Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Taboo Memories

Bob is TDY this week, so the boys and I decided to play a game to fill the time after dinner. Nathan went downstairs to find a good one, and he came back up with Taboo. That game was really popular back when we first got married, and I always enjoy playing it, but we haven't played it in a long time. Nathan said that one of his teachers at co-op had played that with them during a game-time, and he thought it was really fun, so could we try it? Luke, Nathan, and I had a great time playing it, and we will definitely play more of it. What a good way to help kids (especially boys!) be able to articulate their thoughts and learn to describe things creatively! And without writing!! We didn't play competitively. Mainly, we each worked through 3 words, with the other 2 guessing. It was fun.

It also reminded me of a long-buried Taboo memory. When we lived in Colorado, we spent one Memorial Day weekend in a mountain cabin with the L's and another couple, the B's, who were out visiting from Ohio. We had just gotten our new Honda Odyssey minivan 2 months earlier, so we were still learning new things about it. We got the van all packed up and headed over to the L's house to meet up. On the way over, the van started making this horrible alarm noise, especially as we would turn a corner. I searched through the manual but couldn't find any description of this new warning sound. It sounded like it was for the sliding door, so at the L's house, we opened and shut the doors, all of them, several times. The thing was, the alarm only happened while we were driving, so we couldn't really recreate the sound. Nervously we drove off into the mountains.

Fortunately, the drive was fairly quiet, with not too much beeping, so we relaxed a little. We made it to the cabin with no mechanical problems, and the doors didn't fly open or anything, so that was good, although the noise was certainly loud and annoying when it happened. If only we knew what it was warning us about!

After we got there, I started unloading the van. As things shifted around, I heard the noise again. Hmmm . . . that's odd . . . the car is not even on. I dug around until I finally discovered what was making the noise--the buzzer for the Taboo game, which we had packed as a fun way to spend an evening. Good grief! That never even occurred to me (although I'm sure it occurred to you, seeing as how this post is about Taboo, LOL). So every time we went around a corner or over a hard bump, the thing would buzz. On the way home, we packed the game on the top, and amazingly, we didn't have any more problems.

The Contraceptive Mentality

Thinking about the sad anniversary of Roe V. Wade, I am linking a blog called Et-Tu, where Jen has written a well-reasoned post about her conversion from being pro-choice to being pro-life. It's a very good post, so I encourage you to read all of it. Her blog is very interesting, as is her story. She grew up aetheist but recently became Catholic. Her blog is her journey in faith, and she thinks very deeply about it. It's challenging to me, a Protestant.

Here is a brief excerpt on what she calls the contraceptive mentality many people have today:

The message I'd heard loud and clear was that the purpose of sex was for pleasure and bonding, that its potential for creating life was purely tangential, almost to the point of being forgotten about altogether. This mindset laid the foundation of my views on abortion. Because I saw sex as being closed to the possibility to life by default, I thought of pregnancies that weren't planned as akin to being struck by lightning while walking down the street -- something totally unpredictable, undeserved, that happened to people living normal lives.

Being pro-choice for me (and I'd imagine with many others) was actually motivated out of love and caring: I just didn't want women to have to suffer, to have to devalue themselves by dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Because it was an inherent part of my worldview that everyone except people with "hang-ups" eventually has sex and sex is, under normal circumstances, only about the relationship between the two people involved, I got lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: to dehumanize the enemy. Babies had become the enemy because of their tendencies to pop up and ruin everything; and just as societies are tempted to dehumanize the fellow human beings who are on the other side of the lines in wartime, so had I, and we as a society, dehumanized the enemy of sex.

