Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Benji Says,

Upon seeing the baby spit up, Benji said, "Mom! Wijah throwed up--with frosting!"

He also calls cheesecake "frosting cake."

Hmmmmm...

(He did clean the spit up off the floor for me, though.)

Did I just read that?

"Teen Pistol-Whipped Mom to Buy Her a Car, Sheriff Says"

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/28/teen-pistol-whipped-mom-buy-car-sheriff-says/#ixzz1HyVgfL9C

I'm not grasping exactly how this works. You assault your mother, and that somehow gets her a new car? But you still have to buy it? So you pay with violence?

I don't get it.

Did I just read that?

"Fla parents charged with killing daughter in court"
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/29/3-utah-caregivers-jailed-disabled-woman-dies/#ixzz1HyUChyxB  (They changed the headline for the actual article; this is how it appears on the menu of choices at the bottom of a different article).

I can just hear the judge: "GUILTY!" 

Of course, you'd think someone would stop them.....

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wizard of Oz--best first Novel.

  I've been reading to the kids every night, and tonight we finished the Wizard of Oz.

 Every budding reader should be read that book. 

Afterward, I handed it to Daniel and said, “You can read this to yourself.” He said, “No, I can't.” I said, “Everyone in the story had the power to do what they wanted and they just didn't realize it. You do, too.”

 He thought about it for a moment and then took the book and surprised himself by reading the entire first page without any trouble. And he knew what the page was talking about, too, and said, “I'm going to finish this book and then read it over and over! I'm going to read all day tomorrow, and I might stop to have other fun, too, but then I'll go right back to reading.”

 It really is the best first novel ever.

The Time in Wonderland

I have changed my clocks.

Well, one of them.

I did a little math and put up a clock that tells what time my body thinks it is, just out of curiosity. Turns out my circadian rhythms work perfectly--we have dinner at the same time as everyone else, relatively speaking. Lunch, too. The kids go to bed at 8:00 compared to my 10:00, like a lot of families. But only if you're looking at my clock. The circadian rhythms are perfect the same way my childhood piano was in tune--compared to the other notes on the keyboard, it was perfectly in tune. Compared to other pianos? Not so much. (It wasn't tuneable, actually. The antique strings were too old, according to the expert.).

I wrote "The Time In Wonderland" on the clock face so nobody would get confused. Why Wonderland? Well, our lives are so far different from other people, with us up all night, that if someone else came to live with us, they'd feel like they had fallen down a rabbit hole and landed in the somewhat nonsensical world of Wonderland. (It's also a reference to the Mad Tea Party, where the clock is showing the "wrong" time.). Now that I said that, I realize that perhaps it WILL confuse other people, but it makes it less confusing to my little family.

I realized at church today that people must think we're weird. People probably think I'm a nasty, mean woman who is short tempered, stumbles over her words, and slightly vacant most of the time. They probably think our children are very very strange.

But you know what? I checked the time in Wonderland as I rushed out the door to church. It was 3:00 am. And I'd had a little trouble getting some kids to stay asleep, so we'd only been in bed 3 1/2 hours before we had to get up, and those 3 1/2 hours were interrupted at least 4 times by kids who still wouldn't stay in bed.

When I say "We have a sleep disorder," I'm pretty sure people don't actually comprehend what I'm talking about. I'm pretty sure they think Insomnia, where you lay awake for hours wishing you were asleep, and then you wake up at the "regular time" exhausted. That's NOT us. We live, eat, sleep, interact exactly like other families do. Just like other families, but at the same time they're awake in China.

So the only way I think anyone can comprehend what our experiences are is to tell you the time in Wonderland. How would you feel if they wanted you at church at 3:00 am. With all your kids? What about if they scheduled the primary activities at 1:00 am? What if the dentist always asked you to be there with your 3 year old for a cleaning at 5:30 am? Or if they wanted your kids in school starting at midnight every night? (Wouldn't you suddenly find that homeschooling became a very attractive alternative?)

Next time you stagger out of bed at 3:00 am to use the bathroom, look in the mirror and think, "Becca would be just getting ready for church right now....." And then you might comprehend why I sometimes don't remember your kids names, or I stare off into space, or I'm a little short-tempered with my children (who are a little out of control, a little weepy, who suddenly fall apart for no reason), or I'm just incoherent in general. And you might understand, at least in part, why sometimes we're 2 hours late, and why we keep forgetting to schedule our baby's blessing.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (the disorder we have) is basically untreatable. It's incurable.

And, here's the part nobody understands: It doesn't bother us.

Except for church and one day of school per week for the kids, we LIKE being awake when our bodies and brains are most alive. Don't you?  That's when we get all our creative work done. That's when we're most cheerful and productive. If we have to live on your sleep schedule, we feel as though we're living with jet lag. Every single day of our lives. We spend hours in the morning in a fog, even if we slept the right number of hours the night before. And we have to skip working on all kinds of great ideas at night (when we have the ideas and also the energy) because we're trying to sleep. And for creative people, that's a curse.

Besides, everyone in the music industry knows that musicians work from 3:00 pm until 3 or 4:00 am. It's not uncommon for Tim to get texts and phone calls from other gigging musicians after midnight. It's not uncommon for rehearsals to end between 9:00 pm and midnight. Recording sessions OFTEN go into the wee hours of the morning. These are work hours for Tim. You hit a concert or play that ends at 9:30 pm (not uncommon), and you go home and go straight to bed. But those musicians you just watched still have 2 or 3 hours of work ahead of them--plus they usually eat dinner AFTER the show (performing is hard work!), and that's when they finally get to interact with their peers, the other musicians who were also working all evening. (So new collaborations, open mic nights for pro musicians, setting up joint gigs, etc. all happen after the show. While you are sleeping.). Tim's sleep disorder is a BLESSING in his industry. He's wide awake, ready to work, perfectly coherent in the middle of your night. And the rest of us being on that schedule is a blessing for our family. Otherwise, we'd never see him--he'd start work right when the kids got home from school, not get home until long after they were in bed, and be sound asleep when they got up in the morning.

