Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Searching For Bobby Fisher

Searching For Bobby Fisher is one of my favorite movies of all time. For those of you unfamiliar, it's the story of a young chess genius and his parents as they discover what it means to be a gifted kid.

It's one of my favorite movies, but I hadn't thought about it for years--until Sunday. Sunday I was in a contemplative mood, and I was thinking about Caleb, and I found myself thinking about the kid in the movie. In one key scene, he loses a competition on purpose and then can't explain to his furious father why. When they explain it later to the mother, she is also irate, but not at the son. She's mad at the father for caring too much. She says, "He's a kid!" and gets the point across that chess is supposed to be for fun, and it's not a big deal, but childhood is a big deal and we shouldn't lose that in pushing our kids to excel at their talents.

Suddenly, I felt like the father in the movie. I know Caleb is capable of finishing third grae this year. He's already finished first and half of second, and we aren't even at Christmas yet. He has this incredible talent for learning, and also for all things language arts related. He is fascinated with science and cultures. He loves math.

But what about childhood?

I realized a better approach for me to take, instead of pushing him academically, would be to say, "Hey, we finished everything that's required. Let's do fun stuff." I am legally obligated to stil do five hours of school per day--but what Caleb does for fun counts as school. He pushes himself academically just fine. Why ruin that? Why not let him have fun and just take notes secretly on the side so I can still report to the teacher? Why not go forward with math, language arts, science, etc, but without the push--just let him pace himself to a great extent? And let him continue with his research (he's read the entire wikia on pikmin, homestarrunner, and is now working on Super Mario Bros., and in the process has learned about--and tried--animation, making computer games, writing scripts, designing, art, editing, illustrating, story structure, character, dialogue, etc.).

What's more important? Jumping through the hoops for the badges, or enjoying the journey? What's the badge good for, anyway, if you didn't like getting it?

Besides, it should be Caleb's badge (and therefore his work), not mine. Unlike some moms, I don't need him to have badges to validate myself. I have my own badges in this very area (I did, after all, skip kindergarten and then leap over 2 other grades, start college on a four year, full tuition scholarship at 16 and graduate summa cum laude in 3.5 years. Without breaking a sweat or ever feeling challenged, and while I was creating a curriculum and teaching in a junior high school, and with all of my professors after me to become their teaching/research assistants. I got the badges myself.)

The other "ah-ha!" moment I had this weekend dealt with the fact that people have been telling me for months now that "there's something wrong with Caleb." They identify right away that he's not your average six year old, so they interpret that as "something wrong." And I believed them.

The "ah-ha!" was that Caleb is profoundly gifted intellectually, but he's an average six year old socially, emotionally, developmentally, in his attention span, etc. It's the thing the kid's mom said: "He's a kid." Caleb talks like a ten year old and is the size of an 8 year old--but he's six. You see how people could come to the conclusion that "there's something wrong"?

Once, when I was a tween, I was given a piece of cake with a red sauce on top. I thought it was strawberry, and I love strawberry. You can imagine my disappointment when I tasted it and it was HORRID. Then my mother, who was with me, tasted her identical cake and said, "That is the most delicious raspberry topping!". It was awful strawberry because it was raspberry.

Caleb is like that. People look at him and expect him to behave like an 8 or 9 year old. So when he acts like a six year old, they're convinced something is wrong. In reality, there may be nothing "wrong" except the expectations.

A concrete example: Caleb can read on at least a third grade level in many ways. But he couldn't stay on task during his reading test. Part of this might be ADD, part fibro, and part most certainly is that average first graders are expected to read books with 5 word sentences, one sentence per page. Caleb can comprehend more than that, easily, but he doesn't necessarily Want to. Nobody would expect an average first grader to want to read a thousand words in one sitting. Just because Caleb can do that intellectually doesn't mean he can emotionally. Emotionally, he's six.

I listened at the door of his classroom at church, and heard kids fidgeting, talking out of turn, making comments that were off topic, etc. Caleb only said, "I'm crashed out of this," which his teacher thought was some kind of emtionally tragic expression of exclusion, but which was, in fact, Caleb's normal way of verbalizing, "I'm bored." He was mildly confused by (but accepting of) his teacher's reassurance that No, he wasn't. Being excluded, she meant. Allowed to not participate because of boredom, he heard. I suspect this is fairly typical of Caleb's interactions with the world. It's like Caleb speaks in literature, but doesn't realize it, and then it never occurs to him that maybe he wasn't understood. So he's puzzled and confused by interactions with people who expecte him to be average, and he responds in ways many six year old boys do.

Ironically, Caleb may never be acknowledged as profoundly gifted because verbal talents are not as highly regarded in our world as artistic, musical, athletic, scientific, and mathematical talents. In fact, many gifted and talented programs really are "advanced math and logic" programs. Most kids with profound verbal gifts just express it by reading a lot, writing (sometimes in the closet, so nobody knows), and talking well. Nobody looks at that and says, "Gifted!" They say, "Now you're required to read a thousand pages a month when everyone else is required to read 200." That's not really satisfying to a gifted kid any more than doing extra math worksheets is. Keeping busy is not the same thing as learning.

