31 August 2007

Good Public Schools

There are still good public schools out there, you know," she said, looking at me pointedly. I found this statement interesting because I hadn't said there weren't. In fact, I only admitted to the fact that we were homeschooling after she had asked me if we were homeschooling. I was trying to be very cautious because I knew her kids attended public schools, and I didn't want to accidently offend her.

Homeschooling moms reading this will know what I mean. Merely stating that one homeschools can be perceived as a passing of judgment and offend the person with whom one is conversing. Depending on the hearer, homeschooling can be considered a judgment of them personally, or a judgment upon the school.

The way I see it, there are good public schools. If education is only an encyclopedia to be memorized, a list of skills with little boxes next to each one that can be checked, a public school can accomplish this and give Mom time to clean the house in peace.

Everything hinges on how one defines education. We still have our definition in flux. We are fairly New At This. However, I will say that the primary reason we homeschool is that we believe education is a form of discipleship, and we believe the Shema makes it clear that discipleship ideally takes place within the family under the authority of the father.

Because we believe this about education, then we believe education as we see it cannot take place in an institution, and it most especially cannot take place in a government school.

But government schools are accomplishing their own ends. They, in true assembly-line style, churn out children prepared to function in this world. They prepare an average citizen for average citizenship. In his excellent essay Against School, John Taylor Gatto quotes H.L. Menken, who wrote in 1924 that the aim of public education is the aim of public education is not
to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States... and that is its aim everywhere else. (emphasis mine)
Gatto goes on to discuss Alexander Inglis's 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education which discusses purposes of government education that have much more to do with encouraging conformity and respect for a ruling elite than it does reading, writing and arithmetic.

Even if one chooses not to believe that there is a vast, socialized conspiracy to dumb down the general populace, one can still admit that the educational goals of a government school differ from a private school, the goals of which differ from a religious school, the goals of which differ from home education.

I am losing my vision for this post, so I will leave off with a quote from the essay Why Nerds are Unpopular by Paul Graham:
Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

30 August 2007

The Saga Continued

For those of you who care, we are home again. But, oh, how we worked to get here! Yesterday afternoon, we received a call saying that our air conditioner was fixed. This was Good News as we hadn't intended on moving in with my parents, but what exactly does one do when it is, after all, 105 degrees outside?

So we moved home. And we were so glad to be here.

At 10:00pm, I began to be suspicious that it was Hot.

I checked the thermostat.

It was hot.

I solved the case. The air conditioner was broken. Again.

But the kids were in bed. Si suggested opening the window, but it was 10:00pm and 95 degrees, so the windows remained shut. We decided to Stick It Out. It was 82 degrees steady all night long.

So in the morning, my mom came over and helped me pack it all up and move back to their home. We spent the morning there. Thankfully, a repairman made it out before nap today, and the children are all snug in their beds once again.

I heard a notice saying that this is a Power Flex day. This is a veiled threat that if we do not control our electricity consumption, the substation will control it for us by flipping the OFF button.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, now that my house has cooled off but it is 107 outside, the power goes out? Maybe that isn't actually irony...

In other news...
Since I'm turning this into a vanity post, I might as well go all the way. After reading Rahime's thoughts on the idea, I decided to take the plunge. I am now a proud member of PaperBackSwap. This is important because I have three books I have been trying to get rid of now in the mail to someone who wants them, and three books coming to me that I really want. And all this for the price of postage.

You know what they say about trash. Somebody out there has trash that I will treasure, and it is headed my way now.

So what is coming? Books for school, naturally. The first is a hardback called Adventures With Arnold Lobel. We love Lobel around here right now. He can make a five-year-old laugh out loud while reading! This lovely hardback contains three easy readers within: Small Pig, Mouse Tales and Uncle Elephant.

Next to arrive will be an unabridged edition of The Swiss Family Robinson. I don't know if it has illustrations or not, but it might not matter if it arrives in time to keep us company on a couple long car rides in our near future. Reading while driving is a great way to keep everyone contented and interested in something.

Lastly, we've requested a copy of Thornton Burgess' The Adventures of Grandfather Frog. We have never read Burgess before, but we're looking forward to it. I will have to check back when we are done and decide whether we like him as much as we think we will. Too bad it isn't illustrated by Michael Hague. He did such a wonderful job with The Wind in the Willows.

29 August 2007

School Away from Home

I can assure you that the final week of August is most definitely not an ideal time for the air conditioner to go out. How do I know this? Because my air conditioner is out. Did I mention it is over one hundred degrees outside? Because it is. This only matters when the air conditioning is out.

And so today we did school away from home. Actually, the children played with their great grandfather while I ran home to get all of the things we forgot. And then we crammed in some school right before nap. When E. awakens, he might get to read some Nate the Great to his granddad if Granddad is up for it.

This is the School-in-a-Bag version of homeschooling, where everything for school is in the bag. Good thing we decided to get those binders.

27 August 2007

ADHD: Now and Then

I often feel it wise to start certain posts with disclaimers. This is that sort of post. ADHD can be a tricky subject, and I will say up front that I do not believe that every case of ADHD or ADD can be narrowed down to one specific cause. Disease can affect brain function, as can diet. Not only this, but I have found observed that children allowed a steady consumption of electronic media like video games, cell phones {text messaging!}, television, and the like seem to display more behaviors that folks would classify as ADHD symptoms. And then there is, of course, the modern tendency to cage up boys who simply need to run and play in the sunshine.

