Sunday, January 29, 2017

College Visit

The whole purpose of this little jaunt down to Huntsville was to visit a college, specifically University of Alabama-Huntsville.  Bob and I are familiar with Huntsville--we actually turned down an assignment there when we got the one here to DC.  We had visited it a few times as a family, especially on our way down to visit the L's when they were stationed in FL, and Bob would have TDYs down that way.  Nathan in particular went through a *very* big space phase when he was 5/6ish, and we were all very conversant at that point in time on all the early space programs (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo), so of course we had to stop at the US Space and Rocket Center whenever we were close.  (As it turns out, Luke has no recollection of these visits, lol.)  Huntsville seemed like a neat town, especially if you liked space stuff, but that was about all we really thought about it.

This fall I was once again reading a thread on the Well Trained Mind college forum.  This one was from a mom whose daughter, an aspiring engineer, did not want to go to their state flagship school, which was the only school the mom thought was financially feasible.  Did anyone have any other suggestions for a high stat girl who didn't want an Ivy-type school?  I perked up at that, since that described Luke as well (except the girl part, lol).  UA-H was mentioned several times, because they have a good reputation for engineering, and they award merit aid automatically--no extra essays or anything!  I knew that would be *very* attractive to Luke as well, so I looked into it.

Here is a link to the merit scholarship aid chart.  You can see that if a student has an ACT of 34 or higher, or a SAT over 1520, then tuition as well as housing is 100% paid for.  Well!!  Now we're talking!  This immediately moved UA-H high on our list of schools to pursue, but of course, I don't move very quickly on these sorts of things, especially since the fall was such a busy time for me.  But then I was attempting to send out Christmas cards, and I realized I needed to get an updated address from Air Force friends of ours, Darren and Jenny, who used to go to our church but had long since PCSed.  I thought Darren retired this summer, and I didn't think I had heard of a new address for them, so I sent Jenny an email.  She wrote back to say they had just moved into their new house--in Huntsville!  Ha!  Now a visit was sounding fun--see the campus AND catch up with old friends!

In the meantime, Luke applied and was accepted as well as awarded the "Charger Excellence" scholarship.  I looked for tickets in mid-January and found a good deal into Nashville, about 2 hours north.  The only problem was that all the Friday campus tours for UA-H were full into February, so I called their visit coordinator, explaining who Luke was, and that we were flying in from NoVA.  She said they would definitely be able to put us on a tour, so we came on.

Actually, she did way more than just put us on their campus tour.  She arranged for us to have a tour of the College of Engineering with a student guide at 9:00, then meet with an admissions counselor (who had been homeschooled, and was their admissions homeschool liaison) at 10:00, then a meeting with an engineering advisor at 10:30, a complimentary lunch at the main cafeteria at 11:30, and then the campus tour from 1:00-3:00.  Busy day!  Even though we had gotten in so late, we got to the college at 8:45.

The engineering tour was very interesting.  Engineering is by far the biggest major at UA-H, and it definitely has a ton of money being poured into it.  Since the university is surrounded by countless contractors and other research companies, the opportunities to be involved with research, even as undergrads (even as freshmen!), are immense.  They have a bunch of different labs, like the huge machine lab, where there are just tons of random projects everywhere, being worked on and tinkered with, along with tons of machines that will literally make any part you can conceive of.  When you think "lab", you might conjure up rows of empty tables, ready to do specific projects, and while there are some like that, a lot of the labs are more like some crazy Uncle Albert's garage or something, with parts and pieces all over, in some order, but an outsider wouldn't know what it is, lol.  Companies donate extra stuff, like rolls of carbon fiber, so pretty much any material you can imagine or need is right there.  There were students all over the place working on things--building rockets, printing stuff in 3-d printers, etc.  The guide said pretty much every class has projects to do.  The whole program sounded incredibly hands-on.  Plus, once you are through the intro-type classes, there are tons of co-op positions and internships with the various companies nearby.  A vast majority of engineering students do these, and something like 85% graduate with job offers from companies they have already worked for.

There are also a zillion and one engineering clubs, like the Space Hardware Club, and also tons of competitions that they send teams to.  Winning entries from various and varied competitions were displayed all over the hallways, making interesting conversation pieces, and there were also fascinating research project summary boards all over the walls.  Anyway, the tour was a really good overview of the program, and Luke was really excited about the hands-on nature of it all.