Part of the problem, I think, is that your average family can only deal with verbal talents that way. Musical and athletic talents you can take to teachers and coaches. Science and math talents get plopped in gifted and talented programs. But verbally gifted kids are expected to sit still and attend the young writer's conference once every two years. There are few programs in place to handle them. It has to do with that talent dynasty thing I wrote about last year--unless you have a writer in the family, the tools, lifestyle, processes, etc necessary for being a good writer must be learned fresh.

But with me and Tim pursuing creative things all day, Caleb thinks it's normal to spend hours working on a novel. He knows how editing works (he edited a whole chapter of my book for me--so well that I will use most of his changes!). He knows how to get past a writers' block, and how you structure your day around writing, and how reading and writing can interact, and how to use the computer in writing, how to get and develop ideas, etc. etc. etc.

But, in fact, being in a gifted and talented program is as much for a badge as for the learning. Our house is a gifted and talented lifestyle. Home school is perfect for Caleb.

I'm not saying Caleb doesn't have ADD. I'm not saying he doesn't have fibro. I'm just realizing now that those things don't define him. He is a complex interaction of his talents, his normalnesses, and his disabilities, just like the rest of us. Taking him to a psychiatrist who specializes in average ADD kids probably won't serve him as well as taking him to a specialist in gifted children, because I think that some (or many) of his "problems" are actually just things he will grow out of as he grows into his brain and his large stature and doesn't any longer have to deal with the disconnect between his advanced mind/body and his normal interests/ emotions/self-control. I sure would hate to medicate him because he's bored and doesn't know how to handle that feeling.

Intellectually advanced, developmentally normal, ADD, fibro, and all the other labels shouldn't be allowed to overshadow this one thing:

He's a kid.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wow--why I hate English programs, by someone else


This article fully explains how I feel about literary fiction, and with more information than I knew.

I should stop saying, "I can't write because I don't write literary fiction." I've fully believed that since I was in 8th grade and had to start reading "real" books.

What made classic literature in days of yore? Staying power. People loved Shakespeare because it was good and it was cool and everyone kept rediscovering it.

What makes classic literature now? Literary criticism.

Have you read some of that lately? It embodies everything I hated about college. It IS elitist, superficial, esoteric, and false, just like Wolverton says.

And, after reading Wolverton's article, I am completely willing to admit that the seventh Harry Potter book was the most powerful, life-changing book I've read (short of the scriptures) in YEARS. Why have I been embarrassed by this?

And why should I be ashamed that I write fantasy?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Speaking in Church

I just caught Daniel tearing pages out of Tim's Bible and shoving them into the CD player. I'm not sure what he thought would happen. They didn't play. Next time Tim looks for the book of James, he'll have an unpleasant surprise. Such is Sunday around here.

It was our turn to speak in church again. We haven't been asked to speak since we moved in, so it had to come sometime.

Naturally, given the season, the topic was gratitude. I actually learned a lot preparing for the talk.

I intended to just read quotes from General Authorities for the talk. What more could I say than has already been said--and eloquently?

Apparently plenty. I found myself sharing stories from my life to illustrate the points. Usually I plan this, but I have gotten the distinct impression that my fairly traditional ward thinks we're strange. Okay, it's more than an impression. People have told me they think I'm strange. More than once. So it was a little threatening to try to speak to them, so I had planned to stick to stuff other people have said. I hadn't taken into account my love of speaking to and teaching large groups of people, or my inability to keep my mouth shut.

I don't know if the talk helped my case for normalcy much. Naturally, after hearing a talk on gratitude, a lot of people felt compelled to say "thank you." I have no idea if it was heartfelt or guiltfelt thanks. One of the junior high aged boys sought me out after the meeting and made a comment that made me wonder if I helped my case or not. He said, "I'm going to ride my bike down the stairs!"

Oh. I said that, didn't I.

So much for giving people the impression that I run a normal household.

For the record, nobody's actually ridden their bike down the stairs. Yet. I believe my comment was something like some days I'm thankful that nobody's ridden their bike down the stairs, if nothing else.

I suppose there is a tradition of literary moms having insane households and telling about it. Like in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies." And Erma Bombeck. And that lady who wrote for the Daily Herald for years whose name has two 'A's in a row somewhere in the middle (Baadsgaard?--something like that).

Maybe by hearing that I catch my kids trying to take apart the walls to fix the imaginary broken water pipes--or having full-blown screaming matches over imaginary toys, or that they end up crying about grammar and usage debates, or that sometimes I find they've taken all the bedding and mattresses off the beds, or that they've dumped all the stored baby clothes into giant pile that they're swimming in and wearing (Again.), or that they added an entire bottle of shampoo to the bathwater and are feeding it to each other--maybe other moms will laugh a little and think their lives are, at least, normal.

