30 October 2006

The Reunion Report

So we did it. We went to my high school reunion, and lived to tell about it. It was actually quite fun. I had been informed in advance that the crowd would be on the small side {between a quarter and a third of the total class size}, but was glad to see that the vast majority of people I hoped to see were in attendance.

Friday night was the homecoming football game. I mingled a bit, and got the opportunity to introduce Si and E. to some of my classmates. It also gave me some quiet time {compared to the actual reunion dinner} to catch up with some old friends. This was the first football game we've ever taken E. to, and he informed us at the end that his favorite part was...the cheerleaders. Did I mention his father was girl-crazy as a young boy? I am seeing some similarities here. This, of course, was closely followed by the tubas. He loved the tubas.

Saturday night was the actual reunion. We dressed up as fancy as is possible when one is hugely pregnant {plain black dress}, only to have a last-minute shoe emergency. Due to the issues with my broken toe, I had gone out and purchased some very plain, practical black shoes for the evening. Apparently, my feet were very swollen on the day I went shopping, because when I put them on Saturday night they were so huge they were actually sagging on the sides! Panicked, I raided my mommy's closet, and all was not lost, though the shoes I borrowed were painful enough that I spent much of the evening sitting at my table and letting people come to me to say hello.

I am sure Rebecca will agree that the music was too loud, the service was poor {water glasses not refilled, food not served over two-and-a-half hours after the event had "started"}, and it was somewhat strange to see some of the 20-somethings stumbling around on the dance floor, drinking straight from the wine bottles {which were for a toast, by the way}. I am also learning that a certain portion of the women who are still single will dress in such a way as to maximize cleavage and leave little to the imagination. I wonder if this will still be true after another decade has passed?

But it was nice to catch up. It was good to see people with smiles on their faces, holding the hand of a husband or wife and flashing photos of a baby or two. It is a little strange to encounter someone one hasn't seen in ten years. They seem exactly the same, and yet totally different. But I suppose that is part of the draw for a reunion in the first place.

27 October 2006

Faster is Better {Part II}

Before I completely leave this little fixation on faster is better, I thought it might be important to add that faster is better is, to some extent, based on a false premise. This premise is that it is the having of extra time that makes one free.

I cannot think of any instance in which I want something done faster {or for me so I can avoid the task entirely} that is not connected to a desire to attain extra time that I can then spend on something I find to be more enjoyable.

This is not necessarily bad, but I must be honest with myself here. Many times faster is better means that there is something {or someone} else performing the process that gets me to the desired end result.

Not to obsess with food, but it is such an easy depiction of this idea. We love homemade bread around here. I mainly bake quickbreads, though occasionally I do bake a nice yeast loaf. Many times, I have been tempted to get a bread machine. There is nothing inherently wrong with owning a bread machine. However, I have not come close to mastering the art of breadmaking, especially when it comes to yeast loaves. I could buy a bread machine, and never buy grocery store bread again. But I wouldn't know how to make bread. I would have simply shifted my reliance on the grocery store to being reliance on the bread machine.

One of the cultural assumptions mentioned by Rahime during our brainstorming session was that electricity is an actual necessity. I am here to say that it is a need...as long as people like me are ignorant of how to do so many things. And it is the speed with which I desire to attain the ends {in this case bread} that leads me to remain ignorant.

Any time one avoids learning to do something oneself, one is actually becoming less free because one is confined by one's own ignorance. One need only look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to see that the simple ignorances accepted in our culture {concerning, for instance, survival skills} can have terrible consequences if a natural disaster occurs.

Independence cannot be attained with great speed because it is bought by the sweat of the brow and the work of the hands. In a culture that frowns upon hard work, this is hard to wrap one's mind around, and yet this truth stands {as all truth must}. Faster may at times be better, but overwhelmingly it leads to slavery, either to the worker who does the job in one's place, or the technology that leads one to remain ignorant of how the desired end result is actually attained.

26 October 2006

Faster is Better {Part I}

Today, as I sat waiting for my OB appointment, I found the time to scratch the surface of one of the cultural assumptions on my list I've been pondering lately: Faster is better.

As a refresher, I will reiterate the C.S. Lewis quote that started it all:
The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being debated, but the ones that are assumed.

This culture is constantly singing its siren song that faster is better. If something--some process or {better yet!} technology--allows for more to be accomplished in less time, it is automatically declared "good." And I can think of definite instances in which I completely agree with this. For example, if one can afford it, replacing dial-up internet service with something speedier like broadband or DSL tends to eliminate large amounts of time that are truly wasted. I can't think of any character quality developed by waiting for dial-up, nor can I think of many worse ways to spend the precious minutes in my day.

However, faster is better permeates all of life in this culture, not just the computer screen. And I think everyone who reads this blog now understands that I like to look at ideas in light of the underlying beliefs that produce them. One belief implied by the faster is better mantra is that it is the accomplishment of a task that is important. The process is viewed as having no inherent value.