So if you find me irresponsible, unresponsive, illogical, ill-tempered....when you are pretty sure all my kids have ADHD or emotional problems and are lost causes...when we all stagger around as if we're drunk, slur our speech, and can't understand what you just said...

consider what time it is in Wonderland.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Did I just read that?

"GPS leads rescuers to hurt snowmobiler"

The GPS has run amok, and is now leading people to hurt other people. That's not very  nice!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Benji says,

"Mom, look in my hair. There's something in my hair."

"What is it?" I ask, looking. "I don't see anything."

"There's something there. Right there. Look.  See?" He said.

"I don't see it. You're fine," I said. "What was it?"

"A gray hair," he replied earnestly. "You'd better cut it."

He's 3 years old.

Did I just read that?

"As David Ownby, the chief financial officer of Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest theater circuit, recently said at an investor presentation, "We sell a bucket of popcorn for about $6. Our cost in that $6 bucket of popcorn is about 15 cents or 20 cents. "  http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-popcorn-20110323,0,3759568.story


Wow.  We should demand lower prices. Oh, wait. I never buy popcorn at theaters. Costs too much.


Same article: "A 2009 survey based on laboratory tests commissioned by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington found that a large popcorn serving contained as much as 1,460 calories — which is the equivalent of eating nearly three McDonald's Big Macs."  


Wow.  Breakfast and a tub of popcorn at a movie, and you've had your entire daily intake of calories!


And then the same article contains this great quote: "Just because you happen to be doing something else while you're eating doesn't mean that those 1,000 calories won't stop going to your waistline."


Ouch! Too many negatives. What is she saying? And what was she trying to say?!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adventures in Gardening

I have always thought it would be a good idea to have a garden. Not only has the prophet said to plant a garden, it makes good solid sense for people on a tight budget to grow their own food. Plus I'm so worried about the chemicals we use to mass-produce things--it makes sense to grow my own organically.

The problem has always been that we end up on tour with Tim right when the garden needs tending, so we get it planted and then it dies.

Then I read this: http://lds.org/ensign/2011/03/seeds-of-self-reliance?lang=eng

Every other article on planting a garden ever has just made me feel guilty. This one succeeded in making me feel like I can DO it! The key was the idea that we could plant in medium or even small containers, and then if we go on tour we can literally box up our garden and take it to Aunt Donella and let her have the garden (since I know she would appreciate it and care for it and value the produce).

So the kids and I started collecting random containers--anything we think could possibly hold a plant.

We already had an avocado tree growing in a jar in the window sill (from guacamole we made for New Year's Day 2010). We had successfully grown pineapple plants (but not pineapples) from tops we cut off pineapples we bought at the grocery store, and pumpkin plants from seeds we saved from Jack-o-lanterns.

So when I fed the kids a butternut squash, I pulled out a handful of seeds, rinsed them off, and tossed them into some heavy, not-terribly-fertile dirt from near the front door that I spooned carelessly into a large yogurt container. Within a day a blade of grass had sprung up. I guess it was in the dirt already. Now, a couple of weeks of leaving it in the kitchen window sill later, I have 4 squash plants growing in my large yogurt container, and I realize it's too small for them. I'll have to re-plant them somewhere, but I don't know where! I honestly didn't think it would work to save seeds from our dinner and plant them.

But why not? They're good seeds. And we had the squash for dinner anyway.

So then when I opened the bag of carrots to make dinner and found the tops were sprouting, I saved them. Anda found a cereal box and said, "I think this is deep enough that carrots could grow in it! So she filled it full of dirt from the back yard and carefully pushed four carrot tops down into the soil in a nice row, and put it on my balcony. She checked it every day for a week, and the carrot plants were growing! So I went out to check it today and discovered that the cereal box was dissolving from the watering. So I put a grocery bag into a different cereal box and transferred the whole mess (it was a lot easier than it sounds--it just slid out the bottom of the soggy box right into the new, bag-lined box).  I have no idea how this will work. It's a double-wide cereal box, but we've never grown carrots before. So we'll see what happens.

Still, I'm excited that things are actually growing! That hasn't happened for us before.

My next musing in strawberries. Can we take a fresh strawberry and plant it with its leaves sticking up and have it grow? Will those tiny seeds germinate?

We also looked up mangoes online. I had dried 15 mangoes just to see what would happen (Tasty is what happened), so I saved the seeds, cracked them to get at the real seed part, and then followed instructions I found online (put them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, just like you do with beans to get them to sprout). Hopefully soon we'll have a mango tree, too.

Oh, and Anda re-potted the avocado tree in a shortening container. In dirt. It finally outgrew that jar of water on the windowsill.

Adventures in Food

Parsnips.

I've always wanted to try parsnips, so I took a little extra from the food budget and bought 4 parsnips. My trusty red cookbook said "use them like vegetables or mash them like potatoes," so I boiled them and mashed them like potatoes.

They were good.

They don't taste like potatoes.

They taste like carrot skins. Anda said, "They're like squash and carrots mashed together." Tim said, "I like these! Like carrots and yams mashed together."

Vegetable-y, though, and not starch-y.

But tasty. I'd like to try glazed carrots and parsnips together. Also, they'd be good in soups.

So now we know, and we're wondering why carrots were the ones that got to be the staple food instead of parsnips. Are they harder to grow? Was it that people liked the color of carrots better? I'm curious.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My kids are smarter than I am

Anda, playing with the clock, says, "Mom, if we stopped time, would everything freeze?" My 7 yo understands the relationship between space and time without anyone ever even mentioning it to her?

Caleb, working on his math, decides to "simplify" the problem to make it easier to solve: "Six times twelve...that's just two times six squared, so...."