However, comma...

It seems that more and more children are being diagnosed with this "disorder." Granted, some of this is a money game because schools get more money for children diagnosed with learning disabilities or handicaps than they do for "normal" kids. So perhaps some are just diagnosed to line the pocketbook. But if you have ever talked to the parent of a child with ADHD, then you know that it can be a real problem.

Imagine my surprise when, while reading Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education, I discovered that lack of attention was something Mason believed was a struggle for...every child:
What is Attention?--It is evident that attention is no 'faculty' of the mind; indeed, it is very doubtful how far the various operations of the mind should be described as 'faculties' at all. Attention is hardly even an operation of the mind, but is simply the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject in hand. This act, of bringing the whole mind to bear, may be trained into a habit at the will of the parent or teacher, who attracts and holds the child's attention by means of a sufficient motive.

Self-Compeller.--As the child gets older, he is taught to bring his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without. He should be taught to feel a certain triumph in compelling himself to fix his thoughts. Let him know what the real difficulty is, how it is the nature of his mind to be incessantly thinking, but how the thoughts, if left to themseves, will always run off from one thing to another, and that the struggle and the victory required of him is to fix his thoughts upon the task in hand. 'You have done your duty,' with a look of sympathy from his mother, is a reward for the child who has made this effort in the strength of his growing will. But it cannot be too much borne in mind that attention is, to a great extent, the product of an educated mind; that is, one can only attend in proportion as one has the intellectual power of developing the topic.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is, to quote words of weight, "within the reach of every one, and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline"; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only in so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them. (italics are Mason's, bold emphasis mine)


So let's review:

1. Everyone can let their thoughts run away with them if they lack discipline and training. Attention is, in Mason's opinion, not something naturally occuring. Rather, it is taught. She suggested beginning to teach it in infancy by simply trying to hold a child's attention on something--a toy or a flower--for a bit longer than the child was naturally inclined to do.

2. The child should be taught that his own will can conquer his attention problem, that it is a problem, and he should be encouraged to feel great victory when he harnesses his attention to a subject.

3. Lack of attention is a sign that the child is uneducated. This reminds me of how Julian Elliott at Durham University, after thirty years of study, declared dyslexia a fancy word for being, simply put a poor reader--or illiterate, depending on severity. But Mason expanded on her idea. She said the child without attention could not develop the topic. Think about being overwhelmed: too much information in an illogical order, and a person's mind will literally shut off. Children are given much information, and it is dumped on them without teaching them any method of learning {think Trivium here, folks}. It is easier for schools to say ADHD than to say that the children are uneducated.

4. Finally, natural giftings do not make up for a lack of attention. In fact, Mason goes so far as to say that attention is what allows the child to develop their gifts. Without attention, the child will never reach their full potential. This is perhaps the biggest danger in labeling a child.

Personally, I would add that television especially teaches inattention. Flipping channels, or commercials flipping themselves from one subject to disconnected other subject--both of these things model disfunctional thought processes. To think about a subject until a conclusion is reached is what the brain is designed to do. To allow a child's thoughts to be fleeting and shallow is all television {even an "educational" program} will do.

24 August 2007

Expelled

In a homeschool, the children aren't often expelled {if at all}, but certain books might be. It is still the first week, and we've already had our first expulsion.

Before I give away the title, please indulge me in an explanation.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, about last Friday, I was reading the chapter Principles for the Study of Literature in Teaching the Trivium. In this chapter, different guidelines are suggested for knowing where to draw the line in literature. Discernment is needed to know not only what to read, but also when. As an extreme example, Darwin at 18 before leaving for college to major in science might be helpful, while Darwin at age 6 would probably qualify as deserving of a millstone necklace.

I will admit right now that I have a deep affection for The Little Prince. I particularly love the second half of the book.

When I put it on our booklist, my purpose was twofold: {1} Fill time until we hit the used bookstore and buy our real schoolbooks, and {2} Expose the children to this book I love.

Apparently, I failed to see it through a child's eyes. It is amazing how my opinion of something changes when my children are exposed to it. I was reading it aloud, when suddenly the words became gravel in my mouth. Here are a couple of the places I faltered:
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
They [grown-ups] are like that. One must not hold it against them. Children should always show great forbearance toward grown-up people.


I put the book down, looked at my son, and said we weren't going to be reading the book any longer. He was disappointed, so I explained myself a bit, and moved on. He has most likely forgotten about this already.

Reading this book as an adult Christian, I always throw the word "grown-up" into the category of a modern materialist mind. Hard science is the name of the game, the system is closed, and there is little appreciation for mysteries, miracles, or true Matters of Importance. I use my worldview to interpret the text in a way that makes the author's statements quite fitting.

But children do not think this way. Children do not have a worldview. They are building a worldview. This is one of the major differences between children and adults. And a child reading this book may be led to believe that being a grown-up is somewhat distasteful, and that there is a way in which he might be superior to grown-ups.