I like to think that other families have these kinds of misadventures too, and they just don't talk about it as much as I do.

But maybe they laugh because they never even thought of these kinds of things happening before.

As one mom said a couple of years ago, "I don't think it would occur to me to worry about riding bikes down the stairs. I'd be shocked if the bikes came in the house."

I guess that's where I'm weird. I wouldn't be surprised at all if someone wanted to take the bikes to bed with them like any other kid takes a teddy bear. I might have an issue with it, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Oh, well. At least the talk went smoothly. And hopefully it won't be my turn for another couple of years.

By then we may have moved.

Thanksgiving Report

Usually, the thing I am most thankful for during Thanksgiving is that it's over and everyone else had their "event."

I don't know who planned holidays and traditions, but it certainly wasn't a mom.

Kids see holidays as fun fun fun, food food food, presents, decorations, parties, trips, feasts, etc.

But somebody has to make all that stuff happen. And guess what? It's me.

Like I said, who planned this? And who voted me in? Where was I when all that happened?

As one of the princesses in my book said before that section was excised from the manuscript, "The better question is, since I'm stuck with this, what am I going to do about it?"

What I do about it is only as much as I have to. We don't do things in holidays that I don't like, that I don't agree with, or that just take too much work. We don't stick with tradition at the expense of sanity and health. But we do the key things that make the kids feel like they've had a celebration and that help them understand the good things (the family bonding, the yearly routine, and the "specialness") of holidays. For example, we do a Christmas tree, and lights, and presents, and stockings. We don't do a Christmas dinner (if I recall right, we mostly do the same thing we do on Sunday--tomato soup and cheese sandwiches--plus everyone eats the cereal they got). Christmas dinner is just too much. That amount of work crosses the line from "holiday" to "insanity."

We do have our own peculiar traditions. One, born of poor planning, is shopping for presents for each other that cost $1 or less on Christmas Eve, usually at a drug store because nothing else is open. (Right when most families are trying to put Christ back in Christmas by watching the nativity. Go figure).

Anyway, this year for Thanksgiving I was trying, as usual, to take the hit out of the holiday, and I thought of something I hadn't before.

Why not make everything possible for the feast the day before so that I can enjoy the holiday, too? That takes the pressure off, gives me time to fix mistakes and modify the menu, and lets me enjoy the cooking. I even got out the serving dishes the day before and put the unopened cans and boxes into the right bowls--with spoons--so that we'd have everything ready to go in that key half hour after the turkey comes out but before you can carve it when you have to make gravy, vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, set the table, deal with hungry (grumpy) kids, etc.

Just so nobody is confused, the practical (and "why is it done this way? no reason anyone can think of?") in me still was in control--we had flake potatoes instead of real ones (my kids don't care), we didn't bother with rolls at all (much less fresh-cooked ones), or a green salad, or multiple varieties of vegetables. Anything that's traditional but my family wouldn't eat, we took off the menu.

Then I went to work while the Turkey thawed instead of while it cooked. I made pumpkin and apple pies from scratch (you serve these cold anyway), starting with a whole pumkin and a bag of apples and my Dad's pie crust recipe (which beats the cold butter and ice water traditional recipe hands down--people actually eat this crust on purpose, not just because it happens to hold pie filling). I made cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. I made Georgian Sweet Potatoes from a recipe I found in a ladies' coalition cookbook published in 1920 (no marshmallows and the only sugar is the brown sugar glaze--and it's better than any other sweet potato recipe ever)--I put the assembled recipe into the fridge to bake the next day. I made this from scratch, too. I made pear-lime creamy jello from a recipe I learned from Tim's grandmother (it has cream cheese and cool whip in it, and it was the only dish we actually ate all of at the table). I went to bed tired, but ready for Thanksgiving with all kinds of fancy, home made from scratch dishes.

The turkey came out perfect (Thanks to my dad informing me that the internal temperature of the bird rises after you take it out of the oven, so take it out 5 degrees before it's "done"). And we had a fabulous feast, which the kids didn't really eat much of but enjoyed (especially the jello). And you know, from scratch does make a difference. I have always hated cranberry sauce--but the real stuff, made from real cranberries, is "so easy it's embarrassing," as my mother said, and it's good.

The pies were really good. It was the best pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. I'll never eat canned pumpkin again. The kids hated it. They liked the concept, but hated the result. In fact, the only dessert they loved was the crustless chocolate mousse "pie" (I ran out of energy and just made the filling--chocolate pudding with cool whip stirred in). Mostly they just loved the cool whip. Next year I believe I'll serve a cool whip pie. Maybe fresh berries with cool whip on top and call it pie. It's healthier anyway. Maybe I'll serve the jello as a dessert.