One area where this is evident is food preparation. The recent introduction of peanut butter slices and practically instant hot dogs speaks volumes, as does the cultural embrace of the likes of the microwave and, coming soon to a concept kitchen near you, an oven that cooks faster than a microwave {I'd link to it, but I can't remember the name of the technology}.

If one is wealthy, there are other cooking alternatives available, including having a meal catered or purchasing take-out from an up-scale restaurant to eat at home. Any mix of items I have mentioned here effectively eliminates the actual work in the kitchen, and one is left with the simple act of eating food.

Now, I do not want to be completely black and white here {which is unlike me, I know}. I have experienced times in life when cooking had to take a place on the back burner, so to speak. There is usually a gap in our life after a baby is born. Our church friends bring us meals for two or three weeks, and then there is another three or four weeks {maybe more this time!} where we eat fast foods. Frozen meals and canned goods are utilized because I just don't have the time and energy for anything more in those early days.

However, if I lived that way for years on end, my family's health would suffer, for instant foods are of an inferior nutritional value. Beyond that, my character would suffer because I would have lost a certain amount of independence. Right now, I can take ingredients like flour and sugar, chicken, herbs and spices, and fresh vegetables and turn it all into a meal. A lifestyle of quick foods would mean that I am relying on someone or something else {a restaurant chef or a factory} to produce food in an edible form for me.

I see value in the process of cooking itself. But I also see value in other processes. Faster is better often eliminates processes while still producing an end that one finds livable. But any development of mind or character is avoided because that development would have to take place through the process and not the enjoyment of the end result.

25 October 2006

Pumpkins Are Food

The recent front cover of Better Homes and Gardens was graced with piles and piles of beautiful pumpkins placed as decorative touches within the confines of a backyard. I thought the effect was absolutely gorgeous, but I was also quite mystified because around here pumpkins placed outside quickly go from attractive to moldy, mushy messes. And though pumpkin carving is a very impressive idea {a makeshift lantern fashioned from fruit always is}, once cut, a pumpkin disintegrates even more quickly.

Maybe I just purchase the wrong sort of pumpkins, but around here, pumpkins are food. There are many meals and treats that can be made with pumpkin parts; the following is what our family does. By the way, we purchase only sweet pumpkins or pie pumpkins.

Step One: Clean the outside of the pumpkin.
A good scrubbing with the vegetable brush never hurt a pumpkin, and it makes sure one is beginning with a clean surface, as one would wish to with any cooking project.

Step Two: Clean the inside of the pumpkin.
This is the part that makes your hands "goofy," as my son would say {he means goopy}. Since the pumpkin is food, cut it completely in half from top {stem} to base. Using a spoon, scrape out all the pulp and seeds and place in a bowl. Little boys are the best tool for separating the seeds from the pulp, but any coordinated human should work.

Step Three: Make pumpkin puree.
Cover each pumpkin half with foil and place them on a baking sheet foil-side-up. Place in preheated oven and bake at 325 for about one hour {until tender}. Allow to cool until it is bearable to work with, and then scrape the meat away from the shell and place in a blender. Usually, a lot of liquid has collected inside the pumpkin during cooking, and this is the perfect liquid to use in the puree because it will not water down the taste. Make sure all stringy pieces have been pulled out, and blend until the consistency is similar to commercial baby food or applesauce.

Step Four: Decide on storage.
Even a pumpkin on the small side will make as much as five cups of puree. A lot of recipes for pumpkin sweets only call for one cup, and we don't eat things fast enough to make five batches of anything. So, divide any extra puree into freezer-safe bags, making sure the amounts are recipe-ready. Make sure to write the amount measurement on the outside of the bag. Freeze, and there might be enough puree to eat pumpkin goodies for the remainder of autumn.

Step Five: Roast those seeds.
Seeds in general are a good source of calcium, so there is no reason to waste them by throwing them out. Once the seeds have been separated from the pulp, rinse them clean and mix them in a bowl with some melted butter. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer, salt to taste, and cook at 300 degrees for 45 minutes or so, stirring at least once during the bake time to prevent scalding. My little girl loves pumpkin seeds!

Step Six: Bake the goodies.
Before I give out the two recipes we make {both of which are modified from recipes I found on AllRecipes}, I want to note that infants starting solid foods usually love pumpkin puree straight from the blender. If there is a bit leftover, feed it to a baby.

Pumpkin Bread
2 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 Tb. non-aluminum baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup butter, softened

Grease loaf pan if needed and preheat oven to 350. Place oven rack in lower 1/3 of the oven. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Little boys are good at stirring this mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, eggs and salt. Mix well, and then add to the flour mixture. Blend in the softened butter one tablespoon at a time. Bake until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean, from 45 minutes to an hour. Allow to cool at least ten minutes before cutting and serving. Makes one loaf.

Pumpkin Cookies
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. non-aluminum baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Cream together butter, olive oil, and sugar. Beat in the egg, vanilla and pumpkin puree. In separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt and cinnamon. Combine with the pumpkin mixture. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Be careful not to overbake. I do not remember how many cookies it makes.

A friend of mine tints white sugar-cookie frosting orange and frosts these cookies so that grownups and children alike can decorate them to look like pumpkin faces using candy corn. There are many options!