My son was not born to be a child. He was born to be a man. To read something like this to him at this tender age is to risk leading him in the wrong direction. There is time enough for using this book to help him determine what kind of grown-up he might want to be. When he is old enough, I will read the book to him, the same way I read the book aloud to his father when we were, oh, probably 21-years-old.

Until then, we will wait until our bookstore extravaganza, and spend a little extra time running wildly through the sprinklers.

22 August 2007

School: What's New This Year {Part III}

As far as I can tell, the state of California has no physical education requirement for kindergarteners. Now that I think of it, I suppose they cannot have many real requirements for kindergarten at all, seeing as kindergarten is below the legal age for required school attendance. I know that Santa Barbara county requires 200 minutes of physical edcucation for every 10 days of school {which works out to an average of 20 minutes per day}. No wonder so many kids have trouble sitting still.

Homegrown Physical Education
This year, I am requiring 45 minutes to one hour of physical education per day. Currently, this takes the form of a tricycle ride that lasts from about 8:30-9:30 a.m., depending on how many birds we spot along the way. I supervise this ride while walking and pushing a double stroller.

My son, when he plays outside, tends to involve himself in projects that don't actually exert his body. He might, for instance, build a road for his truck. He might take something apart and put it back together. He might throw things at his younger sister and end up with a timeout.

So I decided that the only way I could make sure he had strength, speed, endurance, and stamina, was to build it into our schedule. {There is also the losing-the-baby-weight issue to be considered.} We are also trying to convince some friends to join us. Two weeks ago, when it was cooler, his friends H. and E. rode along while their mother walked with me. We hope this happens again. It will be easier to convince people when the summer sun becomes less summery.

Double Credit
The long journey is great for fulfilling our birding purposes as well. Our first day of school was when we traversed about a mile or so away to find the Burrowing Owl. I am also aware of the haunts of a Red Tailed Hawk and a Turkey Vulture that we can walk to. And, of course, there are the little birds, the sparrows and killdeers and starlings, that flit around as we traipse along. There is never any shortage of birds.

Also, we have the chance to get in tune with the seasons. A. faces me in the stroller, and as we walk, I talk to her, pointing and naming the things we see, explaining the weather.

Lastly, there is the nearby construction site. If I could only capture the absolute joy on my boy's face when he sees the bulldozers pass by. We try to walk that direction a couple times a week, and usually there is payoff in some form of heavy machinery.

Side Benefits
I don't do this to help my son sit still. I do this because I think it is healthy for me, healthy for him, and a great addition to our way of life. However, I cannot deny that, after being out and about in the morning, the midmorning hours pass peacefully, with everyone ready to sit and learn {except for the baby, who sleeps the rest of the morning away}. Wiggles are rare because they all escaped during the hour of exertion.

Resting, I am reminded, is a resting from something. If my child is having difficulty being at rest during his time of instruction or read-aloud, this shows me that he needs to have something difficult to do beforehand. Hard work and physical exertion grant children the ability to rest and listen and absorb what they are taught.

21 August 2007

School: What's New This Year {Part II}

Maybe I will write about binders until I lose my entire readership. There's a winning idea. I might have to do this because we are enjoying our binders as much as I had hoped. Of course, this is only our second day of school.

The Birding Binder

Our second binder is the Birding Binder. Last year, we had an attempt at a nature journal, but it was too much for E. This is because there was too much to look at. He couldn't choose what to write down {well, dictate}. He was overwhelmed. So this year, we chose birds. Next year {or semester, maybe}, we will learn about trees. The year after that, most definitely we will learn about bugs with our budding entomologist Miss A.

In three years, we will have built a bit of an ecosystem in the children's brains. They will know the names of various birds, the names of the trees said birds live in, and the names of the insects said birds eat. Why not continue to add in amphibians, reptiles, and mammals?

I don't underestimate the power of knowing the names of the creatures God made. Naming was the first form of science. Knowing names also increases reading comprehension. Good literature rarely refers to a bird as such. Rather, it calls the birds by their names: raven, mockingbird, dove, sparrow, sandpiper. And if the children know their birds intimately, they will call to mind the beautiful images of these friends whenever they read of them in a poem or a story.

Our Birding Binder is a tool for building the memory of the birds we are meeting.

Organization

I wanted to be a strict birder and say that seeing a certain bird didn't count if it was in captivity. But the five-year-old doesn't agree, and I don't want to deflate his enthusiasm. So our binder contains these dividers: At Home, In My City, While Traveling, and In Captivity. Of course, this might mean that we see a mourning dove everywhere and end up with one in every section, but this will simply reinforce to him that some birds are more plentiful than others.

How We Do It

Again, we start with a three-hole-punched {with holes reinforced} piece of colored construction paper. He is not ready to draw a specific bird, so I decided to go with coloring pages and let him practice drawing during craft time. Bird coloring pages are easy to find {for free} online. Here is the color page I printed off for a Burrowing Owl, but I cut and pasted it into a Word document so that I could reduce the size to about a quarter of an 8.5x11" sheet.

We only create a page for birds we have actually seen. Small children like to collect things, and this is like a bird collection without all the chores to accompany having an actual bird. If we see a bird on our morning walk, E. dictates a little paragraph about it. If he is having trouble describing things, I will prompt him to get him started {saying, "The Burrowing Owl lived in..." and he finishes the sentence and keeps going}.