It was when I was reading up on the Catholic Church's view of sex, marriage and contraception that everything changed.I'd always thought that those archaic teachings about not using contraception were because the Church wanted to oppress people by telling them to have as many kids as possible, or something like that. What I found, however, was that their views expressed a fundamentally different understanding of what sex is, and once I heard it I never saw the world the same way again. The way I'd always seen it, the standard position was that babies were a horrible burden, except for a couple times in life when everything is perfect enough that a couple might temporarily see new life as a good thing; the Catholic view is that the standard position is that babies are a blessing and a good thing, and while it's fine to attempt to avoid pregnancy for serious reasons, if we go so far as to adopt a "contraceptive mentality," feeling entitled to the pleasure of sex while loathing (and perhaps trying to forget all about) its life-giving properties, we not only disrespect this most sacred of acts, but we begin to see new life as the enemy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Expensive Kids

Back on Jan. 25 Barbara at Mommy Life posted a little article from Time called For a Few, the More Kids, the Merrier . I love reading articles about big families, especially in places like Time magazine. "Experts" give their opinions after observing a big family or two, like it was a zoo exhibit. They especially love to postulate about reasons why people might possibly have more than one or two kids, and this article did not disappoint.

Of course, big families never really disappeared. Immigrants tend to have more kids, as do Mormons, some Catholics and a growing cadre of fundamentalist Christians. But in the U.S. today, the average number of children per mom is about 2, compared with 2.5 in the 1970s. While 34.3% of married women ages 40 to 44 had four or more children in 1976, only 11.5% did in 2004, according to the Current Population Survey. Though factoring in affluence can be statistically tricky, an analysis by Steven Martin, associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, shows that the proportion of affluent families with four or more kids increased from 7% in 1991-96 to 11% in 1998-2004. Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, speculates, "For most people, two is enough because there are so many other competing ways to spend your time and money. People prefer to have fewer kids and invest more in them. My guess is the wealthy are having more because they enjoy children, and they have the time and resources to raise them well. They don't have to make those trade-offs."
It goes on to talk about a couple with 5 kids at home from New York who have nothing in common with any other large family I have ever even heard of; a family who, it sounds like, relies on a bevy of baby-sitters to make any sort of order in their life. Just like us! Ha!

The article even mentions Loudoun County, home of yours truly, by name, as a place where "highly educated, highly compensated couples [are] popping out four or more children--happily and by choice".

This is funny, since I don't think most people in this area would consider an Air Force Lt. Col. with a stay-at-home wife to be "highly compensated", LOL. But hey, we must be, because the government has figured out that it takes a whopping $269,520 to raise one child until the age of 17.

Raising a passel of kids is an enormous financial undertaking even for the affluent. An oft quoted 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that families earning at least $70,200 a year spent $269,520 raising one child--and that's just until the age of 17. Tack on four years of college, and you're looking at a nearly half-million-dollar tab for each, or almost $3 million for six. "If you sit down and write out the numbers, nobody would have children," scoffs Jen Reid, 37, a stay-at-home mom in Berwyn, Pa. "You would scare yourself out of it every single time." She and her husband Charlie, 43, apparently don't scare easily; they've produced Charlie, 10; Lizzie, 8; Michael, 7; twins Mary Grace and Marta, 5--and Baby No. 6, due in February. Charlie's work as a real estate lawyer covers expenses, but "we spend what we make," says Jen.

That's $15,854 a year!!! As soon as I saw that number, I thought, "That is a ridiculously insane number. How on earth did anyone come up with that? Obviously not by talking to people with lots of kids." So I did some googling, and I found a short little article detailing some of the problems with the methadology, a large part being how the government accounts for housing and transportation costs. Obviously, each time we have another child, our housing and transportation costs do not go up 1/6. In fact, we go less places, since it's a hassle, so many things decrease!
I decided to think about how much Nathan is costing us this year, since he is the oldest and has the most expenses. By that I mean he's pretty much the only one who gets new stuff, and even that is rarely. I would say 90% of his clothes are either passed on to us by friends or bought at a consignment sale, so don't be feeling too sorry for the other boys! Here is what I came up with using very generous estimates:

food: $2000 (I am estimating $1000/month for food and other WalMart-type toiletry expenses for all of us, a generous estimate in and of itself)

clothes: $200 (mostly used; I do have to buy maybe 3 new pairs of shoes, but we get cheap ones at WalMart, and we pass down the church shoes)

school books: 100 (mostly used)

co-op: $50

Upward basketball and soccer: $170

Camp Caleb: $150 (I think that's about right--I couldn't remember exactly, but it's less than $200 for sure)

