't resist taking a picture. Not something you see every day I guess.

I expect it to be completely wrecked by this afternoon, but I did get lots of pictures, so it was fun while it lasted eh?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Murphy's Law...

Tuesday, my computer monitor was flashing and blinking on and off. It only happened a couple of times, and I figured the power cord must have been loose or something. I straightened all the cords and plugs, and called it good. Wednesday when I sat down for my daily dose of blogging and reading, posting and otherwise wasting hours of time on the internet, the monitor was black. Turning the monitor off and on again gave me a picture of my desktop for a few seconds before going black again, so it was clear the issue wasn't the computer itself, thankfully. So I called tech support.

The automated voice on the phone demanded I speak to it. I know I'm old and out of the technological loop at this point, but I feel like a complete jackass talking to a computer. Can I just push a button? Please? Pleasant Automated Voice asked me to speak the name of the afflicted hardware. "If you're having a software issue, say, 'software'..." Unwilling to wait any further, I said "Monitor." Automated Voice asked me to wait a moment, then said, "Please say the serial number of your... plotter... " I don't even know what a plotter is or whether I even have one, but that's not what I said. Hoping the word, "NO!" would send me back to the previous menu, I said it a few times. Automated Voice kept asking for my plotter's serial number. By now I'm pissed off and push the #0 on the phone keypad. Automated Voice now became Condescending Automated Voice and actually said, "I can understand you when you speak to me. Please say the serial number of your... plotter..." Ack. "No, bitch, you can't understand me when I speak to you, because I didn't say 'plotter'!!"

I pushed #0 about five million times and was finally transferred to India. I then spent 45 minutes talking to three different men, first doing all their suggested "fixes" like replugging and restarting, and eventually just saying I was doing them when I wasn't. My monitor is broken. I can't go into BIOS because I can't see the fucking screen. They finally agreed and said they would send me a new one, to arrive in 3-5 business days.

On Wednesday, I called around asking if anyone had a spare monitor laying around. "My kids can't do their typing," I said. "They can't do internet research." Uh.. yeah. The kids need it. My cousin offered to bring over a spare from her parent's house, but couldn't get it for me until Thursday. Ugh.

Thursday, my cousin drove out to her parent's place to pick it up for me, then clear out to my place to drop it off. I spent a good half hour looking for cords and fighting with connectors while cramped under the desk with a flashlight. Woohoo, it worked! I sat back and viewed my desktop in all its glory. Then FedEx pulled up out front with my new monitor. Figures. Laughing, I thanked my cousin for going out of her way to bring me that spare. "You know how it goes," she told me, "If I didn't have a spare for you, they wouldn't have delivered it until next week."

So I can get my internet fix the kids can do their internet research now. Blogs can be read and posted The kids can type papers. And we can return to our regularly scheduled surfing educational activities.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'm learnin' 'em real good...

Yesterday was the homeschool day from hell.

Cadence apparently forgot how to add. She didn't "get it," I guess. This was worth about an hour of very frustrated conversations. When that was finally done, I gave her some writing to do, sent her on her way, and moved on to Chad.

I gave Chad a map, and told him to label all the Scandinavian countries. (I should mention that he has done this sort of map project at least 10 times. I might also mention that a full half of my lineage is Swedish. That's half my family. That's a grandpa and a full set of great-grandparents to my kids. It's aunts and uncles. It's great aunts and uncles still living in Sweden.) "How am I supposed to know where the countries are?" he asked me. "There are no words on this map." Ahem. "Of course not," I told him, "You're supposed to put the words there." "How am I supposed to know where they are?" "Umm.. maybe try the atlas?"

He couldn't find the atlas. He said he didn't know what an atlas was, even though he's used it every few days since the beginning of the year.
He didn't know how to figure out what part of the world to look up in the atlas.
He couldn't find Greenland.
During writing, he asked what a paragraph was. "Is that the same thing as a sentence?"
I reminded him to indent, and he indented every line except the first one.

And I corrected his spelling of the word "they", like I've been doing for four years, bringing the total to about 5,473,000,058. Right about that time, Riley broke up the party by saying, "Mama come and see this. It was an accident." While trying to dislodge the toothpicks from the Cook button on the microwave, I announced school was over for the day.

Thankfully, today went much better.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Keeping busy in the winter...

The winter months are perfect for projects. Sure, you can go outside, but the time spent out there is significantly less, and the stuff you can do out there is pretty limited. Walks, building snow structures and sledding. And all of them are cold. I've been busily organizing things. The dreaded pan cupboard. The bookshelves. Tax records (ha!). Dresser drawers. When I'm not organizing like a crank addict with OCD, I knit and sew, read and cook. I'm busy.

The kids, however, are going insane. Up until last week or so, they were filling their days with arguments, inappropriate indoor behavior (water balloons, slingshots and roller-skating, to name a few), and slowly driving me insane with tattling. But something happened last week, when they suddenly realized they could be doing projects. Useful projects, like knitted potholders and decorated candles. Decorative projects like wall hangings and cross-stitch. A literally endless supply of projects to keep a person busy for an endless number of winters.

First, Cadence decided she'd draw pictures of all the planets to put up on her bedroom walls. She started with Saturn because, "It's the coolest planet. Besides Earth I mean." She asked how many moons Saturn has, and Vic told her Saturn has more than sixty. Here's how it turned out:

By my count, there's only 59 in this picture, but close enough I think.

Next, I showed them how to make what my Girl Scout leader called a God's Eye. Riley surprised me by catching on to the technique very quickly:Chad is experimenting with different wrapping arrangements, but hasn't been satisfied enough with anything to allow me to photograph it.