So now we have construction paper, a coloring page and a neat little dictated paragraph.

My son colors the page as realistically as he can. Since we aren't actually looking at the bird, I let him use the photos in our Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America as an example. He cuts the art work out and pastes it on his construction page. Then, he cuts out the paragraph we completed earlier, and pastes that on the sheet as well. I also print out some additional information on the bird {since our field guide is very brief}, and he cuts that out, reads it, and pastes it on the back of the construction paper.

Hence, we have a double-sided page full of information on, in this case, a Burrowing Owl.

Additional Birding Activities

If I have a poem or story in the house that references the bird we saw, I read it to the children. In the case of the Burrowing Owl, I used one of my children's favorite books, Bear's New Friend. It was exciting to see the light of recognition on their faces as they realized the owl in the story must be a Burrowing Owl since it was hiding in a hole in the ground.

Also, if the bird appears in Scripture, I would have E. add the applicable verses to the page. For instance, if we saw a dove {which we will} he would include the account of Noah sending out doves to check for dry land.

The possibilities are, I suppose, endless.

20 August 2007

School: What's New This Year {Part I}

School is pretty much all I will be thinking about for a while, so I thought I'd share a bit of what we are doing. Perhaps in a few months I will share what we are still doing, revealing what was delayed until later, modified, or banned completely from our home for all eternity.

Please take note that I won't be discussing curriculum if by curriculum one means textbook. I, personally, don't find textbooks all that interesting, and I don't plan on making them a core part of our early learning process, though I'm sure we will integrate them into our system as we have need later on.

English Language Notebook

I suppose I never really associated homeschooling with binders. I thought binders were for kids who went to school. I thought they were for keeping things together in a backpack, and backpacks, likewise, were for kids who went to school. Well, I am learning that a backpack is helpful because sometimes we go places. And binders are for keeping things together. It doesn't matter if one it taking them to a school building or just down the hall.

Binders, I am learning, can keep us organized.

Most of the major additions or changes we made to the concept of school is due to our reading of Teaching the Trivium. The new binder excitement is no exception.

E. is the proud owner of a brand new English Language Notebook. This is where he gets to record what he already knows, since we were not doing this along the way. For kids who are just learning to read in kindergarten, it would probably be even more helpful.

Organization

The notebook has five dividers: alphabet, basic sounds, digraphs, diphthongs, and blends. The alphabet section includes {obviously} the alphabet, and also the alphabet divided into consonants and vowels. I never taught him the difference between vowels and consonants before, so this will be a new idea. Basic sounds include simple {short} vowel sounds and the simple consonant sounds {which would not include x}. Digraphs are two letters which come together to make a single sound {ph saying f would be an example}, while diphthongs are two vowels which make a complex, gliding sound within a single syllable {like ai}. The blends section will include everything else, like rules and various letter combinations.

How We Do It

We start with a colorful piece of construction paper. I have typed out all the things we will need. Little E. will get to cut and paste and maybe even decorate the pages as we go. He is five. Why not make it fun? When one is five, scissors and paste are fun. We punch holes in the paper, reinforce them with stickers designed for the job, and put each page in its special category in the binder. This will take some weeks for us to complete, and then we will add things as we learn more.

The Future

This notebook will be his lifetime notebook, we think, though it may be moved to a bigger binder as time goes on. When he is older, we will add formal grammar, making sections for parts of speech, rules for writing, and how to diagram a sentence. When he "graduates" he will have a whole notebook he can use to teach his own children.

Also, this binder will be a model that we will recreate when we begin Latin and Greek at later ages. What he has done for English he will do for the other languages in an already familiar format.

15 August 2007

The Darndest Things {08/07}

21 August 2007: Do NOT Swallow Your Toothpaste
I have watched Si's struggle with A. for about a month, and I've found it quite amusing. While I am preparing the baby for bed, he is usually preparing A. {E. can do most of his preparations on his own}. It always goes well until it is time to brush teeth. I hear him tell her roughly the same thing every night: "I am going to brush your teeth and you are not to swallow the toothpaste. You are to hold it and spit it out."

And every night, without fail, she swallows.

After about three weeks of overhearing this, I suggested to him that perhaps she simply wasn't old enough. After all, I don't recall E. being trusted to do this until well after he was three, and A. is only two-and-a-half. He said he thought I might be right, but I never noticed any change, which is, of course, his prerogative.

Imagine my amazement when I was greeted with a story of success tonight! Si later explain the source of the magic. He figured out that if he makes her bite the toothbrush at the end, she cannot swallow. He picks her up, leans her over the sink, and tells her to spit before removing the toothbrush.

This little trick works like a charm, and A. is all sparkles with success.


17 August 2007: Thankful For Our Letters
Tonight, I had the opportunity to pray with A. before bed. Usually, Si has a special time with each of the children, but tonight I had the honor. I asked her who she would like to pray for, and her list included the Usual Suspects: Daddy, Mommy, E., herself, Baby Q. and...the letter A.

She learned the name of letter A today.

So we prayed, and during our prayer time we thanked God for all of the letters, but, most especially, the letter A.