We didn't really have too many questions for the admissions counselor, so that part didn't take all that long.  The engineering advisor, however, was incredibly helpful.  He was able to show us exactly how Luke's AP and DE credits would fit into his program.  Luke is deciding between electrical and mechanical engineering, so he was able to get a better idea of exactly what classes he would be taking.  The guy was so nice.  We spent about an hour in there with him, and he answered questions not just about engineering, but about a ton of other things too.  He confirmed what we had heard about the university--that about 10 years ago, they decided to turn it from more of a commuter school into a STEM-focused university, and he rattled off a bunch of different buildings that had been built in those 10 years, including all of the dorms except one old one.  Now there are about 8,000 students, which seems to be a really nice size. He also discussed the honors college.  Instead of just being a bunch of philosophy and liberal arts classes, like it seems to be in a lot of universities, there are honors classes within each major.  The classes are smaller, and involve deeper thinking and more discussion.  Luke is leaning away from that, though--there's an essay to write for admission!

Our free lunch in the cafeteria was good.  I had already decided that this trip I was not going to worry about any sort of diet, but just eat regular food, so I did.  The pizza was very good, although I did have a salad too, lol.  Then we headed back over to the brand new Student Services Building for our campus tour.  I was kind of dreading the tour, honestly, because the weather was still really cold and windy.  We totally should have brought our winter jackets, not just our sweatshirts, and I regretted that every day we were down there!  It was indeed freezing, but I am of course glad we went.  Our 2 tour guides were both engineering majors, so that was helpful.  They were both involved in different Christian campus ministries, the Baptist Campus Ministry and Reformed University Fellowship, and I saw signs for Cru too, as well as various Bible studies.  One guy was very involved in his church as well, doing children's ministry with 1st-6th graders, so that was all very good to hear.  One girl on the tour, when she found out we were from NoVa, asked, "WHY would you want to come to college in ALABAMA?  There's NOTHING to do here!"  But the guides seemed busy and happy, and there certainly were plenty of entertainment options on campus, even things like game nights with the "Society for Strategic Gaming".  That probably wouldn't have appealed to her.   I got the impression we had vastly different ideas of fun, most likely, lol.  There were lots of intramural sports too, like ultimate frisbee, which Luke was interested in.  I don't think he would have trouble finding things to do.

The housing was another attractive thing from the get-go.  All the dorms are organized into suites of 4 rooms with a common room in the middle.  The common room has a couch and 2 comfortable chairs, plus a table and 4 chairs.  It also has a fridge, microwave, and sink.  Then on either side of the common area are 2 (small) rooms, a sink, a shower, and a toilet area.  So each student has their own room, with bed, desk, hutch, closet thing, and dresser.  For someone from a big family, this set-up looks really good!  After we left there was when I realized I hadn't taken a single picture all day.  I'll blame being tired and cold!

Finally we were done with the tour, but we still couldn't get too warm.  We were meeting a friend from CAP who is a student!  He's a former homeschooler from here who is also a National Merit Scholar (they get every single thing paid for, including books and fees, an even better deal!).  We had assumed he was at the main campus of UA, but when Luke was talking to his dad in December and mentioned he was looking into UA-H, the dad said, "That's where Daniel goes!"  He is certifiably brilliant, so we knew if he was enjoying it here, it must be a good, challenging program.  We met him over at the propulsion lab, which was a space with a bunch of big rooms, and more projects everywhere.  There were also big vacuum chambers and wind tunnels, and a place surrounded by layers of cinder blocks to test rocket launchers.  Again, students were everywhere, running tests and tinkering.  Daniel also took us over to the Space Hardware Club rooms in a different building, so we could see some of what they were working on.  Those rooms were full of kids working away on various projects, and everyone was really friendly.  We left him answering questions from another guy about some formulas he had used in some calculations, and we headed back to our car.

Oh, one thing I liked--students can have cars on campus all 4 years.  A parking pass is merely $125 a YEAR, and students can park in any parking lot!  Even the academic building lots!  Daniel said that might change in the next few years, because they are running out of space, but the campus is spread out, not all crowded together, and it would be nice to have the option of driving on cold days (like the one we were touring on, lol).  One negative is that there is no nice public transportation, like in Blacksburg at Tech, so you pretty much either need a car or a friend with a car to be able to go anywhere off campus, even for groceries.  Daniel did say there was an Aldi within walking distance, though.