Elijah, age 3 months, screams for books that are out of reach. Today he happily looked at the pages of Math 54 for about 20 minutes! He also looks at the words on the page for longer than he stares at the pictures....

Furnace, too?

The Weatherization program called today and said our furnace doesn't meet their standards.

So they're going to replace it.

BIG smiles here.

Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes

Tim took two groups to the Harmony Sweepstakes this year. He found out which groups got in 3 weeks ago. Throat and King4.

Both of these groups have existed in the past. Both have LOTS of music in their "book"s. Both have competed in the Harmony Sweepstakes before.

Neither actually existed at the time Tim applied for them to be in the sweeps, nor did they exist 3 weeks ago when they got in. And, with the competition on a Sunday this year, the cast that had most recently rehearsed wasn't available--the lead female vox is a Mormon and (rightly) chose to put church first.

So Tim scrambled and cast a new group of people for both the groups. King4 is an a cappella Elvis quartet. Throat is classic rock with a bit of a singer-songwriter vibe (similar to, but not reminiscent of, Fleetwood Mac).  So he spent a week casting the groups and getting the music ready. He even wrote 3 brand-new songs for Throat. Then he went to Utah for a week. Then he rehearsed the groups for a week.

Throat hadn't even all been in the same room as each other before Wednesday of this week.

Last night they sang for me (since I didn't go to the competition--it was Sunday, after all), and they were forgetting notes and missing chords. But I could still see that they had something really good going. For one thing, they have great songs. For another, Matt and Tim were incredible on percussion and bass. Really incredible.

So today they went to Denver to compete.

King4 opened the show (always a disadvantage, unfortunately), and they were a great opener--set the tone for the whole show in terms of fun. They had a great time and did a great job.

Throat closed the show. And they WON. Tim said he didn't think the audience loved it, and they didn't win Audience Favorite, and they had no covers so they didn't win best arrangement, but they swept all the other awards--first place, best solo, best original song, best percussion.

So Tim and Peter will be probably the first people ever to both host the Harmony Sweepstakes Finals and compete in the Harmony Sweepstakes Finals IN THE SAME YEAR.

They probably won't win, though. I doubt the Finals will allow them to use their octave pedal, which is a big part of their sound. But still, it will be a fun adventure, for sure.

We weren't expecting it. In fact, every time Tim's won, I've said the day before, "This is a great idea, great concept, great music. You aren't going to win." In fact, I've said that so often about groups that won that when I said it yesterday, we both paused afterward and I added, "Hmmmm. You probably will win just because I said that."

(Last year, I thought VoxBom would win because they're INCREDIBLE, but one of the judges, knowing Tim had done comedy in years past, thought it was a comedy group and didn't get the joke--because there wasn't one--so he thought they were terrible and ranked them very very low, which bumped them down to second place.)

So now if I can just get my wish and have them record all my favorite Throat songs for an album (Tim has literally 4 hours of music that almost nobody has heard that is incredible.....I guess that's 4 albums worth, isn't it.). We talked about it a long time tonight, and I really hope they record with a pop/rock producer. We know a producer who likes Tim's stuff, and who has an incredible facility with lead vocals--he makes gorgeous, crystal-clear recordings, and I think he is one of the few people who could really do justice to Tim's gorgeous voice, who can capture the beauty and depth and emotion he has when he sings, and do justice to his incredible range. Tim's songs are new and different enough that he can't work with just anyone and have it come off right--he needs someone who can grasp his vision for the songs without having any "make it sound like so and so" to fall back on, and someone who understands the feel and has a vision of their own that takes the music in the right direction. (The debate we keep coming back to is can the producer I picked out do justice to the vocals that are acting like instrumentals--that's a specific skill that isn't a given. He's produced a cappella before, but we don't like the sound of the group he's worked with, stylistically, and so don't know if he can do for all the other parts what he can do for the leads....). I also keep hoping for a producer who has the right "connections," but we'll have to leave that for another debate another day.

Anyway, after a week of huge ups and downs, this was another huge up.

And it leaves me asking--what happens next?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sorrows, too, this week

There is a little pulsing sorrow, a spot of grief, sitting in the back of my mind and heart this week.

This week, my Aunt died.

I loved her very much. She was one of my favorite people.

I faced the waves and torrents of grief last month--so this time it's not as intense. But there is still mourning. Still that grief that is outside language and reason, that I cannot label with an "I'm sad because...." and that I can't resolve. It will just have to sit there and fade on its own over time, I suppose.  It's not paralyzing this time. It's just there, small and deep, sitting in a part of my soul that I haven't experienced much of before.

She was a person I looked to frequently when I needed an example of someone who worked hard to chose right despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She suffered from multiple personalities, all different. But they all loved babies and animals and hated injustice. Any time someone uses the "I was abused" defense in court, I think of Aunt Julia, who was abused--SERIOUSLY abused--as a child, as a teenager, as an adult--by her parents. And she still clung to her ability to choose to not be that way, to love babies, to sacrifice even when it was physically painful in order to support my mother (her younger sister), to defend the poor and weak and abused even if it meant opening the door to her own pain yet again.

She suffered, too. Suffered from all kinds of pains, physical, mental, emotional, both from genetics (curse you fibro!) and from things others inflicted on her. Things that shattered her mind and tried to crush her spirit.

I learned from watching her how much damage a mother can do to a child (because her mother did to her), and also how strong and indomitable the human soul can be in fighting against the challenges that others place on us.

She was a strong, feisty person, intensely loyal to those who loved her (and there were so few, it seems, although I found her love-able, even if she was never cuddly). She's the only person whose salty language made me smile instead of frown.

She is the one who showed me that mental illness is not scary, but tragic. And also that there is a person behind every ill mind--a person who is suffering and in pain, trapped by a mind that won't let them live and that betrays them constantly. But I also learned from her that most mental illness doesn't completely remove our ability to make choices, although it can make it much harder. Mental illness is NOT wickedness, not inherent evilness of soul (although it can be painful for everyone involved).