14 August 2007: Non-compliance
My little girl A. has always refused to do tricks. She won't jump on command, or talk on command, or {sometimes} even smile on command. She deprives me of so many opportunitites of showing her off! The past week or so I have been working with her on answering the question, "What is your name." I have her slowly repeat the answer after me: "My...name...is...A---."

Tonight, I thought it was time to show Daddy. I called her to his attention.

"A.," I asked, "what is your name?"

"My...name...ish..." she paused and started to hide her face, "ME!"

"No, say your name!" I coaxed her.

"ME!"

And she looks at me triumphantly.


12 August 2007: Ruining Kindergarten
Some of our school books came in the mail on Saturday. It has been hard to keep E. out of them, though I am making a vain attempt seeing as he can read and all. This afternoon was so lovely since we all {including Si and me} were able to take a long, three-hour nap. I was wondering why the boy didn't wake us after a couple hours, which is his usual way.

It is because of the books.

My plan, which is still my plan in all honesty, was to spend first semester learning all about the orchestra. We would learn about one or two instruments every week.

When I came out of my room to prepare a long overdue bottle for Q., I was greeted by a smiling, freckled face little boy, sitting happily at the kitchen island reading the orchestra book!

"Mom! Mom! I learned all the instruments! I know what a trombone is, and a trumpet and a tuba!"

Truly, I think he is out to ruin kindergarten.

13 August 2007

Economics of Home

This weekend, a dear friend of mine brought over a dress to show me. She had made it for her baby girl, and it was one of the most beautiful baby dresses I've seen in a long time. I asked her how much she thought it cost her to make, and she estimated between four and five dollars. This is a great price for a dress, especially a high-quality dress. I have paid slightly more than this for a high-quality second-hand dress for one of the girls.

And let me assure you that this dress, if being sold commercially, would most likely retail between twenty and thirty dollars.

Being a woman at home carries with it an economy that is upside-down compared to the business world. In the business world, time is money. In other words, time that is spent without making a sale of some product or service is wasted, or even puts a person into debt, while time that maximizes sales is spent wisely.

But when a woman is at home, there is usually a lot more time than money. Some women do start at-home businesses, and then their time actually turns into money in a way that is similar to the business world. However, I have found that there are so many legal restrictions out there that sometimes it is almost impossible for a woman at home to turn time into money, especially if her time is spent in a kitchen that isn't certified by the government.

However, producing our own goods, whether they be a beautiful dress for a special occasion or a loaf of zucchini bread using zucchini fresh from the garden, saves the family money. In other words, instead of


Time = Money

we have

Time + Effort + {Ingenuity * Creativity} = Money Saved


Money might make the modern world go around, but effort and time spent wisely can make a family less dependent on money in the first place.

10 August 2007

More School Year Plans

I am still planning the upcoming semester, so this will probably be brief. Or maybe not. I don't exactly specialize in being brief. Either way, I find the anticipation building as I wait for our lovely brown paper packages to arrive via UPS.

To Year-Round School or Not to Year-Round School
I always thought we would be a year-round school. But we really aren't. However, I can't say we've really taken the summer off, either. However, I am learning that there is something special about each season, and just like there is always room for Thanksgiving and Christmas in our curriculum, so there will always be room for long hours in the hot summer sun.

This summer, we skipped math altogether, unless you count the fact that E. has learned to do a bit of it in his head and can tell you that it will be two years until he is seven when you ask him. We did phonics and reading practice, but not every day. We read aloud almost every day and we read some great books. We added some new chores to our lists. We did a handwriting worksheet every weekday.

In one respect, it seems there was lots of school. In another, it seems like there was at least an extra hour every day spent in the sun playing with the water hose and eating homemade popsicles. There was the weekly trek to Gran's house where E. improved his swimming and A. revealed she is all too daring around water. We planted a garden, and later we harvested. We learned we are very bad at growing watermelon, but zucchini is a great boost for the farming ego.

New Tools
But the summer season is coming to an end, and I feel that we are all ready for more structure. I needed the break as much as anybody {though I can't say, in retrospect, that it was really a break}. I have discovered some new tools, and I am also in the process of creating some new tools. My favorite discovery {thanks, Cindy!}, which I will use more and more as the years pass and we Grow Up, is the free Homeschool Tracker software. I plan to practice using it this year so that I can use it to organize my legal records when we are an official private school.

09 August 2007

Economics Vocabulary Lesson

Before I begin, I find it prudent to mention that, though I am the daughter of a financial-guru type, I am not actually an expert myself. Not that any of you were going to mistake me for one, but this is an important fact to mention. With this disclaimer out of the way, let us carry on.

If you pull up Drudge today, there is a lot written in red at the top. Unless it's Christmas or Fourth of July, red type on Drudge tends to mean Big News, usually Big Bad News. Today is no exception. Here are the headlines:



I'm only copying them over because the page changes so often that it could be they won't be there by the time some of my readers are clicking over.

My dad has been predicting this for a while. I, on the other hand, wasn't sure something of this magnitude would happen until Cramer had a hissy fit on CNBC.

Notice that Cramer seems to think the solution to all of this is opening the discount window. If you are like me, you have spent your whole life hearing terminology like this, but you have no clue what it really means.