24 October 2006

Family Traditions: Autumnal Farm Trip

My son and I began a tradition last year involving farms and pumpkins and apples. Actually, I thought it was a one-time event, but my son took this to be a tradition from the get-go, and reminded me constantly the second he found out it was October again. {We sometimes keep the date a secret around here.}

About thirty minutes from our house, there is a little organic family farm. This is not to be confused with an actual apple farm, which specialize in apples. This farm has a little something to be picked year-round. Blackberries, blueberries, rasberries, apricots, plums, pluots, strawberries, varieties of pears and apples, avacados, and pumpkins are just a sampling of what is grown at this farm.

What is great about this farm is that it is just commercialized enough for my little guy. In other words, he gets to take a tractor ride. And that is the true reason why we go, at least in his mind. Last year's tractor ride was better than this year's, but we still got the full tour of the property, plus a chance to jump off the trailer and pick our very own pumpkins.

There is also a small petting zoo, as well as a peacock pen. E. was amazed at how blue the peacocks were.

Anyhow, we always end our excursion with a trip to the fruit stand. The great thing about this farm as that they do not harvest until the fruit is truly ripe. This is actually very important when one is considering the nutritional content of one's food, and one of the reasons our eventual goal is to have our own fruit trees. Glycological science is still new, but a lot of research into glyconutrients tells us that certain sugars heal. There are a number of different glyconutrients in fruit, but the most important do not enter the fruit until the ripening process is complete. There are companies out there that would like to sell a person these nutrients as a very expensive supplement. It seems much easier to simply put off harvesting until the time the Lord designed.

All of that to say that we go to the fruit stand and purchase inexpensive, ripe organic fruit. This year we concentrated on a large sweet pumpkin and a bag of apples to make applesauce.

Just because we avoid Halloween doesn't mean that we have no use for pumpkins. Tomorrow, I will explain why one should skip the carving and the decorating and simply eat the pumpkin as God intended.

23 October 2006

New Recipes for Autumn

With my broken toe close to normal in size and greatly lessened in pain, and my energy level at a five-week high, I did some major kitchen duty on Saturday. And it was a great success! I thought I would share these recipes for anyone who is interested in something new to celebrate autumn.

On Friday, E. and I visited a local organic family farm. It's a tradition I will write about soon. We came home with ripe pumpkins and fuji apples {it's apple season right now--don't forget!}. Here is my recipe for applesauce. I got the idea for it by reading several applesauce recipes and then combining the flavors to what I thought best fit our family's tastes.

Fuji Applesauce
7 fuji apples, cored and sliced {you can peel them if you like, but we like to retain the nutrition and use a blender to break them up}
3/4 cup water
1/4+ cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Place apples and water in a soup kettle, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring off and on, for 20 minutes or until apples seem sufficiently softened {fujis may take longer than certain types of baking apples}. Pour in sugar and stir until it disolves. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg. Spoon mixture into a blender, and puree until the texture is to your liking. Refrigerate until cold, or serve warm.

This next recipe is courtesy of Trader Joe's, which is my favorite place to procure healthful foods for our family. TJ's organic goods are some of the least expensive I've seen in our area. I was looking for a new soup to add to our fall menu rotation, and this one from TJ's is very good, and it easily served 5 adults and three small children last night, with enough leftover for everyone to have a second meal today!

Italian Sausage & Spinach Soup
1 package TJ's Sweet Italian Sausage {package is approximately 1 lb.--TJ's brand is nitrate and nitrite free}
3 large containers TJ's Organic Chicken Broth {maybe 96 oz. total}
medium onion, chopped
1 large can chopped tomatoes
1+ cup rice
6 oz. baby spinach

Remove sausage from casing and saute with onion over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking the sausage apart as it cooks. Add chicken broth and heat until just boiling. Add tomatoes and rice; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until rice is cooked, about 20 minutes for white rice. Add spinach and cook until the spinach takes on a vibrant color. Serve while hot! This tastes great alongside TJ's Three Chesse Sourdough Loaf. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Lastly, what is a recipe collection without a dessert section? This is a pie recipe I found at Starbucks when Si and I were first married. I find that it is best with real Starbucks brand ice cream, which means I only make it once a year as an expensive special treat. But it is sure yummy!

Java Chip Pie
1 1/2 cups crushed chocolate wafers
1/2 cup ground hazlenuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 pints Starbucks brand Java Chip ice cream, softened
2 cups whipped cream
chocolate curls for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, combine crushed wafers, ground hazelnuts and melted butter. {I find it easiest to grind the hazelnuts and wafers in a coffee grinder. It is fast and easy to clean up.} Mix well and press into the bottow of a 9-inch pie plate so that the bottom and sides are covered. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Fill crust with the softened ice cream. Top with big dollops of whipped cream. Freeze for at least three hours until firm. Top with chocolate curls {I use a potato peeler and a Hershey bar to create the curls.}

19 October 2006

Family Traditions: Baby Naming and Blessing

With the holidays creeping up, and a new baby on the horizon, I feel a bit of nostalgia hovering over our house. And I'm remembering all the traditions we've already built into our short family history. I think I will share a few of them in the near future, some of them on the serious side, and some of them invented just for fun.