I am now confident enough with my Thanksgiving Dinner abilities that I would be willing to let people join us, if they could stand eating at 5:00 pm or later, not having matching dishes or even a tablecloth on the table, everyone showing up in whatever they're wearing with uncombed hair, etc. The food was good. The kids had fun. The mommy and daddy were happy.

And we had enough energy left over that we rearranged the living room furniture (Now we have a toy/schoolroom with places for three desktops, two laptops, and three printers. Now everyone can do school and I can literally see the screens of four computers at once so I know what the kids are working on.--I never have been good at "this is how it's done" including living room decor).

So that's one holiday down, and it was less work and more fun for me.

Now if I can just figure out shortcuts for Christmas and birthdays...

Rocky Road "Fudge"

The original for this modified recipe came to me in a locally-printed magazine as a cookie recipe with multi-colored marshmallows. The trouble is, it's nothing like a cookie, even if you make it round, and someone forgot that multicolored marshmallows are multiflavored as well. I don't like multiflavored marshmallows floating in fudge.

The recipe itself had merit, though, so I fixed it up some. The new version can come across as quite fancy and tasty. Unless you are a fudge fanatic,it's a pretty good clone,and easy as anything I've tried.

Rocky Road Fudge

1/2 c margarine
1 1/3 c chocolate chips (I use real semi-sweet chocolate chips--they're my favorite)
1 c powdered sugar
3 c mini marshmallows (the white kind)
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

Melt the margarine and chocolate chips together (I do this in the microwave for 1 minute, stir, and then 30 seconds more). Let cool slightly (it's not reallly hot, anyway, but you don't want the marshmallows to melt). Stir in powdered sugar and then marshmallows and nuts. This gets pretty stiff, and you might want to use your hands for the last bit to be sure they are thoroughly mixed. Roll into two 1 1/2 inch rolls or press tightly into a 9 x 9" pan. Cool in fridge until stiff, then cut.

My husband (and at least one brother in law) believe nuts belong in bowls, not brownies (or anything else), so we never have tried it with nuts. Consequently, I can't vouch for their effect on the whole.

This is the easiest candy recipe I know, short of "open the bag of chocolate chips and the bag of marshmallows and have at it". And this is nice enough to take to a party and not be embarrassed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Parents Say the Darndest things

We've all said them--those things that make you pause and think, "If someone heard that out of context...."

From our house this week, all spoken calmly:

"Please don't juggle the baby."

"Is the baby still eating that book?"
"Yes. Is that okay?"
"As long as he doesn't choke on it."

"Why is the arm of the chair wet?"
"The kids like to lick it."


A Pre-Thanksgiving Feast

Tonight we got struck by a big ol' snowstorm.

So the kids played outside and then came in cold and I grabbed the new groceries I was unloading and fed them chips and guacamole, and hot cocoa, and threw some frozen pizzas in the oven. For many moms, a typical meal. Very atypical for us.

The kids said, "Wow! We're having a real feast tonight!"

I guess it's not the quantity that makes it a feast. It's the novelty.

Oh, and my take on frozen pizzas. We like them okay. Cheaper than buying pizza from a pizza place and the kids don't seem to notice the difference. Tonight I got Tony's pizza for the first time. We don't usually get it because it's usually not much cheaper than other brands, and, while the box is big enough to hold the same size pizza as the other brands (Red Baron, Kroger, etc), the pizza is smaller (compare the weights). So you're not really saving money. But it was really on sale today, so we got a few. One was "white whole wheat crust"--Great! I thought in the store. Whole wheat is good, right?

Then I got it home and my brain turned on. Okay--we're eating frozen pizza. Has nutritional value similar to a bowl and half of sugar cereal with whole milk, only with lots more sodium and less refined sugar (but the same amount of carbs). I compared the white whole wheat crust nutritional facts with the regular crust--more fat, less protien, but not much different. The whole wheat is the fifth ingredient on the crust (or something like that), with the first being regular old refined flour.

And then I realized that wheat is brown. To get the healthy whole wheat, you get the brown stuff. What's with "white whole wheat?" Since wheat grows brown, that means it may be whole wheat, but it had to be bleached or processed somehow. Isn't the point of getting whole wheat to avoid the processing?

Then I tasted it. It tasted like someone put extract of wheat flavoring into cardboard. You could even smell the "healthy tastes like dust" flavor.

My advice: if you want healthy, make your own pizza with whole wheat crust (preferably that you ground yourself). If you want frozen pizza, just get the normal kind.

A fun website for word-lovers


I found this site addicting. I'm sending you to it through Snopes.com so you know what Snopes said about it--just so you don't think I'm sending you out on an urban legend errand.

Fun site, claims to do good in the world. Check it out. Go to Snopes and then click on through to Freerice.com.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review of Time4Learning.com

We couldn't enroll Anda in kindergarten this year because Colorado State Law says that kids have to be 5 to start school. I understand this--the schools would be overloaded with kids who really aren't ready for the structure of school because their parents wanted free daycare. Even five year olds often aren't emotionally and socially ready for school.