Aunt Julia loved to read. As a writer, that means a lot to me. I think books were her escape--her way out of a world that she could not control and that was, to a great extent, completely against her most of the time. Anytime anyone devalues "escape fiction," I am hurt. I aspire to write escape fiction. Why? Because some people need an escape. For some, it's one of the only joys in life. We who write escape fiction are not producing reams and reams of trash. For some, like Julia, it's a treasure.

She was who she was, imperfect but wonderful. I don't think she knew how many people actually did love her.

-----

Suicide is cruel. It's not something I am in favor of, no matter the circumstances surrounding it.

But I can see why she wanted out. Hers was not a life anyone would aspire to, through no fault of her own. So much pain, all the time. Her son, Lance, is one of my heroes for taking care of her and loving her all these years.

I don't think God met her with condemnation for the way she left the world. Rather, I think He probably met her with hugs and comfort, the way any of us would a child who, in much pain and sorrow, ran home from school (against the rules, and without asking first) looking for a loving mommy or daddy to make it better.

Julia would hate the idea of a cloud and a harp, and I don't really want her to have to rest in peace. Finally, she's free! I want her to rest in joy, freed from that broken body. In some ways, she is finally able to live. I don't begrudge her that at all.

Governor's Energy Office Weatherization Program

http://rechargecolorado.com/index.php/programs_overview/residential_buildings/weatherization_program/

We qualified for this program this year, and are so excited. We were so excited about it we even cleaned every room in the house (no small task, mind you, since we never really moved in properly). I spent every night for a week cleaning, unpacking, moving furniture, making the house livable. Just so we could participate in this program.

And it's an awesome program.

Someone out there actually has a brain after all.

Here's the thing: Colorado (at least the urban parts--I can't speak for the rural parts, having never lived there) is really big on "being Green." Energy conservation is a big deal.

So someone noticed that the people who use the most energy are the ones who can't afford to replace outdated energy-eaters (like furnaces and fridges) and fix their insulation and leaky windows. They also noticed that those are often the people who end up having to apply for public assistance to pay those outlandish energy bills that partially result from their inability to update things and make them energy efficient.

Someone then realized it would be more cost-effective  and environmentally sound to help people update their homes than to just hand out money all the time to pay for inefficiency.

So we have the weatherization program. And we qualified this year.

And the house was clean (as the contract states it must be) when the energy auditor came. He was great. It helped that he's a recording engineer and producer when the economy is good (it's a bad time for musicians, economically, just like for so many professions right now). He spent 3+ hours here checking everything out and then he listed the things they can do to our house to make it energy efficient: new fridge (ours apparently uses the same amount of energy as 4 new fridges do), repair the broken window, storm windows all around, seal the leaky door in the master bedroom, repair the hole in the ceiling that goes up to the broken swamp cooler, insulation in the floors of the kids bedrooms (which overhang our unheated garage, so the heating ducts have to essentially go unprotected outside for 7 feet before they reach the vents--and those vents have always blown cold air into the house in the winter instead of hot air). He thoroughly checked our furnace and water heater (they're fine. Phew.). They'll replace lightbulbs with CFL bulbs. They'll possibly insulate the space between the ceiling and roof better. He also fixed the front casement window that wouldn't close all the way (and the house is much quieter for it).

All in all, we are VERY excited. Also very grateful.

It was worth the pain of facing the fibro and getting the house clean.

Pinewood Derby

Pinewood Derby again today, and I TRIED to like that program again, and I still think it needs to be either reworked or abolished.  Seriously.

My  dad, decades past his pinewood derby experiences, STILL remembers his sorrow and frustration at putting his heart (and hours of work) into a car that he did all by himself and having to race it against cars done by other Scouts' dads. And that still happens. Probably more than we think.

Problems with the program:

Anyone who doesn't have a wealthy scouting father with a regular work schedule (and therefore hours to help a boy) is at a serious disadvantage. There are supplies necessary to make a decent car, like a kitchen scale at home so you have more than 40 minutes to tinker after it's been weighed, and like expensive craft paints, weights, graphite for the wheels that are expensive and necessary if you want your car to have a good showing. That's not fair to the kids who are poor, have a single mother heading their household, or even just have a dad with no idea how this all works. It's almost impossible to make one without the right tools--and they're not tools that everyone has anymore. (Yes, people shared some of those things at the weigh-in, but it was chaos, the time was limited, and it's no fun to beg).

I have a hard time believing that Jesus would have the boys work hard on something and then make them cry and publicly humiliate some. I don't care how much the Scout program defends it, IT'S NOT RIGHTEOUS. There, I said it. It needed to be said. It is NOT okay to break someone's heart or embarrass them in front of their peers. It's okay to have a race, or even a competition. But if many boys are crying (and they are), I really can't justify it. If it leaves boys who did good, honest work with a sad feeling for decades later, what are we doing?

Also, I know competition is "the American Way," but the way Americans do competition is something we need to repent of, not support. So I have a hard time asking my boys to learn this in order to participate in Scouts, especially since homeschoolers don't get exposed to that kind of "competition" almost ever. We do have competitions, but it's not that mean, cutthroat kind of competition that doesn't actually lead to viable learning that will benefit the boys. If you look at it honestly, the way the pinewood derby is run teaches the boys that 1. they can't work hard and succeed by themselves, and 2. winning a race is important (so cheating is okay if it helps you win) and 3. a creative product must have a single end in mind, and is only valuable if it meets that criteria (ie coolness of design is irrelevant--speed is the only thing that matters; this is stifling to truly creative people).

Who wants to teach the boys this? It's wrong.