This first one has to do with how we name our children. I recently read a posting by Herrick Kimball where he explains his belief that "it is good to give children family names or name them in honor of virtuous people. In the former case it connects and grounds a child to the family. In the latter it connects them to persons that you hope they will learn about and whose character they will emulate."

Though we did not use either of these methods {family members or famous people}, we do seek out names that connect our children to something bigger than themselves. But instead of tying them to another person through the name, we try to connect them to a certain virtue or group of virtues using the meaning of the name.

Allow me to explain the process.

First, we find out we're pregnant. This is essential in baby naming. I'm serious! I often think about baby names when I'm not pregnant, but inevitably names I've entertained don't "feel right" when I'm actually with child. Si and I often say that we don't name our children as much as we discover what their name is. Part of the process is actually quite intuitive.

Shortly after EPT confirms our suspicions, I usually get the urge to name the child. This is when Si starts to avoid me, fearing that I am not far enough along to be naming the baby. I can see his point. After all, we lost a baby once. Of course, I don't think it hurt any more or less because the baby did or didn't have a name. But I digress.

Since I am the one with the naming urges, I am the one that puts together the official list of possible names. Our criteria for making the list looks somewhat like Sallie's list, though it is a little less extensive:
  1. Must not be in the previous year's Top 20, no matter how appealing we find it. We just don't want Baby to be another Hadyn/Caden/Aiden or Haley/Raley/Kaylie on the playground, even though we loved the name Aiden way back before it was cool.
  2. Must sound good with our last name, especially if the baby is a boy and stuck with the last name for an entire lifetime.
  3. No weird spellings.
  4. No invented names.

I think that about covers the criteria. At this point, I might have list of ten boy names and ten girl names. I usually give the list to Si and have him circle his three favorites, and see if there are any matches with my favorites. So far, we have always had matches. {When we were naming A., we only agreed on one name. When ultrasound time came, the name conveniently fit the fact that A. is a girl, so we never bothered to come up with an alternate.}

Once we have matches, it is time for me to research the meanings of the names. BabyCenter has a number of helpful tools, including their babynamer. Name meanings are, as I mentioned, of the utmost importance to us. I remember once upon a time that Si and I both entertained the idea of the name Wesley for a boy. I still like the sound of the name. But I had no use for the meaning of the name {"the west meadow"}, and neither did Si, so it was automatically disqualified.

After an ultrasound has convinced us of what sort of baby we're being blessed with, we spend some weeks thinking and dreaming about our baby. About a month before the due date, we go on a date. The first time we did this, it was our first anniversary, and we went to Downtown Disney in the City of Anaheim. The second time, we went to Starbucks. Location doesn't matter.

On this date, we write Baby a blessing. The blessing begins by expressing our hopes for Baby's salvation, and each child's blessing has begun and will begin with the same line {these blessings are written as poetry, by the way}. The rest of the blessing is specific to the child and the meaning of that child's first and middle names {middle names have to meet the requirements for meaning and spelling, but we do not worry about popularity as much}. We pray before we really get started, and then we spend time pulling out qualities implied by the name, and Bible verses that might elaborate upon that quality. In the end, we have a two-stanza poem of blessing.

The first night after the baby is born, Si reads the blessing over the child, and that is our official naming ceremony.

It is my hope to begin a tradition of creating some sort of plaque or wall hanging out of these blessings to give to the children on their fifth or sixth birthdays. I want them to be old enough to understand it, and young enough to be in awe of it. It is our hope that the children will rise to the occasion of their names, and see their blessing as a sort of calling on their life.
Please notice I did not pray that you would be famous, that you would win the praises of men, that you would make a lot of money, that you would live in a big expensive home, that you would own a fancy car, that you would travel the world seeking thrills, or one exotic experience after another, that you would achieve a position of power and authority in the world’s structure, or even that you would live a life of ease. I did not ask the Lord for those things for you because they are not what is most important in this brief span of days we are allotted here on this earth. It’s all about faith, family,and living the good life—the good life as defined by He who created you and the world you live in. {Herrick Kimball}

11 October 2006

Bradley's Central Question

In my last post, I quoted some of Reb Bradley's Child Training Tips. I have read many {dozens?} of parenting books. Some were practical and "secular," such as What to Expect the First Year. Others have walked that fine line of sycretism, blending Biblical principles with modern psychology--books like Bringing Up Boys and Boundaries with Kids. My favorites, however, have been those like Bradley's, which truly believe Scripture is profitable for all areas of life, and seek to build a complete childrearing model from Scripture alone. {Other than Bradley's, I have also appreciated books like Roy Lessin's How to Be the Parents of Happy And Obedient Children as well as William and Colleen Dedrick's The Little Book of Christian Character and Manners.}

Based on Scripture, Bradley sets forth a bit of background I think important to reiterate here in order to put forth what I call his "central question of parenting." Bradley explains that the Greek word ektrepho found in Ephesians 6:4 means to rear up to maturity. He concludes from this {and other passages} that the "primary goal then, of training and instruction, is to rear up children to maturity." Using the book of Proverbs, Bradley defines the three primary elements of maturity as self-control, wisdom, and responsibility.