Then, they all made Dream Catchers. After a few failed attempts using regular sticks from the yard, Chad thought of using grape vine, which we happen to have an abundance of, since after the vine has been cut, torn up by the roots and even burnt repeatedly, just Will Not Die. Throw in some beads and chicken feathers, and you've got yourself a pretty awesome dream catcher to hang over the bed:Riley's (She's four, you know).


And Chad's. He helped the girls with theirs, but was sure that his was the most elaborate. He later complained that the star was not geometrically perfect, but it must have been good enough to hang over his bed.

As I type, they are all three in Chad's room cutting apart a dowel and making an exercise area in the rat cage. They're happily working together, and I've had an entire afternoon for my own projects and time-wasters. I'm starting to like winter.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Unintended pregnancies...

In local news:
Former first lady Christie Vilsack has launched a new statewide program aimed at
reducing unintended pregnancies in Iowa. The goal is to educate Iowans
about contraception and make it easier to get family planning services.
Vilsack is the new executive director of the Iowa Initiative to Reduce
Unintended Pregnancies. According to the organization, the level of
unintended pregnancy by age is 72 percent for 18-19 year olds, 48 percent for
20-25 year olds, 25 percent for 26-30 year olds, and 20 percent for 30-35 year
olds. Vilsack says when half of all pregnancies in Iowa are unintended,
then "we are not doing enough for women."

This from the wife of a governor that believed unless we allowed Child and Family Services to forcibly remove children from the home without proof abuse, we weren't doing enough for the children. But hat's a rant for another day.

Those numbers look shocking, unless you consider that "unintended" is not the same thing as "unwanted." I have given birth to four children. Two of them were unintended pregnancies. While the first of these unintended children was conceived when I was 18 and stupid (but thank goodness, right?), the second was after I was married with two kids running around, and well aware of all my contraceptive options. Heck, I was well aware of my contraceptive options at 18 too, I just didn't care. How many married couples had that "Surprise!" baby?? How many couples are using alternative methods and having numerous "unintended" pregnancies? How much do you suppose that percentage goes up in the 40-45 group? Holy cow. Unintended. That's not even the same as "unexpected." I mean, I didn't intend to get pregnant with Riley, but when there's sex and no contraception, I'd have to be an idiot not to expect that.

Babies don't have to be planned to be a valid, wanted blessing to their families. I don't care about women between the ages of 18 and 35 having an unintended pregnancy. Those women are adults with a firm grasp of where babies come from; most of whom have jobs and the means and maturity to care for a child. They don't need to be educated about contraception. They know where to buy condoms and how to get birth control pills, and they no longer have to worry about Mom and Dad finding out about it. They've got it covered, I think. I care about 12 year old girls with unintended pregnancies. Educate them, Christie Vilsack, you incompetent twit!

I'd like to know how much money it's going to take to educate adults in a subject they are already pretty clear on, and just where that money is coming from. I'm betting it could be better spent in about 57,396,478 different ways.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Soup freaks...

Who doesn't love settling into a warm bowl of soup in the winter? Here's what we had tonight:

Butternut Squash Soup

Shamefully snagged from AllRecipes (but then tweaked so much it's almost my own). This is the recipe:
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove chopped garlic
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted (butter is better, of course)
2 medium sized butternut squash (about 6 cups after cooking and peeling)
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/8 - 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on your taste for spice)
1 package cream cheese or Neufchtel (8 oz)
Slice and core squash. Brush lightly with butter, setting remaining butter aside. Roast squash in a 425 degree oven 25 minutes or until tender. While squash cools, in a large soup pot, saute onions and garlic in remaining butter until clear and tender. Scoop squash from the skins, discard skins (duh). Add chicken broth and spices to the soup pot, bring to a boil. Add squash and remove from heat. Process soup with cream cheese in batches in the food processor until smooth. Return to soup pot and heat through (do not boil). 6 servings.
I double this recipe, but I like to have lots of leftovers. As with just about any squash recipe, any old squash or pumpkin will do. This time I used acorn squash, but butternut gives it a slightly nutty undertone that I love. A fantastic change from the usual sweet squash soups, this soup is creamy, spicy and wonderful, and completely tweakable. Imagine it with roasted red peppers. Diced asparagus. ..bacon... mmmmm...


"School" was perfect today. Calm. No conflicts with time. No arguments about content. Cadence only said, "I don't get it," six times instead of sixty. I didn't lose my patience one time. Rare, but I can still appreciate how wonderful it could be, if every day were like this.

I struggle with Riley's schoolwork. Through the normal parenting stuff (singing songs, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, "look, radishes! See the sign says 'radishes'." etc.), my youngest child has learned all her letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Essentially, she's mastered preschool content without ever attending preschool. She knows several letter sounds and can sound out a lot of small words. She writes letters to people, asking the spelling of Every. Single. Word. BUT, she is not ready for Kindergarten work. Adding she can do, but put the numbers on paper and she's lost. She lacks the motor skills needed to write "right", and knows it (and it seems she's another perfectionist - great!), so she often refuses to practice writing letters and numbers. Sequencing is easy for her as long as it's a pictorial 3-step easy thing, like a whole apple, an apple with a bite out of it, and a well-eaten core. Anything beyond that and she's frustrated and refuses to do it.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I want it to be clear that I have never, EVER asked her to do any of this directly. She's four. There's no way I'm pushing her at all. Chad and Cadence start their schoolwork and Riley starts begging. "I want schoolwork too!" She loves workbooks, but has declared the preschool workbooks "baby books". When I give her the harder stuff, she refuses to do it, and of course I say, "You don't have to if you don't want to." But she DOES want to do SOMETHING, just not that. There have been a few workbooks she really likes, but I actually take those away from her after a few pages, afraid she'll finish the book and have nothing to do tomorrow.. and then have a huge fit because I don't have anything for her to do. *Sigh*