gifts (Christmas and birthday): $100 total

That all adds up to $2,770. Even if we round up to $3,000, that still is not that much, and the other kids don't cost as much, since they wear the clothes and use the books that we already have. So for 6 children, not counting housing, insurance, utilities, and transportation, we spend less than $18,000. Hmmmm. I guess this is why it is somehow possible to have more than 2 kids, live comfortably, and yet not be independently wealthy. And frankly, I haven't noticed in the general population at large how "having fewer kids and investing more in them" is neccessarily turning out incredible citizens all around. I honestly don't think we've made any trade-offs by having a big family. Even if we were only blessed with 2 kids, I would STILL shop mainly at consignment sales and used curriculum sales, and I would STILL avoid expensive Disneyworld vacations like the plague, because I can't stand crowds! Sometimes I wonder if I didn't want a large family to give me a good excuse to do the things I would do naturally, LOL!

Here's the conclusion of the article: So why do it? Why, in this day and age, would any American adult--rich or not--have so many kids? Because they love them. Because professional achievement and money are something, but, asks Kellie Weiss, 37, a mother of five in Oradell, "What does it mean without family?"

Yep, we love them! And the more we have, the more we love. And the more fun we have. Really! Maybe someday someone will come ask us about it. We'll even break down how we do it for them! In the meantime, I would guess they are observing us in the aisles of WalMart and jotting down their observations so they can scurry back to their lab and make hypotheses, LOL.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Encouraging Words . . .

We made our big every-6-weeks run to the commissary on Thursday. We get tons of attention at the commissary, what with our caravan of 2 shopping carts, loaded to the gills, a stroller, and several kids orbiting the whole procession. Nathan was worth his weight in gold, as he kept Anna entertained by goofing around with a stack of coffee filters as a hat. I would say that at least 10 different people said something to me about how nice, well-behaved, etc. our family was, and one person stopped me to tell me that she had heard 6 people talking about us an aisle back and saying how great our kids were! Warms my heart and almost makes the whole trip worth it, LOL. But the nicest thing someone said was . . . . . . . .

"You don't look like you've ever been pregnant a day in your life, much less 6 times!"

LOL! What a bald-faced lie, but very encouraging none-the-less!

Four people also said the famous line, "Well! You finally got your girl!" I am always so glad that we also had Grace (who the people couldn't see because she was in the stroller behind all the carts), because then I could point her out, and say that we actually have TWO girls! That always stops people in their tracks, LOL. What?! They kept going even after they got their girl?! That must mean the second, third, and fourth boys weren't just dreadful disappointments, LOL!

Caleb and Luke were also very encouraging this afternoon. Caleb had asked what we were having for dinner, and I told him enchilada casserole.

Caleb: "Why do you always make such good things for dinner, Mom?"

Luke: "Because that's all she knows how to make."

Awwww! How sweet! I guess I'll keep cooking for them, even though they eat everything up like I haven't fed them in weeks. Good to know I'm appreciated!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Anna's Milk Challenge

This morning Anna had her milk challenge test at Bethesda at 8:00. Anna, Caleb, and I rolled out of here at 6:45 because we weren't sure how traffic would be on the Beltway. There were no accidents, and we made it there at 7:30. Drives like that make me think I should have had Grace at Bethesda--but then I'll hear about some accident tying up the Beltway for hours, and I know I'll again be so glad I didn't bother with it, LOL.

Anna drank her first bit of milk at 8:00, followed by increasingly more milk every 15 minutes until 9:30. I was worried that she wouldn't like the taste of regular milk, since she's never had it, but she did just fine. After her last drink, we still had to wait in the same little room until 10:30, just to make sure she wouldn't have a delayed reaction. Over the course of the morning, we watched 1 1/2 hours of the Wiggles (more than any person should have to watch at one time, LOL!), as well as a half hour of Blue's Clues, and then finally a half hour of blessed quiet where I read them books. Funny how techs never believe that really, it's fine to not have the TV on; we can entertain ourselves! We also had some fruit snacks, graham crackers, and laffy taffy. Pretty special! Nothing every happened to Anna, so at 10:30, we were allowed to walk around the hospital for another hour, just to make SURE sure that she wasn't having a delayed reaction. This was where Caleb came in. (Were you wondering why he was tagging along at such an ungodly hour?!)