This is my favorite part. Bradley writes, "To exaluate our parenting decisions we need simply determine: What will this activity, organization, or relationship, foster within our children--maturity or immaturity?"

One of the reasons this struck me is that it caused me to recall a bit of a debate over baseball that took place on the Dominion Family blog months ago. I tend to veer away from mommy cliques wherever I find them, so I am not privvy to a lot of the debates that go on in the homeschooling/childrearing worlds. In the comments, women mentioned feeling either pressured to have no sports/outside activity involvement at all, while others mentioned that there was a lot of pressure to have their kids involved in all sorts of extracurriculars. In the midst of it all, there were hints that homeschool "gurus" pull a lot of weight when it comes to how families decide to manage such decisions.

In contrast, I think a litmus test like Bradley's {Will this foster maturity?} actually leaves room for much more room for families to differ from one another. It assumes the Biblical absolute {childrearing's goal is maturity} and then assumes that parents are the best one's to make such decisions.

I admit that sometimes I am wary of what I call the Treadmill Parents. They seem to run around going nowhere. I think of one lady in particular who works 40-60 hours per week, and then spends the extra time putting her five-year-old only child in every activity known to man {sports, music lessons, martial arts, gym, etc.}. But I do think she is quite the extreme.

On the contrast, we do very little. Our son attends Sunday School on Sunday mornings {we all attend our church's main service together, however}, and then he also attends our church's Awana program once a week. I have, however, already been questioned by others as far as his activities. Specifically, I was confronted on how the new baby could really cramp our ability to put our son in sports. This particular woman seemed to view sports as a "right" of children, and if additional children made it difficult for our existing children to be involved in lots of activities, we were being immoral in bringing forth those additional children.

It all gets rather complicated, and I fear I am beginning to ramble. Bradley does offer a warning to Treadmill Parents:
If we are overindulgent parents, having as our highest goal to give our children fun, fulfilling childhoods, our children will learn to equate joy with fun. They must learn, however, that the greatest joy comes not through abundant recreation, but through a job well-done, and more specifically, through serving others.
In other words, too many activities that indulge the self can be detrimental.

But still, I go back to the beginning. If a parent will agree with the Bible that maturity is the goal, there is much creativity and diversity possible. It is practially standard procedure in our community to put a child in sports, without questioning the activity's impact on the child's character. When parenting decisions are made deliberately, they can be catered to each child's needs for increased maturity and personal growth, and therefore become much more than a mere activity for the child.

09 October 2006

Childrearing #12

Replace bad behaviors with good ones. This helpful hint is courtesy of Reb Bradley's book Child Training Tips. I read this book over the past week, and I'll be sharing more about it later on as well, but for now, this was something that set the book apart from most other parenting books I've read.

When I spoke with my mom about this idea, she equated it with the biblical concept of casting off the old, sinful self and putting on the new man offered in a life in Christ. I was excited by the thought of another reflection of the Christian life being available in how we parent our children. Yes, God tells us what not to do. Some things are forbidden. But He also shares good things to do with us. The same, I am learning, can be true in training children. We will now not only tell our children what not to do, but also give them a good behavior to replace the bad one with, and practice with them until they get good at it.

Here are two examples, one for our son and one for our daughter:
  • E. has developed a bad habit at meal times. Once all of us sit and the food is before us and we are preparing to pray, he will inevitably pick out something that looks bad to him and declare that he doesn't like it. This started during a time of an extreme bad attitude in regard to food. Though much of the attitude has dissappeared with time and discipline, the habit has remained. And, truly, it seems to be just that--something he does and says without thinking. So, after reading Bradley's advice, we have decided to give him something else to do. He is to thank whomever prepared the meal {usually me, but sometimes Si}, and pick out one thing he likes and say something positive about it. This should give him direction and help him to practice kindness in speech and gratitude for how others are serving him.
  • A. has recently become the sort of toddler who likes to run the other way when she is told to come to us. I have already been chastising her because I fear the eventual danger should she decide to do this outside near a busy street. However, she has continued the behavior each new day, regardless of the previous day's discipline. Bradley writes, "A toddler who does not come quickly when called is chastised and then given 5 or more practice 'walks of obedience' with praise for good performance." This is definitely my new plan with A. Hopefully, the diligent practicing of good behavior will decrease the amount of time spent training her in this area.

After reading Bradley's work, Si and I determined that we should be more diligent and proactive in our parenting. Bradley writes, "Surrounding them with Christian influences is certainly good, but it is no substitute for 'training.' Training is a conscious, active effort of instruction, discipline, and modeling, and not a byproduct of a good environment or a loving home."