So we left the campus with Luke thinking there was really no bad things about going there, and we headed back over to Darren and Jenny's house for a delicious dinner, and a fun time visiting.  Luke and I headed to bed early, since we were both pretty exhausted.  We left about 8:15 Saturday morning to drive back to Nashville to catch our flight home.  It was a very informative visit, and I am really glad we went.  The school is a strong contender, for sure.  It is hard to walk away from all that money!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Emergency Landing!

Thursday was a long, full day for Luke and me.  After I taught lab, and he finished his calculus class, Christine dropped the two of us off at the airport.  We were flying to Nashville for a college visit down in Huntsville.  It was a direct flight to Nashville, landing at 6:05 Central, so we anticipated getting down to our friends' house in good time, maybe around 8:30, since we hadn't checked any bags.

Luke and I were both in window seats in the last 2 rows of the airplane on the left side.  It was really windy when we took off from DC, so I was a bit worried the flight might be delayed or really bumpy or something.  Not to worry though!  Everything was fine, and not even that bumpy.
Luke fell soundly asleep on the flight, and I read a book on neuroscience, The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran.  I took this dark picture of my dinner that I had brought, since I was proud that I was even being whole30 compliant on the plane, with my chicken, raw veggies, guacamole, and orange.  I thought that would be the most interesting thing of the evening!

As we started our descent, the pilot said something about landing soon, and that it was 43 degrees on the ground.  As we got closer to the ground, he said, "We'll be landing shortly, and it will be an emergency landing.  Please remain calm."  He was utterly calm, and so all of us were just like, "Whaaaat did he just say?"  The first thing my mind thought was, "This must be a drill or something."  But then the steward, who was sitting right behind us, starting shouting, "KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND GRAB YOUR ANKLES!  KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND GRAB YOUR ANKLES!" over and over and over again.  Well, that was alarming!  I never even looked out the window or anything to see what was happening.  I couldn't even imagine what the problem was--landing gear failing to descend?  Brakes not working? Who knew?--so I was wondering if we would go cartwheeling across the runway when we landed or something.  That was the scariest part.  Well, we landed just fine, and taxied to a stop.  Fire trucks were waiting, and they started spraying us with that foam flame retardant stuff before we even stopped moving.

As soon as we stopped, the steward changed it up and started yelling, "GET UP AND GET OUT OF THE PLANE!  LEAVE EVERYTHING!"  over and over.  They didn't open the doors over the wings, I assume because of the fire trucks spraying, so we all had to go out the front door.  Since Luke and I were in the back 2 rows, obviously it took awhile for us to actually start walking, and I totally could have grabbed my tote bag.  As it was, I only had my phone in my pocket, and I left everything else.  Luke had his wallet and phone, but he left his backpack.  Fortunately we both had on our sweatshirts.
We followed everyone else out of the plane and onto the side of the runway.  There we had to line up single file so the flight attendants as well as the pilots could go up and down and count us all. The fire trucks continued to spray down the airplane.  Talking to other people, we found out that an engine had caught fire--the engine right behind Luke and me, on the left side of the airplane!  Neither of us had looked out the window and seen anything, but other people reported seeing flames out their windows.  This article says there was never any fire, but that is not what people were saying who were on the flight.  Anyhow, we all got out, and the airplane didn't burst into flames, so whew!

We stood on the runway for approximately forever (actually 20-25 minutes), waiting for buses to come.  It was so cold!  The wind really whipped around out there, and we were not dressed for cold weather.  Other people didn't even have their jackets, if they were stuffed in overhead bins or whatever.  One poor man stood out there in his sock feet, since he took his shoes off for the flight and had to abandon them.  It was all just so very surreal, like a weird dream or something.  A very cold, weird dream, lol.

Finally the buses arrived and took us to the terminal.  First we were taken to what looked like the one international gate, where you would go if you had to go through customs.  We waited there for a little while, and eventually they decided they could take us to a regular gate, where we could sit in regular chairs, instead of hard folding chairs.  So we went to a gate and waited.  And waited and waited and waited.

Occasionally a very nice airport representative would come give us an update, like, "The FAA has cleared the airplane to be moved back to the terminal, and then we can get your stuff back to you."  And then later, "Well, we also have to wait for the NTSB also have to clear the plane, and now we're waiting on them . . ."  I had eaten my little dinner on the plane, but by this time it was after 8:00 Nashville time, and literally all the shops/restaurants in the A terminal had rolled up their sidewalks and closed.  Of course, a lot of us didn't have any wallet or money anyway, so we still couldn't have bought anything if they were open!  But Mr. Nice Airport Man went to another terminal and brought back bags and bags of Burger King hamburgers for everyone.  Even though Luke is not a fan of Burger King, he managed to put away several of them, which kept him from starvation.  I was really regretting not grabbing my bag at this point.  My phone was running low, and my book was in there.  What do people do without books to help them wait?!  I wandered up and down the hall of the terminal, looking at some really neat art exhibits made by Appalachian artists.  Luke watched a pro basketball game.  And we waited and waited and waited.