But Anda recently figured out reading and took off with it. I watched her successfully answering the questions Caleb was working on for school, and she is comfortably on a first grade level, even though she's only four.

I really didn't want to waste any more time with her. We wasted a lot with Caleb and then had trouble convincing anyone to let him go ahead (although his teacher is fabulous and she finally said he's working at least on a third grade level, so let's go there). Anyway, she really wanted to start school, but I didn't see how I could possibly do a traditional home school with her because I was already supervising Caleb constantly to keep him on task with the extra lessons his teacher assigned (for first grade, not the ones on his level) that he thought were boring (they were, for him. Anda thought they were great), plus I have four kids and the oldest is six. I was already struggling with balancing schooling, making meals, doing laundry, and writing my book. The house was so far down on the list that my mother hired someone to come pick up for me because I had to let something go. I can't juggle that many balls at once.

To complicate things, Anda had been watching Caleb doing the Compass Learning Odyssey curriculum online, and she wanted to do that. But Compass doesn't contract with homeschoolers.

But they did recommend a solution to me: Time4Learning. (I told them I'd be reviewing their site, and they said they'd pay me for it and if I wanted to help them with SEO stuff, could I please put multiple links to their site in? So if you find lots and lots of links, it's just a favor to them--it helps them move up in the search engines online so they're easier to find).

So we looked up Time4Learning.com.

They are a company that makes the CompassLearning curriculum (plus some math logic curricula for gifted kids--'gifted' apparently means math gifted to them; my kids are profoundly gifted, but in language arts more than math). The curriculum is extremely affordable--as of this writing the subscription costs $19.95 for the first child and $14.95 for an additional child (I don't know about more than two--Dan's not ready for school yet). Plus they have a two-week money back guarantee so you can test the program (they asked me to mention that).

We were already sold on the program before we contacted them because Anda wanted to use the Compass curriculum. I like Compass--it is considered "challenging" by lots of people. I have found that it's just right. (The other curriculum Caleb uses repeats everything ad nauseum so he can hardly stand to do it for beating the subject to death in the name of educating him). We love Compass.

The things that Time4Learning have added to their access to Compass that are really valuable are the "playground" and the "Lesson Plans."

First, the playground: The Playground is a page FULL of over a hundred links to fun, non-addicting games and websites for kids, several with "one computer-two player" games that I love the kids to play together. It links to things like Brainpop (most of which is only accessible with a subscription, which Caleb's school has), PBSKids, and classic games, puzzles, and activities. The thing I like about the playground is that the link is disabled until the student has done their lessons. The parents set the timer for the amount of lessons they want done, and when the timer counts to zero, the playground is activated. There is not a ding or notification, though, so Anda actually finishes her lessons instead of quitting as soon as the playground is "open." Then, even more valuable (and what I've often wished Caleb had), the playground also has a timer on it, which the parents can set to any amount of time up to 59 minutes. Whent the timer runs out, the playground shuts off until more lessons are done. This is great--nobody gets too into their games because they know the games are going to shut off automatically!

We do sometimes circumvent the playground and just open another browser window for "recess", though, like when the kids want to go to Brainpop for recess. I personally don't consider BrainPop recess--so why would I want to stop them?

The other really valuable thing that Time4Learning provided me was the "lesson plans", which are actually the "scope and sequence", or list of activities, for the entire Compass program, from pre-k all the way through 8th grade.

This has been like gold for us. The lessons include the activity numbers. The way Compass works is the child is placed on a level. For Time4Learning, the parents can request a level and have their child placed there without justifying it. (With Caleb's public cyberschool, we have to justify everything and can't just move him up, even if he's ready.) Whatever level you are on, Compass gives you access to one level up and one level down (so Anda has Pre-K, K, and 1; Caleb has K, 1, and 2). With the scope and sequence available to us, we can skip ahead to any lesson we want, on any level, in any subject, including subjects where there are a few lessons but not a whole curriculum available yet (like Social Studies). With compass, if you have the activity numbers, you can access any lesson from the home page, so I've been able to set Anda to work on some third grade lessons, and Caleb, too.

For kids who are self-motivated and love learning, this is fabulous. I printed the scope and sequence, and I mark off activities on the list as they are finished or excused because I see no reason to do every activity Compass offers, which messes up their system of always showing you what lesson to do next.

Time4Learning makes homeschooling easy--even with my four kids under 7 years old. The thing I like about the system is I tell Anda what activities to do (I stick a post-it note on the screen each day with the activity numbers), and the computer does the teaching. I keep an eye on things (and you can get reports on the child's progress to help this) and answer questions, and we re-do activities where she doesn't get 4/5 or more on the quiz at the end, but I don't have to teach every lesson to both kids. I don't have to come up with worksheets (they're included as printables) if they need more work on something, it's easy to repeat lessons, and the kids can go as fast and as far as they want.