But first, we need to talk about what is causing this problem {or market adjustment, depending on your perspective}. Why did France's biggest bank freeze funds, for instance? Simply put, because they were having trouble gauging the actual value of the dollar. And why was this? Because of the debacle of the subprime mortgage market. What is the problem with the subprime market? At the heart of the issue is the fact that certain mortgages were dished out that shouldn't have been. No bank out there would buy these loans {banks buy loans, if you didn't know} because it is known full well that the people to whom the money was lent are completely unable to uphold their end of the bargain.

In other words, the average subprime mortgage holder is about to go into default, and no one wants to invest in a mortgage that is in default.

In other other words, the problem is Debt-with-a-capital-D. Big Debt. The kind of debt that wouldn't be such a big deal except that so many people have borrowed money they don't intend to repay that it is causing a bit of a panic.

And then there is that thing with the Chinese, but I digress...

The root problem is, in all honesty, that we have too many international entanglements coupled with too much debt. In fact, we don't just have too much debt, we have a system where the dollar is less a unit of value and more a symbol representing a debt owed by someone, somewhere.

So why am I saying all of this? For one reason: Cramer states over and over in his little rant that the solution is to open the Discount Window. And all of us sit there nodding, knowing nothing about the Federal Reserve System, where it came from, what it does, and what in the world the Discount Window even is.

So I will tell you, to the best of my ability. Opening the Discount Window, according to G. Edward Griffin, is a fancy way of saying that the "Federal Reserve System [is] prepared to create money out of nothing and then immediately loan it to the commercial banks." If there are two things that characterize the Discount Window, it is the creation of more dollars and the lending of those new dollars.

Wikipedia defines the Discount Window as
an instrument of monetary policy {usually used by central bank} that allows eligible institutions to borrow money, usually on a short-term basis, to meet temporary shortages of liquidity caused by internal or external disruptions. The interest rate charged on such loans by central bank is called discount rate, and constitutes important factor in the control of money supply— which is a significant tool of monetary policy. When a bank in the United States is in need of money, it can turn to the Federal Reserve for a loan, the interest that the Fed charges the bank is called the discount rate. When banks other than the Federal Reserve loan other banks money, the interest rate charged is known as the Federal Funds Rate, and is typically approximately a percentage point below the Discount Rate.


Please remember that the problem here is debt, and then it will not be hard to see that the Discount Window is nothing but brand new wine pouring into a very old wine skin.

Once upon a time I was talking with my dad about what I was learning about the Federal Reserve and the unconsitutional "private" Central Bank we have here in the U.S., and my concerns about the fact that the dollar is worth less than the piece of paper that it is printed on, except for the fact that we all believe a lie that it is worth more. I will never forget what he said: Eventually the dollar will go the way of all fiat currencies. It'll be worth nothing.

08 August 2007

Blogs and Books

The new schoolyear begins in a week and a half. Needless to say, I will be becoming more scarce as the Big Day approaches. And then I may disappear altogether. Just kidding. But seriously, I have no idea how frequent my posts may be, especially as we are getting "school" off the ground.

School Begins in Earnest
Last night, I made some purchases. I bought Cuisenaire Rods and the Primary Idea Book from Timberdoodle. Since Teaching the Trivium convinced us that delaying formal math might not only be not a bad thing, but also a very good thing, we thought we'd give math manipulatives a try, focusing this year on being able to visualize mathmatical concepts. I am not good at thinking these sorts of things up on my own, so the 80+ math activities with Cuisenaires will be a good starting point for us.

I also bought that orchestra book I mentioned before. We should know what an orchestra is, as well as be able to identify all the major instruments, by December.

And speaking of identification, we are focusing our science this year on, among other things, birdwatching. Ah, the great outdoors. Charlotte Mason inspired us to plan natural science learning that involves the knowledge of real things. Our son has taken to birds. Though we know the names of many of the birds in our neighborhood, and though there are a number of websites that we can utilize for free if we need help, we decided the best thing was to go ahead and buy a guide. We chose the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America. We hear there are around 400 different types of birds in the area where we are going in the fall, and now we are armed with the perfect reference for the task. We will keep a list of all the birds we see on our trip and post them here when we get home.

Book Wishlist
My other activity last night was to finalize our book wishlist. On our trip, there will be many used book stores to choose from, and I know that if I don't carry a list with me, I will miss out on something. We compiled a huge list of biographies and literature that we are hoping to use for school read-alouds the next couple of years.

Of course, I couldn't compile the school list without compiling my own list. If I were to go buy five books right this moment, these are the books I would buy:


C'mon. Leave a Comment
Now for my big question. If you could buy one {or two or three} book{s} right now, what would it be?

06 August 2007

Strangers in the Neighborhood

There has been a bit of crime in our area lately, which is unusual for our sleepy side of town. Apparently, the burglars strike during broad daylight on weekdays, posing as gardners. They wheel the green cans {designated for green waste, which we commonly tote around beside us when doing yard work} into the backyard, break into the home, fill said green can with whatever suits their fancy, wheel the green can back to their "gardening truck" and escape home free with the goods. No one notices because gardeners are a big thing here in California. Everybody has one.