07 October 2006

Frugal Moment: Acquiring Winter Wardrobes for Littles

She is not afraid of the snow for her household...
{Proverbs 31:21a{
Winter wardrobes can be quite costly, especially if one lives somewhere where the season is harsh {thankfully, our winters are quite reasonable}. We adults can purchase quality winter attire and know that it will serve us well for years to come. Children, however, often cannot wear the same clothes even two seasons in a row. This means that, even when one can afford it, investing heavily in expensive winter clothing {or any clothing, for that matter}, is not the best use of one's resources.

Some women I know are skilled in sewing, knitting, and crocheting, and can produce warm sweaters and jackets by hand. I am not one of these people. I have, however, begun to learn a few basic methods of preparing for the cold season without breaking the family piggy bank.

What one already owns is cheapest
The storage shelving in my garage is lined with boxes of children's clothing. Each box has a number, and each number has a matching index card in a card file in my house. The index cards contain lists of what exactly is in each box. This is how I prevent wasting huge amounts of time searching for items.

We are at the beginning of our childbearing years, so I am sure the boxes will pile up with time. This is a good thing. It is always cheaper to keep and reuse what we already have on hand {most of which, by the way, we did not pay for but rather received in the form of birthday and Christmas gifts}.

Gently Used Children's Clothing
At this point, we only have one boy and one girl. This means that there is a very minimal amount of clothing that can be shared between the two children. Once I prepare a list of what we will need to make it from autumn's onset to Christmas Day, the first place I go is a little store I know of that specializes in reselling gently used children's clothing. This sort of shop is generally more expensive than places like the Salvation Army or Goodwill stores, and costs more than twice as much as garage sales, but I find I save money by only going to one place. This is because gas costs money. When hunting for deals, one cannot afford to forget that saving $2.00 on clothes but spending $2.50 on gas is actually an overall loss to the family's checking account.

Second hand stores tend to follow the seasons, so sometimes it pays to call (rather than waste gas!) and make sure that the new season's clothing is available. For instance, I know to wait until November 1st before shopping for dressy holiday clothing because my little store doesn't put anything like that out before then.

An additional hint for getting the most out of a second-hand store is to bring something to sell. Most of these stores sell and buy. I decluttered the playroom and the clothing boxes before my most recent visit. Though I keep the majority of our kids' clothes for future children to wear, not all clothes are keepers. Some are difficult to get on and off {my kids have big heads, others aren't convenient for potty training}, others might be too trendy to wear in a future season, and a couple outfits never seemed modest enough for our daughter and we prefer our next one never wear them. On my last trip, selling our cast-off items paid for half of our total bill, making my expenditure less than seven dollars!

Watch Local Classifieds
Here in California, there is a wonderful publication called the PennySaver. More than once, I have seen boxes of children's clothing listed for sale. Sometimes a box of 50 items--all in one or two sizes--will be as cheap as fifteen or twenty dollars. I have learned to watch for these boxes to be sold by people living in good neighborhoods. It is even better if they boast of "better brands" such as OskKosh or Gymboree. In my experience, better brands purchased second hand often last longer than cheap clothing purchased in new condition.

Never say "no" to hand-me-downs. If they do not work immediately, they may work for another child. Or, they can be used to bless another family in the neighborhood. Lastly, they can be sold to a second-hand store and traded for clothing that is more appropriate.

Pray for hand-me-downs. We were the first of our close friends to have children, so this isn't something that is abundant in our life. Still, they have appeared when we needed them most.

Also, don't give too much away. Give away excesses, duplicates, or occasionally whatever can meet a truly pressing need, but don't give away so much that the family then bears the burden of repurchasing items for future children. The name of the clothing game is often thinking ahead and realizing that there may be more children someday, so certain items are worth keeping.

Also, don't be afraid to lend rather than permanently give. We have a few boy items we don't need right now that are specialty items: ski pants and ski vest, a zip-up blanket, etc. If God gives us another boy someday, we will certainly want to use these things, but there is no reason not to let others use them in the meantime. Some people have borrowed them for a special trip to the snow, others have borrowed to last the season, but we always get these items back so that we will be prepared for the possibilities of our own future.

Shopping: The Last Resort
Again, I'd like to emphasize the cost in driving around. Unless there is something specific that one cannot find at one's local haunts, it is best to watch for deals along one's normal route. For instance, Target recently had a collection of winter clothing priced barely higher than the average second-hand store, and I still needed something after exploring all the other options above. This ended up being a great way to round out A.'s basic wardrobe while buying usual household items, meaning I didn't spend extra time and gas hunting around.

06 October 2006

Living Out Faith

I remember that I once posted a quote I acquired from Amy's Humble Musings concerning what it means to be Amish. I will repost it here for the sake of convenience:
“How many of you have TV in your homes” Fifty-two hands went up. “Now, how many of you feel that perhaps you would be better off without TV in your homes?” Again, fifty-two hands went up. “All right. Now, how many of you are going to go home and get rid of your TV?” Not one hand went up!

Now that is what it means to be Amish.
So, in the end, this particular Amishman defined being Amish as the living out of beliefs.