I don't have to teach, I don't have to be the bad guy, I don't have to decide what to do next (other than to say "yea" or "nay" on each activity--I'd suggest you skip the level 2 lesson on hygiene that openly teaches that you get colds from dirt and worms, which just plain isn't true, but that's the only really awful lesson in the three grades worth of lessons we've done), I don't have to wonder if we are meeting State Standards, I don't have to keep the attendance records and portfolios required by Colorado law (it's automatic!), and I don't have to worry that we might not be covering the stuff other kids that age are supposed to know.

It's also comforting to me that this is not a Colorado program, so no matter where Tim gets a job and we move, one or both kids can get a good, self-paced education. And, since Compass is used by 90% of schools in the nation (or so they say), if the kids do decide to go public eventually, I can take the reports in and prove that the are on an advanced level using something the teachers can accept, since they don't like to take my word for it.

Most of all, the kids love it.

I know a lot of homeschool moms think I'm nuts for going cyber(when you have only one kindergartner, and they are functioning close to grade level, homeschooling is easy and the materials are cheap), but Time4Learning is worth checking out. There are even free sample lessons on the website, and a forum for parents for support.

The only downside to the entire system that I've found so far is that the website is designed poorly so that instead of looking classy (and, therefore, trustworthy), it looks a little like a scam--too many words per page, too many testimonials, just like ads for nutritional supplement snakeoil and chiropractor ads in magazines. But my experience with the site has been good, the curriculum is so fun we have to stop the kids from playing, and the parents forum and scope and sequence are great resources (and accessible, at least partially, even if you don't join).

Review of Diapers-a post for mommies

We recently from Huggies (provided for us) to Parent's Choice, my usual favorite diaper. Then Daniel got a whole-body sandpaper rash, and started scratching around the top of his diaper constantly, and pushing it down to get it off his skin. So we assumed he was sensitive to diapers.

So now I've tried several kinds in the last week, and thought I'd give you the rundown.

Previous Experience: I have used Target, Albertson's, and King Soopers/Smiths store brands before and found them fine. The Comforts Plus (King Soopers) were a Pampers clone. All three store brands worked great, were fairly decent clones of national brands, and didn't become my diaper of choice because they cost more than Parent's Choice, the WalMart brand. That was the only reason, though, and they are cheaper than the national brands they clone. Also, Albertsons offers "Double Ups", a pad you put into the diaper for long trips or nighttime that really does stop the leaks by making the diaper twice as absorbent. I haven't seen these elsewhere. FMV diapers (a generic brand) are cheap--in every sense of the word. They leak, they fill quickly, they tear when you put them on, they fall off. They are a classic case of not worth the savings. The cost of diapers should be judged by the day: how much per diaper times how many you use in an average day. FMV diapers cost less per diaper, but you have to use so many per day that they end up costing more. I haven't used Costco brand that a lot of parents love because I don't find I save more by shopping store sales and stocking up than I do buying national brands at Costco's discount price, especially when you consider you have to save more than the membership fee before you've actually saved any money.

This Week:

Parents' Choice diapers--the WalMart brand, these really are cheaper than anything around ($10.50/bag vs Pampers $20/bag). These are also usually the only diaper that doesn't leak on my kids. The absorb quite a lot before they fall off (don't criticize--most Moms who have more than two kids and more than one in diapers know this). They have no scents, no colors, no additives (lotions, etc), so I personally am not allergic to them. Despite this, some kids are sensitive to them for some reason, but my kids mostly haven't been. The disadvantages: the tabs. The tabs are horrid. Two or three diapers per bag has tabs that tear off while you're diapering your child. This sounds like no big deal, but when you've hand to wrestle the kid down in the first place, the room stinks, and they are rolling around while you're diapering, this can been worth swearing about. Also, the tabs stretch and slip, making the diaper less tight (and therefore more leak-prone) the longer the kids wear them. And the tabs roll when active kids wear them, eventually becoming unstuck completely. The tabs are newer (last 2 years), and I need to complain about them because they're ruining the best diaper out there. Whoever designed them tried to jump on the "stretchy sides" bandwagon without understanding that the lack of stretch in the sides is what makes it possible to tighten a diaper enough that it doesn't leak. Oh, and they don't print the diaper size on the diaper like the other brands do. This is no big deal if you only have one in diapers, but I'm a Mormon mommy. I have two. All the time. Oh, and they sag when wet.

Luvs--have a strong "baby" smell that walks around with your kid. They don't leak, but they do get saggy. Also, the outer cover becomes translucent when wet, so you can see the pee in the kid's diaper. I find this unacceptably disgusting. There are tabs on the front and back of the diaper, which makes it go on and stay on better. Plus, Luvs have the old-fashioned velcro plus sticky tabs that are the best tabs that were ever made. They stay put. Daniel actually prefers the Luvs, but it's purely because of the picture of Blue (from Blue's Clues) on the front. I know this because he won't wear the ones that have Magenta, Green Puppy, or any of the other characters on them.