When I talked to the allergist at Anna's appointment a few weeks ago, we also talked about Caleb. The allergist looked him up and decided he wanted a few blood tests run on him--blood tests that would have to be done at the lab at Bethesda because he didn't think the lab at the little Fairfax Clinic would be able to do them. I didn't want to drag everyone up there a different time to go to the lab, so I decided Caleb would just come with Anna and me and get it done then. And he could help me entertain Anna!

Caleb was not thrilled with the idea of having his blood srawn, but he was very brave and only cried softly a little bit. Afterward he and Anna both got a lollipop, which made both of them very happy. Aftr waiting just a little bit more, we were cleared to go home a little after 11:30--with only one child with milk allergies. I still can't believe it!

While we were at Bethesda, Bob was holding down the fort back home with everyone else. Nathan and Luke were very motivated to finish their schoolwork in a timely manner, since Bob said they would play Phase 10 after they finished. The best news was that Grace took breast milk in a sippy cup! I was so happy to hear that! Obviously things went just fine without me here at home, and I must be totally honest and say that I enjoyed the break from Gracie, who has just been so needy since she's been sick! And I LOVED having the break from nursing, LOL.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sleepless in NoVA

Since November I have had a few nights where I have had uninterrupted sleep. I mean, maybe 4 nights total. "How can this be?" you might ask. "But I thought your kids were such good sleepers!" Well, yes, they were, LOL, all of them. Something happened in November, and, well, that was that. We started on a rash of unrelated night-time awakenings for all little people in the family--accidents, poopy diapers, bad dreams, upset tummies, teething, dropped pacifiers . . . the list goes on.

Grce has by far been the worst offender. She got sick with a cold or something after we came back from Ohio after Thanksgiving, and she had a hard time sleeping while being all snuffly. Then she spent the month of December teething (and sleeping restlessly). Finally those teeth broke through right before and after Christmas, and she settled down for a few nights here and there (bad habits die hard and all, LOL). Then she got sick after being in the nursery while I taught at the co-op. After the first week, she got some tummy virus, complete with vomiting. Even after she was better, she still kept on vomiting once a night at some random time for a few more days, neccesitating not just comfort but also sheet changes in the middle of the night! She was better when I taught the second time, but she was obviously still weakened because she picked up what I am sure was roseola. She began running an extremely high fever that I had a hard time getting down for several days. She slept VERY poorly during this time, even during the day. Now she's got the classic trunk rash. She is still waking up a few times during the night.

The other boys have had their issues as well, particularly Jonathan. In December he started a phase where he would wake up in the middle of the night to go potty, but he felt compelled to make us aware of what he was doing. So he would come stand by the bed to tell us he was going potty until he knew we were awake and had heard him. Then he would go (in our bathroom), and he wanted one of us to go back with him and help him pull up the covers. Yeah. We stopped the tucking back in pretty quickly, but it was a harder task to convince him we didn't want to know about his night-time pottying! One night a week ago or so he came into our bathroom (why?!) and I woke up enough to realize he was sort of stumbling around aimlessly in there. I started saying, "Turn on the light! Turn on the light!" because somewhere in the recesses of my sleep-deprived brain, I realized that he must not be able to find the potty. And sure enough, a few minutes later, we heard the unmistakable sound of pee-pee hitting the back of our bathroom door. Argggh!!

At least he is once again waking up to go, however. He has had very few night-time accidents in his life-time, up until December that is. Then both he and Caleb began having accidents (but never both in the same night, LOL). Eventually I put them both back into pull-ups for a week or so because I was so tired of all the sheet-changing and night-time disruptions from them! This past week has been accident-free, however (except for the unfortunate bathroom door incident), so I am hopeful we have turned a corner here.