FINALLY they got all the approvals they needed to be able to move the plane, so they started towing it at a glacial speed over to the terminal area.  They stopped in a few hundred yards away from us--you can kind of see the dark plane shape in the picture above.  There was a flurry of activity around it--baggage carts circled it, some vans pulled up around it, there were 2 pickup trucks--surely things would start happening now!  Well, not so fast.  We watched people with flashlights head up the stairs, into the plane.  After a long time, 2 employees started walking back toward the terminal.  They had backpacks slung over each shoulder, and they were towing little suitcases in one hand, and carrying maybe a duffel bag or a shopping bag in the other.  We were all like, "You have got to be kidding."  I honestly don't think they could have come up with a slower way to unload a plane if they had tried!  But the employees trudged back and forth with a few carry on items each time, like sherpas.  When they finally climbed the stairs and made their way inside to the gate, Mr. Nice Airport Man would take a piece of notebook paper from them, which they had written each item on, plus the row they had found said item in.  Then the passenger who wanted to claim the item had to describe something in it, or show something that said he was in that row, or dig through the bag to find identification that looked like him, or something.  Then he would sign the piece of notebook paper by his item.  You can imagine how long this all took, even though it was a small plane with only about 60 passengers!  

Finally the last stuff was loaded into a van (which had been there the whole time, just saying . . .) and driven over to us.  Of course, that's where Luke's and my stuff was.  We were both *very* relieved to see our stuff, especially me, since that's where my wallet was.  I have since contemplated keeping at least my driver's license and credit card in my back pocket during landing.  And for sure, I will always have my shoes on!  Anyway, we finally got our stuff at 10:00 Central time, and we headed over to get our rental car.  Thankfully there were no hiccups there, and we were finally able to be on our way.  It took a little over 2 hours for us to drive down to Huntsville, and boy, were we tired!  We got there about 12:40.  Jenny stayed up to let us in, and it was so good to see her face, and then to collapse into bed!  What a crazy adventure!  We were really thanking the Lord for watching over us.

Luke and I flew back today (Saturday), and I have to say, I was nervous when the plane started descending on the first leg of our flight.  I kept waiting to hear the words, "Emergency landing", but fortunately they never came.  We landed, taxied up to the gate, and got off, just like normal.  So I wasn't so nervous on the second leg.  And I left my ID and credit cards in my wallet, lol.  I did put on my hoodie--and I would have tried to grab my bag . . .

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Mother's Reckoning

On April 20, 1999, the day of the massacre at Columbine High School, we were stationed in Colorado Springs.  Luke had just been born in February, and Nathan was a few months away from turning 2.  I remember being in the car and turning on the classical music station.  When the piece was finished, the announcer said in a somber voice, that the Requiem had been played "in honor of the victims at Columbine", and I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about.  Since I never watched TV, it took a few days of reading newspapers to really grasp what had happened there.  I, like most people, was fascinated in a horrified way, and so I read whatever I could to see how such a diabolical plot could ever come to fruition.  I assumed the parents were the detached kind, busy with their own jobs and lives, leaving their kids to plot and plan, while they overlooked obvious signs of psychopathy.  Eventually I didn't really think of Columbine at all, except when other mass school shootings occurred, like the one at VA Tech (which happened while Bob was taking some online classes there).

In February of 2016 I read a thread on the Well Trained Mind forums about a book called A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.  I immediately felt very sorry for this lady--what a hell to have to live with, knowing your son had killed 13 people before committing suicide--but I thought I would never read the book, because I tend to feel emotions very strongly when reading, and I was afraid it would be a book that was way to difficult to read.

On Friday, I had to stop by the library to pick up some requested items that were in, and I saw that book on the shelf where they put newly-arrived books.  I looked at it, debated a bit, and then took it home.  I started it that afternoon--and could hardly put it down until I finished it today (Sunday).  Contrary to what I had thought, it was not difficult to read.  She does not graphically describe what happened inside Columbine, and the first part of the book is her reeling in shock as the events unfold, and eventually (a few months later) coming to the full understanding of what had transpired, and how completely she had been deceived. At first she had clung to the hope that her son had been coerced, or on drugs, or hypnotized, or whatever, but after viewing videos he and Eric had made before the attack, she realized he really had decided to commit these awful atrocities, and she really had to grieve again.  She shares portions of the diary she kept (all through her life, not just after Columbine) to give even more insight into her thoughts.  It was definitely heartbreaking.