For those readers of mine who do not read Carmon's blog, I just wanted to offer up this other, moving example of how this fact of Amish life, this marriage of belief and behavior, has manifest itself in their community, this time in response to the recent school slayings. Carmon writes:
Many have noted the wonderful lack of acrimony on the part of the Amish community toward the family of the man who killed the young girls. The Amish have taken food to the man’s widow and children, and they have given them words of comfort and prayers.

05 October 2006

The Darndest Things {10/06}

It is hard to believe that I am starting this list on time this month. Please don't get used to it. By the way, I figure now is the time to start transitioning to being a family of five, so there will now occasionally be mention of the antics of Baby Q., our unborn new addition.

18 October 2006: JUST GO TO SLEEP!
This is what I get for bragging that both my kids slept through the night before ten weeks of age. Now they are four and one and waking me up.

Let's take last night, for instance. First, Baby Q. goes to gymnastics class from approximately 11:15pm to 12:15am. Mommy cannot fall asleep, for this is the most intense movement of the day. But soon after the antics are over, I am fast asleep, only to be rudely awakened by a screaming, terrified toddler. It's 1am, and A. has had a nightmare. I tuck her in bed and take a long nap. At 3:45, E. is fearful of the dark, but his bladder is full. Around 4, some cats have a fight in our backyard, right beneath our bedroom window. At 4:45, A. has a repeat nightmare, and at 6, she is up again and yelling because she is angry about how the night has gone for her. Around 7:30, we are all up and facing the day, and I am feeling like I already have a newborn.

14 October 2006: Cuddly A.
A. occasionally gets in these moods where she wants to cuddle. Usually, Big Brother is her target. This morning, E. and Si were wrestling on the living room floor. While E. ran away to get something, A. plopped herself down on Si and waited for her return. E. has been trained to be gentle with girls and protective of his sister, so he was trying to still enjoy the time with Si without breaking the rules. But A. was there, and wouldn't budge. Every time E. leaned into Si, A. would reach forward, pat E.'s head and say "Baby" in this loving squeak, and then stretch with both arms to give him a big hug. And I do mean every time. This went on and on until Si finally felt sorry for the poor boy, who simply wanted to play like a boy, and here a silly girl was trying to love on him. So A. was sent to cuddle with Mommy, who, of course, was busy doing nothing with her injured foot propped up in the air. And Mommy likes to cuddle, so we were a good match.

4 October 2006: Looks Like Heaven
Tonight, as we were driving E. to Cubbies, the sun was setting. He was amazed when he saw it. "Oooh! Do you see that fire line? It looks like heaven! It looks like heaven! I think I can see Jesus making a house for us."

3 October 2006: Nightly Ritual
I have a ritual that is probably similar to that of other moms of young children. Late at night, before I go to sleep, long after the children have been placed in their beds, I wander the house and "check on them." I put this in quotes because, though the toddler usually does need to be checked on {she can't keep a blanket on to save her life, and it's getting cold now}, the four-year-old really doesn't need me. But I can't help it.

There isn't much that is more beautiful than a sleeping toddler. Looks can fool a person, and our baby girl looks just like an angel when she's asleep. In fact, so does the boy. Even after a tough day, where E. has required much discipline and tried his mother's patience, if I sneak in and watch him sleep, I can feel my heart melting as I watch his peaceful slumber.

My kids can be quite sweet while awake, but they are perfect when they sleep.

04 October 2006

Solving the Mysteries of Dr.Suess

googoo goggles
G . . . g . . .G

We don't own all of Dr. Suess' mysterious masterpieces {yet}, but we do own quite a few. Toddlers love them for their silly sounds. I have mixed feelings about using them with early readers, for some of the words aren't real words at all. But we read them nonetheless. Thankfully, imaginary words are quite likely to follow known phonics rules, so all is not lost.

I have, however, long been puzzled by some of the Seussisms. For instance, why is Ichabod itchy? And how did those tired turtles end up at the top of the tuttle-tuttle tree? These things bother me in the middle of the night when Baby Q. is keeping me up with her uteran acrobatics.

Today, however, I solved one of the mysteries! You see, I was noticing my husband and daughter interacting. Any reader who has ever had a toddler around will know that at least one parent, if not both, feels toward the toddler emotions that are not unlike the feelings of courtship. It's like falling in love. Toddlers are completely lovable, even when they're disobeying. If one's toddler is especially cute, they may be lovable especially when they are disobeying. I remember being passionately enamored with E. in his day. And now A.'s day has come. I suppose I would feel passionately in love with her if she would let me. But she insists on being Daddy's Girl, which is only acceptable to me because they are so fun to watch.

All of this is to say that I have solved the mystery of the googoo goggles. What are googoo goggles?

It's the way my husband looks at my daughter.

Now I only wish I could acquire a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz. I am in need of one, as one can plainly see.

03 October 2006

Whiteboard Reading Lessons

Once upon a time, I was a twelve-year-old girl whose parents most graciously informed her it was time to get a job. I think the idea of a junior higher wasting away another summer was more than they could bear. And I'm sure they thought it would be good for me, which it was. After much thinking, I decided to teach reading. After all, my preferred method of "wasting" time was to read a book, so why not inspire little innocent children to do the same?