Add in a few random disturbances from Anna, Nathan, and Luke, and you can see that the end result is not much sleep. I have never had a period of time where there were so many disruptions from so many different people at night! It really has made me get run-down. For November and December, my mouth was just under attack by canker sores. I never had less than one, and I usually had more than one. When one would start to go away, another one would start. It was crazy. We finally had a good week of maybe 3 nights of good sleep after we got back from Bob's family, and that seemed to break the cycle in my mouth. But I know that I am just much more on edge than I normally am, and I think that is a result of not getting enough good sleep.

At our church care group, which meets the third Sunday of each month, we have been studying a small book called, "How Can I Change?" by C. J Mahaney and Robin Boisvert. The theme is sanctification, and how we can "close the gap between who we should be in Christ, and who we are in actual practice". Back in November, we all said an area where we really felt like we weren't living up to God's expectations. My area was how I easily get frustrated with the kids (particularly when we are running late, which is most of the time, LOL) and I know my responses aren't what they should be. So let's recap--I recognize an area of struggle, and immediately everyone stops sleeping, which makes me tired and crabby and more likely to fall into easy habits of cranky, irritable, selfish responses. Hmmm. Obviously the devil is not letting this go without a fight, LOL!

One strategy we discussed on Sunday was attacking sin, particularly "at the moment we become conscious of it existence". I am becoming more aware of my bad attitudes and calling them that, instead of just sort of stewing in them, waiting for them to work themselves out. The chapter also emphasized not just taking off sin, but putting on righteousness in its place. So if I criticize, confess that, and then consciously focus on encouraging and honoring others instead. Here's a quote: "If selfishness is a recurring theme, place yourself in situations where you are required to serve." Well, that's checked off, LOL! Nothing like the home environment to bring out areas of selfishness, as well as give opportunities to serve! So yesterday morning I started out grumbling to Grace, who was up early (on a holiday no less!), after being up several times at night. Obviously that was just selfishness talking, as what I wanted for myself was a good night's sleep. I started thinking about how I was serving Grace her cereal and taking care of her (and I certainly wouldn't change that opportunity!), and my attitude and perspective was changed.

So we'll see how I continue to do with all this, and how many new ways the kids can come up with to interrupt my sleep! The things I took for granted back before I had kids . . . you know, back when I thought I was so patient and even-tempered, LOL.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What American accent do you have? (Best version so far)


You're not Northern, Southern, or Western, you`re just plain -American-. Your national identity is more important than your local identity, because you don`t really have a local identity. You might be from the region in that map, which is defined by this kind of accent, but you could easily not be. Or maybe you just moved around a lot growing up.


Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

Beverly had a fun quiz over at her blog today. I've always thought I didn't have much of an accent, so I was eager to take this quiz. And it turns out I was right! I guess this is a result of my military brathood! (Beverly's blog had a cool map image that came with the quiz, but for some reason, that didn't translate on mine, so I have a box with an "x". Oh well!)

The link to my actual results page is here, and there you can see the map where my non-accent may possibly have come from. It's Illinois/Indiana/Ohio, which seems pretty accurate, as I have spent a good deal of time in Ohio! But you will also notice that Western PA is included on that map, and let me tell you, people in Western PA most definitely have accents! Bob is especially good at telling if people are from around Pittsburgh, but even I can usually pick up on it. Most of the members of his family have definite accents as well. Bob has lost his, however (thankfully, LOL).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Little Snow Bear

It snowed today, and surprisingly, it stuck! We actually ended up with several inches, enough for everyone to go out and play in it after lunch. I got Anna all dressed up as well. It was her first time to play out in the snow--usually the boys go out while she's napping. She seemed to have a fairly good time, although she was so roly-poly that it was hard for her to keep her balance sometimes. She looked like a fat little blue marshmallow!

I was so glad that we got our errands out of the way yesterday. We went to Sams, so our fridge and pantry were full! It was a great day to stay home and have Amy's yummy lasagna recipe for dinner. Nathan's basketball practice was cancelled, so we don't have anywhere to go tonight either! Speaking of basketball, I meant to mention in my update last post that Nathan had his first basketball game on Saturday. His team won, but more importantly, Nathan scored a basket! He was pretty happy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SInce I last posted . . .

Here are new things going on here . . .