The second half of her book deals with warning signs she and her husband, school officials, juvenile officials, and others failed to recognize or to connect together.  She also goes into great detail on warning signs of suicide.  She came to realize that Dylan had already decided he wanted to commit suicide months earlier, but he lacked an impetus to do so.  Eric came along, and he was the one who influenced Dylan that committing suicide in this grand, evil way would be a good way to go.  She said something like (can't find the exact quote), "Eric wanted to kill people and didn't care if he died; Dylan wanted to die, and didn't care if he killed people too."

The book is absolutely filled with her powerfully deep despair and regret.  It literally jumps off every page.  I think writing this book was a very brave thing to do, and I also think it is a book that every parent should read.  It will definitely chip away the attitude of "that sort of thing would never happen to me".  As any parent of teens will tell you, it is very difficult to navigate the waters of normal teen moodiness, crankiness, laziness, being uncooperative, etc.  You don't want to push them away, but you want to stay involved.  And when you possibly have teens who tend towards more introverted personalities anyway, it gets even harder.  She quotes a lot of different experts throughout the book, and I really learned a lot.  For one thing, I hadn't realized that depression tends to be expressed differently especially in teenage boys, than in adults. They tend to "withdraw and show increased irritability, self-criticism, frustration, and anger.  Unexplained pains, whininess, sleep disorder, and clinginess are common symptoms of depression among younger children."  This is obviously a lot different from the "sad and lethargic" picture I know I have of depression.

She is very driven to help people recognize signs of depression and possible suicidal behavior, since she thinks if she had done so, this tragedy might have been averted.  Our county in VA has had 2 high school suicides in this past year.  One of the kids had been being seen by a school counselor, but neither that person, nor anyone else in the school administration, let the parents know what was happening, which is an atrocity in itself.  The parents are suing the school system to try to get some answers and accountability.  We live in a notoriously high-pressure area, especially for teens.  I highly recommend that every parent, or person who works with teens, read this book.  The one thing we can't do is glibly assume that we would recognize "evil" if we saw it, or that bad parenting is what always causes it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Whole30 Update

Here it is at the end of day 16, so that's over half-way!  Yay, me.  I've lost about 10 pounds, but again, almost 8 of that was water weight in the first week, and that speaks to how well I ate over the holidays, I think, lol.  Still no big amount of extra energy or anything, but I'm not expecting that for maybe several more years at least . . .

I wasn't going to try another whole30 until April, like I did last year, because I knew it would be super challenging to do one right in the middle of the school year.  But my friend Emily was doing one, AND she had started a facebook group, so I figured I might as well see how much I could do. I really don't know if I could do a whole30 without a facebook support group!  It is really important for accountability, and just someone to whine with.  I posted the night before Nathan went back to college about how I just didn't feel a part of celebrations when I couldn't eat the food.  (Anna had made some mini cupcakes, and everyone was having ice cream.)  Several people empathized, and one person commented on how she struggled with that for a long time because she has celiac disease.  It really gave me some first-hand sympathy for people with food allergies, and that took some of my focus off myself and my petty woes, lol.    

I knew there was no way I could be as strict as I was back in April, and I haven't been.  I have not worried at all, really, about things like using approved mayo.  Nope--I just used regular Kraft olive oil mayo for literally the one thing I made with mayo (salmon cakes).  I didn't buy the special sugar-free bacon for the one time I made brussel sprouts with bacon either.  And I've added worchestershire sauce to a few things as well.  I figure, I wasn't even going to do this this month, so hey, I'm still ahead!  My level of caring about things like soybean oil in my condiments is less than zero at this point in time, if such a  thing is possible, lol.

Not worrying about everything so much did lead me to mess up twice though.  Once I absently finished a few bites of Verity's hot dog from her lunch plate, and another time I thought I had forgotten to set the timer for penne pasta for everyone else, so I ate one to see if it was al dente (and then the timer on the microwave, which I had remembered to set, went off, as opposed to the one on the counter I usually use, which I definitely had nOT set).  Oh well.  I'm sure those things wouldn't have happened if I had been as anal as I was back in April about not slipping up in any area.