I can see why number 3 might be justified--we often are asked, as adults, to make a product that accomplishes a specific goal.  But the problem here is the documentation that comes with the car doesn't state the right goal (To make a super-fast car) and give instructions on that. Instead, the instructions are vague and emphasize creativity and hard work (which are good things I fully believe in)--even saying your car will possibly be in a competition for how cool it looks rather than how fast it goes (but nobody EVER does this competition). But then are you rewarded for creativity or hard work? NO. You're only rewarded for speed. The stated goals the boys are to work for MUST match the test of whether they accomplished those goals. If the test is for speed, then by all means, emphasize that in the documentation! It's really not about creativity or hard work, so why pretend it is? That's just heartbreaking for the creative hard workers.

So, how I would fix this program? (Because criticizing without proposing a solution is not helpful, right?).

First, I would have a Make-a-Car night for the pack meeting before (or for) the pinewood derby, where everyone receives their car kit, has access to both the tools and the expertise of other families, and can sit down for an hour or two and make a car. This levels the playing field, making it so every boy actually has a shooting chance at making a decent car, and putting real pressure on the dads to not make a car for their sons, but simply to help.  In fact, if it were just me, I would schedule it as a big 3-hour event and do the races the same night. I know some people would protest that they like to spend time on their cars, designing and sanding and tweaking. And they still could do all the designing they wanted--and just bring the designs to the event. And everyone would know the cars were made all together in an hour or two, so it would still be fair. Just set up some big tables and make a car party event, complete with saws, sand paper, paints, scales, graphite, extra car kits, etc. I would even encourage the dads to sit beside their boys and make their own cars while they help their boys, and then let the dads race against each other. I'd give car kits to all the siblings and moms and neighbor kids who wanted to make them, too.

Second, since I know they set the whole system up before the races (the night before in our case), I would allow test runs not against any other cars, but in a setting where they could ask, "How fast did yours go?" so there is a benchmark. Then I would allow the boys to tweak their cars--add weights, move them around to different spots on the car, drill holes, check the wheel alignments, add graphite, etc. This would make the event much more educational and more also more fair. I know a little boy who was in tears today because somehow the wheels of his car were bumped before the race so the alignment was off and his car went slow. He was devastated. Even if the wheels had been put on wrong by him, though, wouldn't it be fair to let him discover that and fix it before the big race? That is, after all, the way creation and development work in real life. We don't create a product and release it without any chance at debugging! In fact, it's illegal in many professions to do it that way, and just bad practice in general. As it is now, without a chance to test the cars, you end up with a crap shoot. And worse, you end up with boys who are publicly embarrassed by things that are easily corrected. Again, it levels the playing field and makes it more educational, and gives everyone the chance to benefit from everyone else's expertise, which is, I believe, the way a Zion Society is supposed to function.

And finally, if the event were not going to be at a Pinewood Derby Party as suggested above, I would hold the whole thing at 2:00 am--just to get even, really, since that's when they always make us come out to their events (at our equivalent of 2:00 am). (Just kidding.) (Okay, only sort of.....). But I would go out of my way to make accomodations for boys with disabilities. If a boy has limited mobility, make sure the doors with no steps leading up to them are open (they always only open the back ones, which have stairs). If a boy has a sleep disorder, perhaps not hold the event so early in the morning? Why not in the afternoon? (I know--it puts a dozen other families out because their Saturday was broken in the middle, and they might not even remember to come!). (Naturally, someone is going to see my suggestion and do a pinewood derby party--and they'll hold it at 8:00 am on a Saturday! Tim has to work Saturdays, and Caleb has an incurable, untreatable circadian rhythm disorder, so then we'd be prevented from attending all together!). It just makes sense to have compassion for people with problems they can't fix.

I honestly wonder how many adult men who did scouts have truly fond memories of their pinewood derby days? Honestly.

And, to be fair, my ward does better than many. For one thing, they let anyone in the family who wants to make a car do it (you just have to pay a dollar for the extra kits). And they mix the family cars in and let them race with the boys' cars. This is fantastic. For once, the girls are not excluded! In fact, I'd have the girls make cars for their Activity Days and come race, too, but that might be asking too much. (Obviously, I'm not big on the "purity" of the scouting program--I'm all about families, not wasting good educational opportunities, and equal access).

The other thing they do right is they give every participant an award for their car, regardless of how fast it went. So Caleb came home with the most creative paint job, and Anda with the most creative use of weights. This is a good thing--it rewards children for their work, acknowledging their strengths. Hooray for Laura, who did all the work looking at each car and coming up with an award for each person!

So instead of being happy we had such a great experience, once again I'm relieved that it's over and we don't have to think about it for another year.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Elijah

My baby.


Editing my novel--the results of hard, focused work.

By the time I realized what the kids were doing while I was editing my novel, it was too late. So I just let them finish. They said, "You look like a princess, mom. But your eyes look like a witch."


Yes, the kids found my makeup. And I was so focused on my editing (Chapter 6! We're moving right along here, folks) that I didn't clue in to what they were doing until I was partially decorated like a...well....they said they were making me into a princess.

The results on the page weren't quite so...amazing. At least, I hope they weren't. See for yourself:

Chapter 6

It still didn't explain where she was or how she got there, though. Kate needed to call Michael. He'd know where she was. Besides, if she'd hit her head hard enough to forget where she was, he'd want to know. He'd probably even come over and bring her a bottle of water.
Ahead, the trees grew taller and farther apart. Between them, Kate glimpsed what looked like sunlight glinting off water.
She was just opening her mouth to ask Tom if she could borrow his phone to call her brother when she was interrupted by a woman shouting, “But you are too stupid to know what to do with an eye!”
Kate jumped, grabbing Tom’s arm. “What was that?” she cried softly.
“Shhh,” Tom replied, putting a finger to his lips and stepping behind a large tree. “I think it’s just Row and Weenie. They’re as good as blind, so if we’re quiet, we’ll be perfectly safe.”
Kate didn’t let go of his arm, but froze and listened. What was a rowing wee knee?
Another woman shouted back at the first. “Yeah, well after your brilliant idea to snitch carrots from Loopy’s garden, you wouldn’t ever have seen anything ever again if I hadn’t thought of stealing this eye from the sea witch.”
Kate looked at Tom questioningly. Stealing an eye? From a witch? This really had to be a dream. It couldn't possibly be real, and it was too completely outlandish to expect that every single person they met, even by accident, was involved in the same game!
Kate peeked out from behind the tree. Two mud-coated women were standing in the middle of a large, shallow pond.
“Well, we all know who the prince was going to marry before the ball happened,” the first woman said.
The ball—and the prince?
They really just said that, didn't they?
Ball.
And Prince.
Like in “Cinderella.”
Like they were the ugly stepsisters.
It was ridiculous.
It was unbelievable.
It was like a story Uncle Stan would have told.
Kate paused, letting that last thought sink in. He'd always told his fantastical tales as if they were true. Like he had experienced them himself. Even when he was talking about characters from stories, like Captain Kidd.
Or like Tom, who was a piper's son. Just like in the nursery rhyme.
Kate looked at Tom, who was peeking out from behind the tree, watching the two women. They were holding a long-handled net, like a butterfly net, and staring down at the water.
“Who are they?” Kate whispered. Surely he wouldn't say, “Cinderella's Stepsisters,” would he? That would be too weird.
“The tall one is Row. The other is Weenie,” Tom whispered back.
Not Cinderella's stepsisters. Kate breathed a sigh of relief, but then caught it back. Perhaps Cinderella’s stepsisters had names beside “ugly” and “wicked”? Certainly their mother would have given them names....
“Their names are Row and Weenie?” Kate asked. “Who in their right mind would call their daughter Weenie? That’s what you said, right?”
“Nobody in their right mind would. But their mom isn’t in her right mind. Never has been. The girls’ real names are Sparrow and Rowena. Their mom called both girls Row for short until Sparrow was old enough to throw a fit about it. So Row number two became Weenie, since Row number one refused to be called Spare. At least, that’s what my dad says.”
Kate stifled a giggle. “You made that up.”
“It’s all the truth,” Tom said with a grin.
“Get back to work,” Row said to her sister, wiping more mud onto her dress, as if that would help clean her hands of it.
“I can’t get anything done when I let you see for both of us,” Weenie whined, swinging the net in wide, random swoops.
“Shut your mouth! You’re so loud, you’d scare any frog away,” Row snapped.
“If they’re blind, why are we hiding?” Kate asked.
“They aren't exactly blind. They share one eye that they stole from a sea witch. One of them can usually see with it,” Tom whispered. “And they can both hear.”
“How can they share an eye?” Kate asked. She couldn’t decide if that was disgusting or ridiculous.
“It’s a magic eye,” Tom said. “My dad says the sea witch got it from a fish she ate for dinner one night, and if Row and Weenie had half a brain between them, they could use that eye to see the past and the future.”
He just said the word. The word that had been tickling the back of Kate's mind for a few minutes now. Magic.
“Really?” Kate asked. The one-eyed fish story sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Maybe one Uncle Stan had told?
Uncle Stan, who'd always said magic was real, and she'd always laughed at him for it.
In the pond, Weenie started swinging her net wildly, blindly trying to snag her sister, who stayed just out of reach. “Look, the Coalition won’t let us out of this swamp until we catch Phib, and you’re not making it any easier!” she shouted.
“Who is Phib?” Kate asked, breathless. A little buzz of excitement was growing in her stomach. Magic? Was real?  She pushed the thought away. It couldn't be. Could it?
“One of the last princes,” Tom whispered back. “All the rest have vanished over the last couple of months. We all kind of figured the witches had something to do with the princes’ disappearances. Now we know.”
“Do you want me to cast a spell on you?” Row demanded.
“I’ll cast one on you first,” Weenie replied.
“I’ve always wanted to get my hands on that eye,” Tom whispered. “And they are totally distracted right now. I bet I could sneak up on them.” Before Kate could protest, he stepped out from behind the tree and, moving slowly so he wouldn’t splash, started into the pond. Kate watched, holding her breath.
Tom was just about to grab the woman with the eye when the witch spun around. Shrieking, she pointed at him and said some mixed up Latin-sounding something. Tom instantly turned green and began to shrink, splashing into the water and out of sight.
Horrified, Kate screamed, “Tom!” and stepped out from behind the tree.
The witch sisters turned toward her, pointing, and then Kate suddenly had the uncomfortable sensation that she was falling out of her head. Reeling, she tried to focus her eyes, but everywhere she looked, the trees seemed to be growing rapidly. She really wanted to sit down.
Then she got congested. Not just in her nose--everything felt stuffy, from her eyes to her toes. Lurching forward as every muscle in her body cramped at once, she dropped to her hands and knees, and then everything was still.
She knelt there in the mud for a few minutes, stunned and wondering what on earth had just happened. Her muscles gradually stopped hurting, but the odd whole-body congestion stayed. She felt like she needed to blow her nose, and her fingers, and her knees, and everything else. She wanted desperately to get a deep breath, pop all her joints, and stretch, but she couldn’t quite manage it. It was almost like her whole body was having a mild asthma attack. Or like someone had shoved her into a sandwich bag and then shrink-wrapped it.
There were the sisters—giant now—and Tom had shrunk out of sight, and…had they shrunk her, too? How was that possible?
Kate tried to get a look at herself, but her eyes seemed to be on the top of her head, and her arms were green, and her fingers webbed, and…in a world full of fairytales, it could only mean one thing. Quietly, she crept over to the edge of the pond, dreading what she might see but knowing she had to look.
Her usual reflection was gone. In its place, wobbly but unmistakeable in the moving water, a green amphibious face.
They’d turned her into a frog.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Did I just read that?