. . . the Christmas tree is down! We're mowing right through those goals! Now, 20 pounds off by next weekend! LOL! We took it down Sunday night, mainly because we had our pastor over for dinner last night. Sometimes I think company is my biggest motivator. We have to have people over for me to get anything done.

. . . we have a new treadmill! The tread part of our last one had been slowly starting to fray, and in October it finally tore. That made it easy not to exercise, LOL. We do have a recumbent bike, so I was not without exercise options, but . . . somehow I was a lot less consistent. No more excuses, however--we have the new one all set up, courtesy of Bob! It is funny--it is still near the bottom of the line, but it is so much nicer than our old one! My most favorite feature is the built-in fan. Ahhh. I'm really liking it.

. . . Grace has been sick! I think she actually WAS sick last Wednesday night--she vomited twice and was running a fever. She has taken a long time to really get all the way better, though, and she still keeps throwing up at weird times. She has been throwing up once at night, somewhere between 1:30 and 6:30. There's no rhyme or reason to this, and she's fine the rest of the day, even after I've started her back eating solid food (she wasn't interested at all in it Friday or even much on Saturday). It's a mystery . . .

. . . I'm done teaching reptiles! This week, one of the boys, Eric, brought in his pet corn snake. That was actually really interesting. We all got to touch and hold the snake. "Spot" is about 3 ft. long, and Eric's had him for 3 years. He keeps him in an aquarium and feeds him frozen mice once a week that he heats up in the microwave. Yum! Spot was really kind of cute though, I must say. Then we talked about different tricks various reptiles have for defense and camoflage, and finally we watched a video that pretty much summarized what we've talked about these last 2 weeks. I remember watching videos in class, however, so I made up a sheet of multiple choice questions for them to hear the answers to as they were watching. That helped keep their attention. This week, it was the 4th graders that were more easily distracted, but that was mainly because everyone wanted to share some story of a reptile contact they, or someone close (or even not so close) to them had experienced at some point. I guess everyone has had some memorable reptile experience. I trotted out my old thriller, where my mom threw rocks at a habu (a venomous Asian snake) from our back porch in Okinawa until she had killed it. They were all very impressed.

Well, that's all that's new around here! How about for you?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Goals for the New Year

Now that the business of the holidays is over, I've had some time to think about what I want to focus on this year.

1. Taking down the Christmas tree. Yes, ours is still standing proudly in the corner of the family room. All the ornaments are off, and we never turn the lights on anymore, so it is a bit like a light-sink over there, blocking light from the windows, as well as just being 9 foot dark shadow. I keep thinking we'll take it down during the weekends, but we were gone last weekend, and this weekend there's football . . . maybe in February, LOL. But I thought I'd start off with an easy goal.

2. Losing 20 pounds. This next goal is not quite as easy as taking down the tree, yes? I still have 10 extra pounds from Grace, and they have not budged so far. I also have an extra 10 pounds from after I stopped nursing Jonathan. Evidently my metabolism really slowed while we were in Ohio, but I was pregnant or nursing the entire 3 years and never noticed. When we moved here and I finally stopped nursing Jonathan, I just ate as I always had, and I gained 10 pounds in a few months. I was horrified, of course, so I cut back and never gained any more, but I never lost it either (and then I got pregnant with Anna . . .). Well, this year I have a wonderful motivation--weddings!! Bob's niece is getting married on May 18, and my cousin James is getting married around the 24th of May. I'm still nursing, so I'm sure nothing is going to melt off, but we'll give it the old college try. Really I would be happy with just tightening up a few inches around my waist, so I am once again doing sit-ups and crunches like a mad woman (and if I ever told you that years of doing sit-ups have not gotten rid of the extra post-pregnancy pouch before, please be so kind as to not remind me of that, LOL).

3. Catch up on scrapbooking. I have stayed fairly caught up with my individual albums for the boys (if you don't consider that I haven't started one for either girl, LOL). I need to do Caleb's for last year, but that's all. I have 2 Christmases to do in my Christmas album, and I will pick up the digital pictures from Sams this week for them. That shouldn't be hard to whip out. My regular family album is almost 2 1/2 years behind, and includes the birth of 2 kids, so I am looking at a steeper challenge there, LOL.