Huggies--I hate Huggies. The tabs are so stretchy that you have to overlap them to get the diaper tight enough, but they aren't fuzzy tabs (the kind made to overlap), so you have to do them up off-set, and there isn't enough panel for that, and the tabs won't stick off the panel. They leak up the back if the kid's in the right size diaper and out the legs if you go up a size. Or both if the kid makes a big mess. They don't get saggy or yellow when they get full, and if you want your kid to pee on Disney characters, these are the ones you need.

Pampers--My sister swears by these, but the cost twice as much as Parents' choice (literally), so I can't afford them, even when I have extra cash.

White Cloud--A good Pamper's clone, and the next-cheapest diaper at WalMart. They cost about as much as Luvs, but are a far superior diaper. We used these when potty training Anda, but only as night diapers because they can hold a LOT and not leak. They don't sag. The tabs stay put. They have the stretchy sides that don't stretch out (if that makes sense) so they don't restrict the kid, but actually stay tighter in place than non-stretchy-side diapers (and this is rare; stretchy sides have generally been a disservice to diapers because you tighten the legs by tightening the sides). The only problem we've had with them is Caleb was allergic to them--they made everything they touched turn bright cherry red. I think these are my choice as diapers, but they do cost more, so when I'm buying, I still buy their cheaper little sister--PC.

As for wipes, we swear by wet paper towels. They are cheaper, more absorbent, significantly bigger, and better for the kids' skin. More than one doctor has told me that kids get rashes from baby wipes, and then the rashes exacerbate the situation. And when a kid gets a severe diaper rash, the wipes hurt them (they scream and try to get away). When your kid gets a rash, the first thing a doctor says is stop using wipes. Even hypoallergenic wipes gave Benjamin a cherry-red bum when he was a baby. Plain water doesn't put chemicals on your child's skin, dries better (thus preventing yeast infections, which kids get all the time), is good for cleaning with, and is readily available. And if you are really concerned about having a wet wipe available on the spot, you can keep a few damp paper towels in a plastic baggie. They do mold if you try to keep them indefinitely, but, really, in America, water is available everywhere. Even when you're traveling. How many of you don't have a water bottle around almost all the time? (Oh, me. I don't. But I still find water easily when I need it. I suppose, in a pinch, I could spit on the paper towel, but I've only ever done that to clean faces, not bums). I usually carry a pile of dry paper towels in a baggie or in one of those diaper wipes cases and then wet them as I need them.

We have used Scott paper towels as wipes happily because they are so good at picking up messes and they're really cheap. Lately, we are using Brawny Pick-a-Size because little bums only need a half a paper towel anyway, and big ones need one and a half paper towels, so this is a perfect way to not run out as often. Even the scratchy cheap paper towels get soft when they're wet, but the really cheap ones don't pick up messes, so they tend to smear the stuff around rather than wipe it off (just like really cheap baby wipes). They also shred when wet, so you can't wet them, squeeze the excess water out, and then shake them open again to wipe with. The worst are restaurant or gas station paper towels (you know, those brown ones?). They hardly work at all, but we end up using them when we're traveling because they're there. You just have to use five or six instead of one or two to clean your kid, and wring them out well before using them.

So there's the rundown. My experiences with diapers (and I have a lot of experience--I've had someone or two in diapers for six years straight.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007


So I got a very nice rejection from an agent who read 100 pages of my book. She said I write well.

That was really nice to hear.

She said it starts too fast.

Maybe my first instinct of how it should start--with a rather lenghty (2 pages) description of Kate through a description of her relationship with books was the right thing. The agent said she needed to feel more connected to Kate before the action started. I have been concerned about this.

She said the constant references to fairtyales were relentless. I can't change that. That's the point of the book in some ways.

So we'll have to see.

At least I know it's not because I can't write.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Problem With Being Smart

Caleb finished a math lesson on rounding and took the quiz. He only got 3/5 correct, so I asked, "Why did you miss some?" I was anticipating some details about what specifically he didn't understand.

What I got was:

"Because in my case the answers were different."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trying to Understand Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia has always been one of those "nobody understands it, nobody can cure it, mostly it's untreatable" kind of diagnoses. So explaining it to people has always been a chore. So difficult, in fact, that I usually don't bother, and then they wonder why I sometimes just don't get things done.

Eczema is better understood. It's an overreaction of the skin to imaginary or minor stimuli. For Daniel, his skin looked like it had been burned and was as itchy as poison ivy rash if he touched clothes that had been dried with average, run-of-the-mill dryer sheets.

Asthma, closely related to eczema, is the same kind of overreaction, but of the respiratory system.

Allergies, closely related to asthma, are the same kind of overreaction, but of the body's histamine system.

Fibromyalgia is the same kind of overreaction, but of the body's nervous system. All of it.