I have continued to use my spiralizer, and wow--zucchini "noodles" are WAY better than spaghetti squash in my view!  I have made them a few times.  The first time I blanched them for just a minute, but they were still able to fall apart too easily, so a friend on the FB group said she didn't cook them a all.  Now I just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds to heat them up, and that's it.  Perfect!  I can see this being a long-term change for noodles for me.

I've also been using cauliflower "rice", and I usually just steam that for about 30 seconds as well.  I really love jasmine rice, and cauliflower just isn't going to taste like that--but it's not bad at all, and definitely a good substitute.

What I have not been able to do is get into a good exercise routine, which I know is essential for me to keep off weight.  I am a fantasticly consistent exerciser from April through August.  Then the school year starts, and that's that, unfortunately.  Every so often I fit a walk in, but it's not regular.  On the plus side, Micah's reading is actually starting to finally come together, so there's that, anyway (not that Micah isn't still incredibly distracted whenever we work on it . . .).  Priorities . . .

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Starting Up Slowly

When we had our Rivendell planning meeting last spring, the idea was floated to start back last Tuesday, Jan. 3.  I politely but firmly said there was no possible way I would be ready to start back then, and no matter what everyone else did, biology and life science would start back Jan. 10.  Well, there were no fisticuffs or anything (ha!), and everyone agreed that would actually be nice.

And it has been.  Absolutely wonderful, in fact!  There is no way we would have been remotely ready to start back on Tuesday.  This way we could kind of ease into it, since Potters School classes started this past week, as well as Anna's German class and Jonathan's math class.  But I was able to do school with the younger ones every day, which never happens on a regular week.  I need a running start to get Micah's reading off the ground this semester, lol.

It also allowed me to start another Whole30, like I did last April.  I lost 16 pounds from April to August--but then school started up again, and I gained back 13 of them.  It turns out Rivendell, college applications, and teaching at TNT are all big stress eating triggers for me, lol, and I didn't have time to exercise regularly anymore either.  So I knew I needed to get my head back in the healthy eating game, and January seemed like a good time to do that, since we don't have any birthdays to celebrate this month, and since Emily, a friend at church, was also doing it, and she had started a facebook group.  I found last time that having online support was really important!

It'a been a little hard because Nathan came home Jan. 2 for 2 weeks before heading back to college, and I didn't want to be trying lots of new recipes and doing weird things for this brief time he's home.  So I've been cooking regular food for them, and doing something else for me for dinner.  I've also been mainly eating a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit for breakfast, and then I eat my usual "breakfast" of 2 eggs fried in avocado oil plus some leftover veggies from the night before around 11:00 or so.  Then I have an apple with almond butter for a snack in the afternoon, and *voila* it's really only dinner that I have to think about.  So that's been good.

I wish I could say that getting rid of the water weight has made me feel wonderful, but actually I have some sort of virus, the same one Grace had at my parents' house, I think.  I've been running a fever and having a really sore throat with drainage and sniffles, plus aches, especially my neck.  On the plus side, it makes me not really want to eat much, but on the negative, it makes me feel sorry for myself and want chocolate.  Or hot chocolate!  But I have stood strong, here at the end of day 5!

The extra week off has also given me a chance to play around with my 2 big Christmas presents--an Instant Pot and a spiralizer!  I have successfully made a pot roast, as well as some jasmine rice (although the rice cooker does rice better) in the Instant Pot, and it's definitely a keeper.  I look forward to using that more.  And the spiralizer ( I got the Oxo one that'[s not handheld) has been a lot of fun too!  We have spiralized sweet potatoes to make fries twice, and the kids *love* spiralizing apples in the afternoon to munch on.  The main reason I bought it is that on the last Whole30 I really didn't end up loving spaghetti squash for noodles.  Even back then people were talking about spiralizing zucchini, and now I can try that!  We haven't had spaghetti yet, though, because Nathan had it 4 times up at WSS, and he is tired of it, lol.  Maybe tomorrow he'll be ready though . . .

Today I've been pondering plant hormones and tropisms, since Jan. 10 is unfortunately coming quickly.  Fun times are over, and it's time to take a deep breath and buckle down again.  At least there are no more college applications or TNT teaching this semester.  Hopefully I can make it through the next few weeks without chocolate or ice cream . . .