From the Author's Note at the beginning of "Joseph the Seer" by Steven C. Harper:

"I even left spelling errors in tact when I quoted Joseph's own documents."

Did you, now?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mormon Lit

I've avoided reading Mormon Lit for years because I have this preconception that it's poorly written and poorly edited.

But we got a bunch of Mormon Middle Grade books for Christmas, so I sat down to read to the kids tonight and picked one out. Sounded like a fun adventure

We've only read two chapters so far, and I don't want to offend the author so I won't mention the title or the author's name, but I've noticed a few things:

The writing is klunky. It's not fluid, beautiful, or even particularly easy to read. And it's downright hard to read out loud. (Note to self: read novel out loud before you start querying it....)

The characters are not charming, even though the author clearly thinks they are. Some of the stuff they do is hard to read. All of it is hard to visualize. We're too much in the character's head, and he isn't thinking about anything that rings true for that age of kid or that is interesting enough to make me like him. (Note to self: check for that....).

I might be surprised as we go on (since we're only 2 chapters in), but I think this is going to be a very predictable book. Already on chapter 2, every one of us (me, 9yo, 7yo, and 5 yo) all are pretty sure we've figured out the whole story already. What is there to keep us reading? Just to see if we're right?

The comedy isn't funny. At least, I think it's supposed to be comedy.... Perhaps the drama IS funny? It falls in a gap that's supposed to be Beverly Cleary-like accessible, but is just not really very authentic. To anything.

There is too much gratuitous use of the "M" word--Mormon. If it doesn't even matter what books are on the table, why are you mentioning that it's Mormon History? Especially when in the next chapter, you mention it's math. It's not that it's bad that the main character is Mormon--MY main characters are all Mormons, too. It's that when you "name drop" the religions name, it makes it look like you're trying to make people think it's a good book just because you put the word "mormon" in it. Like you're screaming, "See? I'm one of you!" Mostly, though, it's not EVER mentioning mormonism that's bad. It's when the word is tossed in too much, like swearing that serves no purpose in the story. It's gratuitous. The rule seems to apply here: if it's not furthering the story, leave it out. Trust your readers to get it without throwing it in their faces. Even if they're 11 years old.

Also, an "older teenager" is not "thirteen or fourteen years old." Even to an 11 year old.

And, finally, the biggest "bother" of them all: the author mentioned his church calling in his bio. WHAT?! I don't care if you've been a bishop or you've only ever stood at the door to hand out programs. What does that have to do with anything? If you have been a bishop or Relief Society president, does that help you sell books? It shouldn't. The result was the opposite of what I'm sure the author intended. Instead of me thinking, "Oh, this is legit Mormon literature because this guy is a righteous active member," I thought, "I can't trust anything he says because he's using his calling to gain stature in the world, to sell books, and to advertise his righteousness. In other words, this person is full of pride instead of service. Therefore, I cannot trust him." I doubt that's true, actually. He's probably a good guy. I hope. (Note to self: even when marketing to a religious audience, don't sell your religion. It's tacky.)

Oh, we'll finish the book. I've read worse. Much worse. At least I'm pretty sure it's clean, possibly to a fault. But my 5 and 7 year olds are reading it, so clean to a fault is just fine with me. And a story doesn't have to be authentic to be entertaining. I just hope we get to the entertaining part!

New Fancy Treat

Tonight we were searching for a novel pie filling and we discovered a new tasty cream.

1 c yogurt (I mixed half strawberry and half raspberry)
3/4-1 c sour cream
1-2 c cool whip.

Mix the sour cream and yogurt until smooth. Fold in the cool whip.

REALLY yummy.

So yummy that it didn't last long enough to get into a pie.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Found it!

I finally found whole-milk yogurt at the store!

And it really is better stuff.  I still don't comprehend this "low fat yogurt" thing. It's got so much sugar in it, it's hard to justify it as healthy at all!

The whole-milk yogurt was different, though. It's called "Cream Top" Yogurt, which I think might be a fancy way of saying, "This yogurt tends to separate. Stir it before you eat it, or just expect the top to be creamier than the bottom."

I LOVED it.

For one thing, it only had 5 ingredients, plus the live active cultures. None of them were artificial colors. None were artificial flavors. There were two kinds of sugar in it, but one was evaporated cane juice and the other was pure maple syrup. (By comparison, regular yogurt has 14 ingredients plus live active cultures, sometimes, and those ingredients include 2 kinds of sugar, plus starch, plus preservatives and added colors). It wasn't as thick as candy yogurt is--no gelatin. Its consistency was about the same as homemade yogurt, actually. And it was SO yummy.

And even without claiming to be a diet product of any kind, it had 11 g less carbs in the same size container as the candy yogurts.  And, with 5.5 g more fat, those carbs that were in there will digest more slowly and evenly, so it shouldn't hit my system as hard.

And did I mention it tasted good?

It was called Cream Top Yogurt, made by Open Nature (which I think is Safeway's "organic" brand).  Too bad it costs twice what regular yogurt costs.....

Did I just read that?

This was on a poster for an event Tim  is singing in.



Apparently someone REALLY doesn't like Ticket Horse!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japanese Earthquake

They say the quake off the coast of Japan ripped a hole in the sea floor 186 miles long and 93 miles wide. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/11/japan-quake-ranks-5th-largest-100/?intcmp=obnetwork

If that had happened on land? Wow. Hard to even grasp how big a rupture that is. Let's give it a try.

Anda and I looked at a map with a scale on it and started doing some measuring. We determined that a rupture 186 miles long would be from the Utah-Idaho border all the way down to about 10 miles south of Nephi.  In other words, the entire "Wasatch Front" part of Utah where most of the population lives. Width-wise, think from the far side of the Great Salt Lake all the way across all the valleys where all the biggest Utah Cities are and across the Mountains almost to the border with Wyoming.