All of this paved the way for homeschooling, which is quite interesting to me, looking back on it. You see, I am the type of person who enjoys older children. I especially enjoy children who aren't really children at all, but simply adult-quality thinkers in young bodies. Back in graduate school, before I learned that E. was in my future, I seriously considered pursuing a career as a professor. Whereas many homeschooling moms I know talk of feeling intimidated by the idea of teaching their child high school someday, I think it will be a great adventure! I already have five extensive research/writing assignments in my head that I can't wait for them to pounce on {in about twelve years or so}.

It's getting them there that scares me. Somehow, E. has managed to learn his colors and numbers and letters and all the little kids stuff he is "supposed" to know. But the early years intimidate me much more than the later. And the idea that I won't ever get them there frightens me.

I think that I would have been completely put off by homeschooling my young children had it not been for this reading business I owned in my youth. With that experience, I was able to feel competent in at least one area, and it happens to be the one area that can help my children reach a lot of goals in a lot of other areas, so this is a Good Thing.

When I was young, I used Hooked on Phonics, I handmade flashcards for sight words, and I made sure to read out loud to the children. I sent flashcards home, along with notes to parents begging them to read to the children every day {most didn't}.

When E. was getting interested in reading, I discovered a little gem of a book called Give Your Child a Superior Mind by Siegfriend Englemann that explained the basics of what I now know is the DISTAR method. So, using what I remembered from my youth and what was contained in Englemann's book, I grabbed a whiteboard and our reading lessons began.

All of this was leading up to the whiteboard. The whiteboard is huge. It sits in our dining/play room on a bench. I have no where else to put it, so it stays out all the time. I think that has ended up being a great asset.

We only have lessons for fifteen minutes or so each day. I try to only write the lesson on the whiteboard once {E. takes great pains to pick the perfect color of markers each time}. If the lesson doesn't take {usually this means that he was unable to master that day's book}, I try to leave all the details up on the board. This is for the sake of efficiency. And it has become a great ritual to erase it all when he has finished the required learning.

But a side benefit has emerged. As long as A. doesn't sneak up onto the bench and erase the board, the lesson is always there to greet him if he is playing in that room, or during dinner {because his chair happens to face the board}. This means that he is constantly practicing. Usually, the board has combination sounds {phonics lessons} on the left side and sight words {we call them "words that don't follow the rules"} on the right side. At every meal, he insists on reading all the sight words, followed by the phonics sounds and accompanying words.

I never told him to practice. I never required him to practice. I want him to love reading the way that I do, and so I am careful to try and balance my insistence that he continue learning with not overdoing or asking too much too soon. What I have noticed, however, is that this habit of practicing means that he masters his books much quicker than before. It also means Dad stays involved in reading lessons because E. reads him all the words, and sometimes Dad can gently correct if needed {we have a rule around here about practicing something incorrectly}.

In all, I have learned that not having a place to put away the whiteboard has been a blessing in disguise. The extra practice is of great benefit, and wholly initiated by the child. What teacher could ask for more?

01 October 2006

Good Read Roundup

I don't post in this format very often, but every once in a while I read enough posts that inspire me or entertain me or educate me that I end up wanting to share. I figure if a post is good enough to stick in my head for a week, that's a sign. If I can still find it online, that helps, too. So...here is my recent roundup:

  • Observations on Arabs: I found this particularly fascinating. The author is an American anthropologist living in Eastern Europe writing about Arabs based on his observations while living within Arab culture over a period of about a year. He makes the point that he is writing about Arabs as a people group, not Muslims as a religious group. I found this to be interesting and helpful cultural information. He says that though many Arabs are Muslims, many are also Christians, and there are characteristics that they share as Arabs. This link is courtesy of Gates of Vienna, a place where there is always thinking going on.

  • Changing Times: This is a post by the Deputy Headmistress comparing some specific ways in which the definition of "disadvantaged" has changed over the years.

  • More on Crunchy Cons: Also by the DHM {she is a resource unto herself}, this was a very interesting critical review of Crunchy Cons. I haven't read the book yet, and I appreciated hearing a more balanced commentary. Many Christians have been singing Dreher's praises {as have many conservatives}. The DHM explains the ways in which Dreher is much more crunchy than he is conservative. Not that the two need be mutually exclusive.

  • Learn the Truth About Raw Milk: This post by a true Crunchy Conservative, the Kansas Milkmaid, deals mainly with why raw milk isn't really bad for you {in fact she deals with it effectively enough that I will cross that topic off my list from the Brainstorming post since there is no way I could do better than a dairymaid at discussing the subject}. The part of the posting I was really interested is her take on how greed is the underlying cause of the current E. coli/spinach problems. This lady knows her stuff.

  • Nazi Homeschooling Ban Upheld: I originally planned to post this as a News Lens, but I never got around to it, and it is getting more and more outdated {in the news world} as I type, so I thought I would throw it in the Roundup instead. Hitler outlawed homeschooling in Germany in order to prevent any values other than State values from being instilled in the children of the Reich. Apparently, German courts still believe that the children belong to the State and that the State's prerogatives supersede that of the parents.