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Living Danishly

Someone on the Well Trained Mind forums recommended a book called The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country, and I thought it sounded fascinating.  I've always been interested in Scandanavian culture, plus friends of ours moved from here to Norway this past summer, and I thought maybe this book would give me insight into living in that region, even though it was about Denmark, instead of Norway.

So the premise of the book is that the author's husband got a job with Lego for a year, and so they moved from crowed, stressful London to rural Jutland, where Lego has its headquarters.  The author, Helen Russell, is a writer, so she decides to write book about how Denmark has been rated the "happiest country on earth", and how her experience goes along with that.

It was very fascinating and funny as well, and some parts of Danish culture sounded really great to me.  Since they have such long months with little daylight, they have this concept of "hygge",  which means they basically stay at home with family and friends, lighting lots of candles, and being cozy.  Sounds good to me!

It seems like Denmark is a very organized, well-run country, with rules for every single little thing, which is sort of appealing--I do like following rules. But on the other hand, I think I am way too American to be happy with some higher power-that-be telling me how to run every little detail of my life.  Apparently, Danes really like uniformity, and they all sort of look a similar way, dress a similar way, decorate a similar way . . . that would drive me nuts.  And they have this weird set of rules called "Jante's Law" for how to integrate and "live Danishly":

  1. You're not to think you are anything special
  2. you're not to think you are as good as we are
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than us
  4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than us
  5. You're not to think you know more than us
  6. You're not to think you are more important than us
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything
  8. You're not to laugh at us
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything
So . .  yeah, sorry.  The book definitely did not make it sound like Danes are very welcoming to any foreigners at all, as you might have understood from the list of rules above, lol.  But the author loved it, and tried to spin everything pretty positively.  

One huge thing I noticed was that religion has basically no part at all in Danish life, except what happens for traditions to be followed.  Danes are really, really big into traditions.  Otherwise, no one goes to church at all or has any religious thoughts whatsoever--except that they pretty much worship the state.  It takes care of all their needs, tells them what they need to do, and in general serves the function of a benevolent god.  One thing this god does is take their children.  Parents both get a ton of baby leave, but then the baby gets right into daycare when he or she is 6 months old that is subsidized (the state covers 75%) so parents can work guilt-free. Of course this means the kids are mainly with their "child-minders", who do things like shop with them and other things that I would totally want to be doing with my toddlers, and also let them have time to play freely with a bunch of other kids.  When they start school, they spend the next 10 years with the same 20-odd kids, which seems like another way to make it hard for a newcomer to fit in.  Their schools seemed to have a weird obsession with "a child's autonomy and self-expression", which honestly sounded terrible because there was "no hierarchy between pupils and students".

A liberal facebook friend of mine shared an article about Scandanavia (Norway in particular, but it seemed exactly the same in Denmark) which really lays out how perfect liberals think it is that the government takes the children!  Here's a lengthy quote from towards the end of the article:

Things happened very differently in Norway. There, feminists and sociologists pushed hard against the biggest obstacle still standing in the path to full democracy: the nuclear family. In the 1950s, the world-famous American sociologist Talcott Parsons had pronounced that arrangement — with hubby at work and the little wife at home — the ideal setup in which to socialize children. But in the 1970s, the Norwegian state began to deconstruct that undemocratic ideal by taking upon itself the traditional unpaid household duties of women. Caring for the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled became the basic responsibilities of the universal welfare state, freeing women in the workforce to enjoy both their jobs and their families. That’s another thing American politicians — still, boringly, mostly odiously boastful men — surely don’t want you to think about: that patriarchy can be demolished and everyone be the better for it.
Paradoxically, setting women free made family life more genuine. Many in Norway say it has made both men and women more themselves and more alike: more understanding and happier. It also helped kids slip from the shadow of helicopter parents. In Norway, mother and father in turn take paid parental leave from work to see a newborn through its first year or more. At age one, however, children start attending a neighborhood barnehage (kindergarten) for schooling spent largely outdoors. By the time kids enter free primary school at age six, they are remarkably self-sufficient, confident, and good-natured. They know their way around town, and if caught in a snowstorm in the forest, how to build a fire and find the makings of a meal. (One kindergarten teacher explained, “We teach them early to use an axe so they understand it’s a tool, not a weapon.”)
To Americans, the notion of a school “taking away” your child to make her an axe wielder is monstrous. In fact, Norwegian kids, who are well acquainted in early childhood with many different adults and children, know how to get along with grown ups and look after one another. More to the point, though it’s hard to measure, it’s likely that Scandinavian children spend more quality time with their work-isn’t-everything parents than does a typical middle-class American child being driven by a stressed-out mother from music lessons to karate practice. For all these reasons and more, the international organization Save the Children cites Norway as the best country on Earth in which to raise kids, while the US finishes far down the list in 33rd place.