As an example of "everybody has one," I will reference my morning walk on Saturday. I had to walk down the middle of the street because the gardeners had completely taken over the sidewalk as well as the parking portions of the street. The sidewalks were strewn with lawnmowers and edgers. On one side of the street was parked a gardening truck. On the other side was a huge motorhome. Next to the motorhome, in the middle of the street, was a second gardening truck. There was room, in the middle, for a small compact car to get through, and this was where I walked, pushing my two-year-old in a stroller, in order to exit my parents' cul-de-sac.

I saw three more gardeners as I left their neighborhood, and another two as I entered my own neighborhood later upon our return home.

In short, these neighborhoods are full of strangers. In the complete absence of any do-it-yourself mentality, the average house in our area will have a visit by a bug man, a gardener, a housekeeper or cleaning lady, a pool service and a pizza guy. Some will also see a delivery man and/or a repairman. And then there is UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL. We also have the monthly comings and goings of the meter-readers for the various utilities {water, gas, and electric}. A handful of cult groups will walk the streets on a bi-monthly basis. There is the occasional door-to-door salesman for whom I do not, under any circumstances, open the door when I am home alone with the children.

Once upon a time, we cleaned our own houses, cooked our own dinners {not that I am anti-pizza}, and mowed our own lawns. If we did not mow our own lawns, we hired some teenage boy to do it. Little kids were hired to clear the fall leaves. There was usually a little old man in the neighborhood that knew how to repair whatever you didn't know how to fix yourself.

I don't necessarily want to romanticize the past here. There are various reasons for hiring people to do things for us, and they aren't all bad ones. It is good for people to have honest work to do, and that includes spraying bugs or cleaning houses.

However, comma...

We cannot underestimate how vulnerable a neighborhood is made when so many strangers are allowed inside. How many people do you know who actually run a background check on their cleaning lady or gardener to make sure they do not have a history of criminal activity, or that they aren't registered sex offenders?

I remember once that my sister's old neighborhood, a very nice neighborhood, was having some crime issues. Some of the problems were due to teenagers with too much freedom and too little responsibility, but much of it, she was convinced, was caused by the construction going on in the neighborhood. Construction? you ask. Yes. Her neighborhood was new, and many houses on the block were unfinished. Everyday contained a parade of workers, many of them illegal immigrants, to wire houses for electricity, paint, roof, pour concrete, landscape, and the list goes on. My sister was convinced that once all of these strangers had left the neighborhood, cars would cease being broken into, and other crime would dwindle away.

She was right.

Oh, it was never proven that the construction employees were at fault, but the neighborhood was much safer once finished.

Which brings me to my point: I believe there is a direct correlation between the vulnerability of a neighborhood and the number of strangers welcome there. If strangers outnumber citizens at home on a given day, this make the neighborhood at particular risk.

When we make the decision to hire an employee, we usually see it in terms of a trade-off for time. In other words, for x number of dollars, I will receive x number of hours of freed-up time in exchange because a certain job is now being performed by someone else. We fail to take into account the other possible consequences of hiring an employee, especially if we have not taken pains to hire an upright employee.

The other day I asked my sister how it was going with her new cleaning lady. Oh, she said, we don't have one anymore. It just doesn't seem natural to have a stranger in my house, touching all of my stuff.

05 August 2007

Chocolatey Goat Goodness

I've been experimenting with my recipes for yummy desserts that use goat's milk rather than cow's milk. I figured I should share, as I know that there are some readers out there who deal with dairy allergies much more severe than ours. Please note that this recipe is for ice milk, not ice cream. However, replacing a cup or two of the goat's milk with goat's cream should result in ice cream. Of course, I don't exactly know how that would taste.

Brandy's Dirty Ice Milk Gruff
Ingredients
3 cups whole goat milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large spoonfuls organic creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Directions
1. All of these ingredients must be mixed together until the sugar and cocoa dissolve. A good mixer or a blender are both effective tools for accomplishing this.

2. Pour complete mixture into ice cream maker. Run the ice cream maker for 30 minutes, or until desired textured is reached.

04 August 2007

As Hard As Three

When people ask me what it is like to have Baby Q. around, I have to be honest and say she is the easiest baby I have ever had. Of course, we are getting better at babies in general, and I am sure this helps. But she is also just plain easy. Her personality is very relaxed. She enjoys life and doesn't demand much beyond the basics. She is a good playmate.

But she is also easier in a practical way. My two other children suffered diaper rash and skin allergies that required expensive diapers and wipes. This baby wears generic brand without complaint. The other two had to have their formulas switched one, two, or three times due to allergies. This baby drinks the basic Similac, again, without complaint.

But three is still hard. We just had a very difficult three weeks. First, there was potty training, which was very successful, but there were many household things which slipped through the cracks. The next week, I contracted some sort of disease and was sick the entire week. I think all I did was cook. This week, we had some incidents which will not be discussed publicly, some discipline issues, and I found myself longing for the good old days when my husband worked from home.

And that is why I resonated with this post at Semicolon:
Then came my third child, a beautiful baby girl. She slept through the night at an early age, sucked her thumb contentedly to comfort herself, and fit into our family perfectly. BUT parenting was no longer something that was manageable, something that I would eventually get the hang of if I spent enough time and energy studying the matter. Now there were three, and I was in over my head. They outnumbered ME; They outnumbered US. One child could easily escape and use red tempera paint as ammunition in his cannon while I was cleaning up after the other two.