4. Use more dried beans. I cook with beans a lot, but I've always tended to use canned beans just because they're so quick and convenient. I can have no idea what is for dinner, and then decide at 4:30 to have one of my many soup recipes that use canned beans, and voila! We're still eating by 5:30 or so. But I need to be more organized, cook a lot of beans at one time, and freeze them, like I do chicken and ground beef.

5. Have the boys do more writing. I've actually already started on this. I just want them to get more comfortable putting thoughts down on paper. Last year I started giving them 4 Latin sentences each morning to translate--2 into English, and 2 into Latin. This year I have added having them write a paragraph on whatever topic I come up with the night before (nothing involving research though--something like "Write about your favorite character in the Redwall series" or "Write about what you learned about reptiles at TnT"). One boy is very loquacious, and writes many more sentences than I ask for. The other boy puts down a bare-bones paragraph. The surprise for me was that it's Luke that writes the long paragraphs. Who knew he had all this bottled up?! LOL! Nathan talks a big paragraph to me, but when it comes to writing it down, he just sort of summarizes everything as briefly as possible. He doesn't like the physical act of writing, but maybe this exercise each morning will help with that.

Well, those are a few goals for this year, some easier than others. I'll keep you updated on our progress!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reptiles, the First Week

People have been asking how my reptile lesson went, and I am happy to say that it went just fine! I am teaching the 3rd and 4th graders this year, and so I have to teach the same hour and fifteen minute lesson twice, once to each grade. The third graders were first, and some of the boys were pretty distracted, but most people were interested. That is Luke's class, so it's fun to interact with him in there. I was a lot more nervous about the 4th grade class, because of one the boys in there has some definite learning issues and I would say is probably on the Aspergers/autism spectrum. He just is a little . . . off . . . in his dealing with others, and his response to social cues. He also doesn't read or write much, so I wasn't sure how he would do. It turned out that he did just fine. He is quite smart, and I think he picked up everything I wanted him to get, even though he didn't do the worksheets with us.

I started out talking about how we like to have things organized, like grocery stores, our clothes, etc. People wanted to organize animals as well, but it took until the 1600's before someone figured out the best way to organize them, by studying details of their bodies, as opposed to where they live or other ways of dividing them up. I have a poster showing how to classify a polar bear, so we talked through all the levels of classification, as well as how to remember the levels ("King Phillip Came Over For Green Spinach" or whatever sentence you may dredge up from the recesses of your high school biology class memories, LOL).

The we talked about what made an animal a reptile. When I asked what animals were reptiles, most kids said things like frogs as well as snakes and crocodiles, so this led naturally into the differences. For those of you who have not recently boned up on your reptile identifying characteristics, let me just refresh your memory:

1. They are vertebrates
2. Their skin is covered by hard, protective scales
3. They reproduce using eggs
4. They breathe oxygen using lungs
5. They are cold-blooded and cannot regulate their own body temperatures

We looked at each characteristic individually, so I think by the end the kids knew those 5 things pretty well. I did learn some interesting tidbits about reptiles. For example, did you know that nest temperature determines whether a crocodilian or turtle egg will be a male or female? It is not inscribed in their DNA. Interesting! Usually one nest will be only males, or only females. Also, some snakes incubate their eggs inside their bodies, so it looks like they give birth to live young. This is useful if the snake lives in a climate where the temperature might not be as regulated, since a steady temperature is so important. Also, sea turtles and sea snakes can absorb some oxygen through their mouths (turtles) and skin (snakes) so they can stay underwater longer without breathing. Sea snakes can stay underwater up to 8 hours without breathing! Sea snakes are also the most venomous snakes. I would never go swimming in the waters of Indonesia, where the highest percentage of these snakes live! Also, saltwater crocodiles live in those waters, and those things are nasty. Yuck. One last fact--if a snake eats, but it gets too cold, then he can't digest the food, and it will jsut rot inside him and kill him. SO he has to throw it back up before that happens. Gross!