Anyhow, that was a tangent . . . But even with Russell's positive spin, there were some issues that came out.  There are pretty much no sexual mores at all, so anything goes.  They have a 43% divorce rate, and promiscuity is really high.  There is a lot of abuse and violence that gets swept under the rug.  A great number of Danes are on anti-depressants, which seems to me to indicate something other than complete happiness.  I guess the feeling I got when I finished the book was, the Danes are "happy" if you define happy as "being comfortable and complacent".  There didn't seem to be any personal growth, or a concept of joy through trials, or anything like that.  Still, it was quite fascinating, and a quick read.

That led me to my next book, which is called The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandanavian Utopia.  As you can imagine, this book is a lot more even-handed.  The author, Michael Booth, who is married to a Danish woman, travels to Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland to flesh out how "perfect" these cultures are.  Booth is actually a really funny writer--the cover review says "Bill Bryson goes to Scandanavia"--so there were many descriptions that made me laugh out loud.  Also, I ended up googling so I could see several of the places he mentioned, especially in Iceland, because they sounded so unique and beautiful (they were).  But he did lay out a lot of the less pleasant realities of Scandanavian life in these socialist countries--the ones that articles like the one I linked to conveniently don't reference. I would definitely not call the author any sort of a conservative (and he has several digs at the US sprinkled in there), but he is at least willing to open his eyes and see reality and the downsides to the welfare state.  No, thank you!  I'd still like to visit, though, that's for sure!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Quick Trip

Last night, we rang in the New Year at 9:00 at the L's house, as usual.  We had a grand time, and the kids didn't go to bed until close to 11:00.

That didn't stop us from doing something out of the ordinary this morning!  Bob and I got Micah, Drew, and Verity up early and headed to PA to see Nathan, who has been working at WSS over the Christmas break!  Now we weren't completely crazy--my initial plan had been to get up there in time for church at 10:30, but that would have required us leaving around 8:00.  Instead, we left closer to 9:00.  The kids were definitely crabby in the van (we just took a minivan, like a regular family!), but we pushed through.

When we got there, church was ending, and the adults were breaking up into their small groups.  Nathan wasn't doing that, since he had to help with lunch, so we got to visit with him for a bit and give him his last few Christmas presents. Then while he went back to work, we went down to the playground for awhile to run off steam.  
We ate lunch with Nathan and some other friends with a big family that were up there.  It is always fun to run into people there, and this time was no exception.  One couple we talked to had been stationed with my parents back when I was in high school, and I hadn't seen them in years!  It was fun to catch up with them before lunch.

After lunch, there was a hayride down to the old hotel.  The wagon was pulled by a tractor, which was loud and very alarming to both Drew and Verity, who firmly insisted they were not a bit interested in riding behind it.  So Micah was the only one who rode down in it.
Down at the old hotel, the kids decorated gingerbread cookies.  One thing we never were able to do at my parents' house was decorate cookies, so it was fun that they got to do at least one cookie this year.
Down in the basement Nathan was helping oversee candle-dipping.  Drew and Micah each dipped a candle with various degrees of success but lots of fun (and glitter).
They were having these wagon rides at the same time as all these other activities, with these absolutely gorgeous horses that are owned by a neighbor.  They had some extra room, and Drew was very excited to go.  In a stunning reversal of roles, Micah was absolutely not interested.  He insisted the horses would be louder than the tractor because of their harness bells jingling, so he didn't want to go.  Yeah . . . not, but whatever.  Drew had a great time with some random strangers on the ride, lol.

After we finished up there, we hiked back up to the new hotel where we visited with more people while the kids played on all the outside riding toys in the big driveway.  We stayed until 5:00, which was later than we expected, but it was just fun to be up there!  And it was special to do something with just the younger 3 kids.  We used to be a lot more spontaneous, but with so many kids, it gets harder and harder.  I was glad the littles got a chance to do something different, and Luke was able to get everyone else here at home off to church and to clean up here after they got back.
Plus, it was just really nice to see Nathan.  I was the one who really wanted to go up there and see what he had been doing, see who all has been up there with him, and so on, so I'd have faces for names he talks about when he comes home.  It was well worth the trip!  Although we do look forward to having him back home with us.  He is definitely missed around here!