In other words, if a rupture like that happened in Utah, the Wasatch Front would be gone, along with 85% of Utah's population (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasatch_Range).  YIKES!

New Pet Peeve

We're shopping for vans.

And I have a new pet peeve:

People posting Minivans in the Vans section on KSL, when there is a clearly marked Minivans section.

It's driving me crazy to have to sort through hundreds of postings for minivans to get to the real vans. Why not post it where it belongs? It's not like someone who wants a full-sized van is going to be swayed by a good-condition minivan!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Did I just read that?

On ksl.com today: "Man with samurai sword arrested, girlfriend stabbed"


http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=14674181

You'd think arresting him was enough, but no--they had to stab his girlfriend, too. I guess what he did was really serious, although why punish her?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Did I just read that?

"Lauren Garcia, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., accidentally swallowed the small magnetized ball bearings that are meant to look like a fake tongue, kdvr.com reports."
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/03/07/magnetic-tongue-rings-pose-health-risk-teens-doctors-say/#ixzz1FzsBPXL1

Robotongue--looks just like two ball bearings.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Musing on how to fix education; also on innovation in general

I have no hard data on this, but I suspect that successful innovations NEVER come from the top. I suspect they are always bottom-up kinds of things.

Why?

Because the people at the top--the ones who are responsible for implementing policies and running organizations and governments--don't need the innovations. They are where they are because the system worked for them, and it is the thing that gives them power. Why change something that isn't, for them, broken? In fact, the people at the top wouldn't really WANT innovation--it threatens their power and also the structures that they understand and know how to manipulate.

So innovation has to come from the bottom--from the people who the system ISN'T working for, from the people in the trenches who are making it work but can see the problems up close.

Not only are the people at the bottom the ones with better vision of what needs to change, they're the ones motivated to change and keep the change going.

So I don't want to really talk about government here, although you could take the ideas there (the value of having regular citizens elected to office rather than career politicians, etc). What I've been thinking about is Education.

So far, all the government's grand ideas about fixing education have made things worse.

So who do we ask for innovation? How do we fix education?

We could ask the teachers. They're in the trenches.

And they'll tell you all the resources and great ideas and fantastic plans in the world can't help students who refuse to (or cannot) learn.

For example, students who are hungry because their families are too poor to feed them well--they can't learn. Students who live in poverty have a hard time getting the resources for learning (things like pencils, paper, etc--that expensive "supplies list" the teachers send home is out of reach for a lot of families).

Even worse, students sometimes just don't care. In Vegas, Tim went to a lot of schools teaching workshops and doing presentations. He noticed that the teenagers just didn't care. Their parents were making good money working in casinos--dealing and dancing, mostly--with no education. So what's the point?

Any number of government programs won't fix the don't care.

And some students are dealing with such broken homes that they can't care. Abuse, neglect, drug-addict parents, single parents who are at their limit just trying to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.  I know a kid who was working full time to support himself and his dad while he went to high school. When he got off school, he'd go to work until late, sleep 5-6 hours, and start over. How can a kid like that succeed in school?! The cards are stacked against him.

The solution to the education problem (separate from defining educational success properly--ie not by how we do compared to other nations on tests in Math and Science--which is an entirely different topic) is not going to be found in threatening or firing teachers, in fancy grant competitions, in mandatory testing, in a national curriculum, in matching funding to test scores, in bigger budgets or more technology. Not even in smaller classes or better-trained teachers.

The solution to the education problem is in the home.

If we want to "fix" our education system, we need to fix our families, and make healthy families a priority.

In fact, I suspect if you dug into ANY SINGLE PROBLEM our nation faces, you'd find the solution ultimately boils down to strengthening, supporting, improving the families.

I can't say that broken and weak and stressed families are the CAUSE of the problems in the nation (I think wickedness, selfishness and a strong push to eliminate the concept of repentance are). But I do think that strengthening families would be the key to the solutions. You want to tackle the drug problem? Strengthen families. You want to fix the overcrowded prisons, gangs, widespread corruption? Strengthen families.

When a society is crumbling, making more rules isn't going to help. Fixing the roof and painting the walls of a building won't do a stitch of good if the foundation is crumbling.

Families are the fundamental unit of society.

If we want a strong nation, it can't be made from broken parts.

Somebody should tell the government.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Easter Candy Time?

All the stores have their Easter candy out already.

So I have Easter Candy on the brain. After a lot of success making it ourselves last year, I'm determined to try again. I'm plotting out what kinds we want to attempt.

I think the peanut butter was a HUGE success. So that's on the list.

Also marshmallow was easy and a winner.

Also peanutbutter-marshmallow. That was tasty.

Cream cheese filling was nasty. That's off the list. So is orange. Came out horrid.

And the list of new ideas to test:

chocolate nougat (divinity) filling--like a 3 Musketeers egg, right?
Chocolate nougat with caramel (I'm not ambitious enough to home-make the caramel, though, even though I have a fantastic recipe. I also have a 3 month old baby).
caramel filling alone

I'm also toying with the idea of making flavored nougats by flavoring my divinity recipe, either with koolaid powder/jello powder or with specialty "chips" (white chocolate is what I have in mind, although mint chocolate or cherry chocoate is also appealing).  Chocolate chips work to make divinity into chocolate nougat, so why not andes mints make it into mint chocolate "truffle" filling?

It's worth a try.

Did I just read that?

"For Britain’s coalition government, however, the need to make dramatic domestic buts has been coupled with a promise to avoid cuts, and even make budget increases, in the money it sends to help the world’s poorest people—part of the price of bringing the minority Liberal-Democrats into the coalition."

Dramatic domestic buts, like, "But we really can't cut medicaid!" and "but our education system needs more funding, not less!"? Or "But what about our own poorest people?"

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Family movies

LOTS of new "home movies" up here: http://www.youtube.com/rebeccawilsonjones#p/u

Especially of interest to family members. Most of the rest of you won't really care.