For example, everyone gets a sore bum from sitting on a folding chair for several hours. I get achy and sore from sitting on a folding chair for five minutes. It's like my nerves send the "it's hard" signal to my brain, and my brain says "It's HARD. I can't sit there. I'm dying!" Overreaction.

Lots of the symptoms of fibro can be explained this way. Look at Devin's Diagnostic list and you'll see what I mean.

Most people get tired if they hold their arm straight out for ten, fifteen minutes. I am in agony after about ten, fifteen seconds.

Caleb and I both can't stand to watch movies or read books unless we know the story (at least the ending) beforehand. What comes out as intrigue, intensity, or touching, emotional situations for most people is unbearably intense for me and Caleb. Unless we know the ending is happy, the emotional overreaction we have to the situation isn't worth it. Caleb handles it by running, crying, or turning the TV off. I've learned to enjoy movies second-hand and read only non-fiction unless someone can tell me the ending first. I read the last page of murder mysteries right up front, right after the first chapter, because otherwise my brain overreacts to the story, putting my body in an uncomfortably tense, fight-or-flight kind of response to the words.

People with fibro tend to cry easily. Overreaction of their brain and emotions to the situation, usually.

Caleb actually verbalizes this overreaction sometimes. Yesterday he said, "If my teacher doesn't call on me next in this class, I'll shut the computer down and never do school ever again ever!"

You see? Every kid feels put out when they don't get called on over and over. Caleb thinks it might just be the end of the world. Or at least his ability to handle school for the day.

The overreaction leads to hypersensitivity to light. What is comfortably bright to you is like staring into a lightbulb or the sun to me. Multiple bright lights lead Caleb to complete, whole-brain overstimulation so that he ends up running around in circles and literally bouncing off the walls unless we can get him focused on something calming--like playdough. It also leads to the characteristic hypersensitivity to smells (your body says, "Oh, perfume!" My body says, "AACKK! Poison! I'm going to die! Close the airways, quick!"; your body says, "somebody burned the dinner," my body says, "throw up now.") and sounds (what is moderately loud to you is agonizingly loud to me--it doesn't just hurt my ears, though. It puts my brain into panic mode, so that I can't think and emotionally start into the same response Caleb expresses by running through the house) and other sensory stimulus. (This has led some of our friends to wonder whether Caleb has a sensory integration disorder, but I don't think he does. It would be the sensory equivalent of multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia--easily confused on first glance, but opposite disorders in many ways).

The inexplicable moodiness and irrational irritability characteristic of fibro, as well as the tendency to suffer from anxiety and depression, are the same kind of overreation. What might put you out for a minute might ruin my day, despite my best efforts for it not to. Someone kicks your ankle and you say, "ouch." Someone kicks my ankle, and I'm miserably angry for an hour and have to consciously relax my body and force myself to calm down. And it's not just that it hurts. It's that my body overreacts to hurts. If a sad thought occurs to me (like "someday Tim might die"), I cry. And worry about it for hours. These kinds of thoughts occur to everyone. I just overreact to it and have to decide not to let it take over my brain and emotions.

I spend quite a lot of time during the day calming myself down, staying calm, and reminding myself that "it's not real"--whatever is bothering me isn't as bad as it looks. This ISN'T a psychiatric disorder. This is part of fibro.

The overreaction explains the fibro body's sensitivity to sugar and blood sugar swings, too. Blood sugar spikes put the body on a physical and emotional high, followed by a crash. People with fibro do so much better with everything level all the time. Otherwise, what makes your body say, "Take it easy" makes their body say, "You're killing me!" A blood sugar spike is easily misinterpreted by a fibro body as a feast and then a famine (so store up some fat for next time!).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Explaining it this way has opened up doors of understanding for me about myself and my son.

Explaining fibro to Caleb, though, has taken some careful thought on my part. A few weeks ago, I was talking to him and he said, "I know. My brain doesn't work right. I'm just a little bit crazy." It broke my heart. My six year old isn't even a little bit crazy. And I don't want him to grow up thinking he's weird or broken. I didn't want him to feel like he can't or shouldn't do anything. I want him to feel normal and try everything and then deal with life, not run from life just in case it might hurt or be hard. So I sat him down and explained that he probably has a hypersensitive nervous system. I told him this is like a superpower--he can probably enjoy softer sounds than most people, probably gets more pleasure from color and sights and gentle scents and soft touches than most people, probably can see better in dim light than most people. It also means that the opposite is true, but we didn't dwell on that. I explained ADD in the same way (since he likely has that, too)--his brain has a special ability to think many thoughts at once, and to skip from idea to idea quickly, and think of new things in new ways ("think outside the box"). That means he might have to take medicine some day to help him stay focused when it's time to stay focused, but it also means he'll probably create wonderful ideas in his life. When we got done talking, he said, "Do I have both?" I said, "Maybe." He said, "Oh."

Later, I heard him tell Anda, "Mom says I'm extra creative." He was bragging. I was glad.