The wonderful part of this story is that adding another and another and another never gets any harder than three. When you realize that it’s really, truly only by God’s grace that any of them survive to adulthood, that each child is a gift, and that the molding and shaping and even educating that parents do is somewhat limited in scope and influence, and that as a parent you are almost completely deficient in the skills, patience, and wisdom that are needed to parent these children . . . well, then you can begin to relax, do the best you can and depend on God to fill in the gaps.

I believe I am currently in the place where I need to do that last thing: be content with doing the best I can and depending on God to "fill in the gaps."

02 August 2007

The Simple Chef

I make simple meals. The fewer side dishes, the better, in my opinion. If I can make an entire meal in one pot, this is preferable. We don't really have enough people around here to eat up a lot of side dishes. And, for some reason, I find it a bit annoying to have to search for teensy-tiny plastic containers to store the leftovers in.

If we have a side dish, it is usually salad. Or homemade bread. Or both.

Or, it is zucchini-something. We have two zucchini plants. If you have ever grown zucchini, you will know that this is entirely too much produce. We have eaten zucchini bread, raw zucchini in salads, sauteed zucchini, and even breaded and fried zucchini.

As our family gets larger and certain people get older, I am sure that there will be more to the meals because, otherwise, we won't have enough food. But until then, I enjoy the simplicity.

Here are some samples of this week's menu, linked to the cookbooks containing the recipes I'm using:

  • Spinach Frittata from Eating for Excellence {page 90}: Topping this with sheep's milk romano cheese makes it tolerable for certain little boys avoiding dairy. The children think this is an "egg pie." It is packed with protein as well as veggies, making it a wonderful main dish. We usually eat this all by itself. Double it, and eat it for lunch the next day, too. Just promise me you will heat leftovers on a plate in the oven and not in the microwave.


  • Turkey Waldorf Salad served on a bed of romaine lettuce from Eating for Excellence {page 137}: Double the amount of turkey, and any other ingredients you like, and it easily becomes a main-dish salad. Zucchini bread goes well with this if you are into that sort of thing.


  • The New York Goodwich from Fit for Life {page 206}: These are whole wheat pita sandwiches packed with vegetables and sprouts and barbequed onions. I add a bit of shredded, boiled chicken to this, which breaks all of the Fit for Life rules, but pleases my husband and son to no end.


  • Chimichangas from Betty Crocker's New Cookbook {page 387}. The ground beef filling is fragrant due to the cloves and cinnamon, but still spicy from chilis and salsa. Serve this alone as an easy dinner {way healthier than frozen burritos}, or make a full meal by adding salad and salsa rice {boil the rice in chicken broth and add 1/2 cup of salsa for every cup of rice}.

01 August 2007

Examples of God's Grace

So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12


I have written more than once about times when I felt something terrible could have happened to at least one of my children and, providentially, everything turned out just fine. There are certain days that cause me to be aware that, for all my planning, preparing, and protecting, the days of my children are numbered by the Lord, and not by me. Thankfully, He chooses to protect them.

Yesterday, I saw the children playing around with our barbeque. I know that my son loves to pretend he is doing Daddy's work and cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for a crowd. I had already forbidden water play for the day, so I decided that I would give them some freedom with other things.

I looked out the window a few times, and I do remember wondering what in the world could possibly be so exciting about the thing. They kept lifting the top, touching the inside, and squealing. E. always manages to stay clean, regardless of the circumstance. I believe this is because he does not like the inconvenience of having to perform an extensive washing ceremony before being allowed entrance back into the house. A., on the other hand, seems to get dirty even if she is only out for five minutes.

Needless to say, she was covered in ash. It was all over her hands and face. When she came in, E. began to report on what they had been doing, but I told him that first I had to wash up A. He seemed flustered, but he waited patiently. When I came back into the kitchen, he announced that they had been playing with a "big black spider with big red eyes."

My heart sunk.

"You what?"

"We found a spider in the barbeque. It was big and black except for its huge red eyes."

I looked at my little girl, knowing her love for touching bugs of all kids, remembering her dirty fingers and face. Had she touched it? If this spider was what I thought it was, it was not aggressive, but it would definitely bite little fingers when they poked and prodded.

I told the children to stay in the house and went to confirm my suspicions. I lifted the lid of the barbeque. It was so dark in there, that at first I could only see her movement, but not really her body. E. came out to join me. "Do you see it? Do you see the big red eyes?"

And suddenly I did see her. She was a full-grown female, hanging upside down, which is their manner. I felt sick when I saw the big red hourglass staring back at me.

I went back inside and checked the little fingers. For all of their attempts, it seems they did not make contact. It probably helped that I had trained E. to know that red on an insect or amphibian can often serve as a warning that it is poisonous to humans. He had been enjoying their exploration, but all the while trying to keep his foolish sister from touching the beast.

She should have been bitten. I saw how they were playing. It should have happened.

But it didn't happen.

For whatever reason, God spared her. It was not time for her to be hurt, it was time for her to be protected. I thank God for this. I thank Him for his defense of my children in times when I do not even understand they need it.