After we talked about those 5 characteristics, we talked about each order of reptiles in a little more details. For example, why are legless lizards not snakes? In fact, lizards and snakes, while having similar body structures, have some differences. Lizards have a distinct neck and tail, they have ear openings behind their eyes (snakes don't have any ears at all--they only sense vibrations), and they have eyes with lids. Snakes' eyes are covered by transparent scales. Now you know.

After we got through all the lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodilians, and tuataras, we did a little worksheet I made up. It had 6 boxes--one for each level of classification, except for the bottom box, which had the genus and species: Alligator mississippiensis (American alligator). So the top box was Kingdom--Animalia. Then in the box I had lots of things, like snake, shark, mushroom, horse, starfish, potato, spider, alligator, etc. They had to cross out what didn't belong in the animal kingdom. The next box was Phylum--Chordata, and there they had to cross out anything that didn't have a backbone, like insects, mollusks, , spiders, etc. The next box was Class--Reptilia, so they had to cross out everything that wasn't a reptile, and then it was Order--Crocodilia. The only things in that order are crocodiles, alligators, caimans (they only live in South America), and gharials (only live in India and Nepal). The second to the last box was Family--Alligatoridae, which has alligators and caimans, and they didn't have to cross anything out there either. The kids got the idea, and could generally figure out what to cross out, although there were some tricky things (coral IS in the animal kingdom). It defintiely reinforced the idea of the levels of classification. If they went away with that, as well as knowing what 5 characteristics reptiles share, then I will be happy.

Next week we will review, talk about a pet snake that one of the 4th graders is bringing in, watch a video that we have, and I think talk about ways reptiles survive (camoflauge, losing their tails, mimicing coloration of more dangerous reptiles, etc.). And then I'll be done! Goodbye reptiles!!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Checking in briefly . . .

We went to Bob's parents' for the weekend, getting back late last night. It was a good visit, as visits out there go. To be completely honest, you can't make up stories like we can tell. It's always interesting.

The trip was much more pleasant this time. We went up for the whole weekend, which we haven't done for a long time. The first night we stayed at our usual Comfort Inn (where Bob was the "guest of the day" and received not only a free bottle of water and package of peanut butter crackers, but also a bear with a t-shirt saying "Someone in New Stanton loves you"). This was fun, as we had time to go swimming Saturday morning, and the night was not as disruptive as it usually is, with all 8 of us in one (big) room.

Saturday night, however, we stayed with friends. Yes, some friends of ours from here in VA, the ones who first told us about our wonderful church, got out of the Air Force and moved to PA, only 30 minutes away from Bob's parents. Wow, talk about your worlds colliding! They live in a beautiful almost new house with lots of space and bathrooms. Their basement is finished, walk-out, and has lots of toys for the kids to play with. It was so, so nice to stay there. We even went to church with them on Sunday. It was so fun to visit with Paul and Lisa and have the kids all play together (they have 4). It really made the weekend nice, and now I am looking forward to March, when we are slated to visit again! Lisa did talk about the culture shock she is experiencing, moving from northern VA to western PA, LOL. It is just so different.

This morning, Anna and I got up early and drove to Bethesda for an allergy appointment. She had such problems with milk even in my breast milk as a baby, and she has had at least 2 reactions of hives after milk and ice cream. With Caleb's history, I was not surprised that she would have food allergies, and when the doctor at her 18 month well-baby appt. said she would give me a referral to the allergist, I jumped at the chance. The allergist did a prick test for milk (only), and I was completely unprepared for what happened--nothing. She did not react to milk! The allergist said that based on what had happened before, she probably outgrew a minor allergy, but it was such a complete shock. So now we have to go back on Jan. 23 at 8:00 for a milk challenge. She will drink a little milk at various intervals, eventually drinking 100 cc over 90 minutes. If she hasn't reacted during the actual test, then we will wait 2 more hours to make sure she doesn't react then. If still no reaction, then she will be free to have dairy stuff. While that would of course be really great, I will be sad for Caleb. He usually has such a great attitude about his allergies and all the stuff he can't have, but he does get sad sometimes. It was nice for him to know that Anna couldn't have stuff either, and he didn't feel so alone. Oh well.

Alright, back to reptiles. Tomorrow is my first big teaching day. I have never felt so uninterested or unprepared for teaching, LOL.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008