Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Firefly Musings: Shindig

My husband and I finally got to see the second half of "Shindig" one night last week after the girls went to bed. Sunshine has finally decided she is old enough for Looney Tunes but not for Land of the Lost, so Firefly is still in her future. After it was over my husband said, "That was really good, but disappointing."

"How so? You loved the first half. "

"The first half was perfect. They nailed the poverty, the scrabble for business, the polyglot culture where everything was used and re-used, and the lust for material goods. But the duel was too predictable."

I squirmed. "An 'expert' duelist versus a hand-to-hand combat veteran? Hero or no hero, that's no contest. A duelist is used to things happening at sword's length. A combat veteran is trained to close in. If they had only gone to first blood it might have been an even fight, but there was no doubt who'd win a duel to the death. The only question was if they were going to do it Hollywood-style or do it realistic. They did it Hollywood-style. I would have preferred it realistic, but I can't fault the ending."

"Oh, everyone stayed in character; but it was too pat. I hated to see the actors and writers fall into a stereotype."

"What about the bit with River? That was different."

"That was great, especially the part where everyone was too dumbfounded by her diversion to do anything useful during it. But it was only a few minutes of mystery in amongst the generic fight setup. I'd rather see more of that at once than have it doled out a few minutes an episode. The part I really liked was when the old man drove off the queen bee, and the engineer ended up surrounded by all the beaus who were picking her brains about engines. That was believable and broke stereotype. I would have loved to see more with her and the beaus, and less with the duel. All in all, it reminded me of why we stopped watching TV in the first place. It's miles ahead of what was on ten years ago, but it's still so limited."

I'm in love with a man who'd rather watch a good flirtation than a fight. Ain't I lucky?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Cold Breeze Blows Through Hell

A major American bank refuses money on moral grounds.

(Also because they're obviously expecting the Supreme Court's "eminent domain" ruling to go down in flames and don't want to get caught in the blowback. But it still counts as taking a stand on a moral issue.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Gods are Trying to Tell Me Something

Let's see: we have a week that starts with a funeral and ends with important anniverseries that include funerals, and everyone is coming down with a cold. I don't need to be hit over the head with a tarot deck to read that message. "Take the week off."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Life, Interrupted

An old friend died last night. I'll probably be gone for a few days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sunshine finished the Jumpstart Jumbo Pre-K Workbook today. Put out by Scholastic, this is the only comprehensive curriculum we've seen that wasn't a complete waste of time and money. Since I've been mixing flavors on her whenever she got bored, she is also a day or so from completing Singapore Earlybird 1A. At this point she can write capital letters, but her numbers are still very shaky. We won't start Jumpstart Jumbo K Workbook until her numbers are better, because that starts with lower-case letters and she's not quite ready for that yet. We'll do Singapore Earlybird 2A, but that doesn't have much copywork, so we'll also practice writing a line of numbers and letters each day to work on her numbers. Something simple, like her phone number, or birthdays, or a line of an address. She is still very interested in drawing, and very frustrated at the inability of her hand to keep up with her brain. She'll be much happier when has the stamina to accomplish what she wants to do.

I also pulled out an abacus workbook I bought a year ago to see if she could get anything out of that. The first exercise called for photocopying on colored paper, cutting apart and double laminating 20 2" by 3" cards. With Brighteyes and Sunshine "helping". Without me blowing up at them. I know I racked up some brownie points somewhere for that one.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dreary Day

Today was too wet for the girls to go out, and they went stir-crazy. When I husband got home I said, "Take the girls out to the woods, dump them there, and check their pockets for pebbles."

On the bright side, Sunshine is doing extremely well with matching and simple ordering. Brighteyes loves Latin and is slowly getting better at adding and subtracting in the 20-40 range.

On the stressful side, I gotta get these two out of the house before we all go nuts.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Fruits and Flowers

We're working on a commission for a client. As part of the design, the client wants to have a branch with both fruits and flowers on it. We've pointed out that this doesn't happen in real life. No plant of the type the client wants depicted bears both fruits and flowers at the same time. You occasionally see fruit and flowers of the same type in medieval Christian paintings and the still lifes by Dutch Old Masters where it was a recognized shorthand for Paradise. It conveyed to the viewer that the scene was Ideal and Mythical, not part of the humdrum Real world.

I kept thinking about those Mythical scenes of Paradise as I read the essays on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's death and What Went Wrong. There were so many bitter denunciations of the tree for not bearing fruits and flowers at the same time.

On the one hand is my friend Natalie's post which lauds Dr. King's achievements and bitterly accuses modern African-American leaders of practicing racism by speaking out against economic injustice. I'm sorry Natalie, but addressing economic injustice is why Dr. King was in Memphis in the first part. The Memphis sanitation worker's strike was to be the opening move of Phase 2 in Dr. King's civil rights movement, the phase that concentrated on the very fight against economic injustices you denounce modern African-American leaders for taking up.

On the other hand is Cavalor Epthith's post which lauds Dr. King's achievements and spins out a scenario where Dr. King, if he had not been assassinated in 1968, would have become President in 1976 and led to an age of peace and prosperity where all the Liberal goals would have been fulfilled and Republicans would have become a despised fringe party. I'm sorry Cavalor, but there simply wasn't a broad enough base of support for Liberal ideas in the 1960s to push that through. In 1963 my adopted mother stood up and cheered when she heard that Kennedy had been assassinated on the radio, a story that she proudly told to people who agreed with her even back then. In 1965 the Southern Baptist Convention, the most liberal church in America after the Unitarian Universalists and a stalwart supporter of individual rights and keeping prayer out of public schools, ended it's youth program teaching children the importance of Liberal ideas and letting each individual make up his or her own mind about God and politics -- a decision which inevitably led to a young generation being reared with no understanding Liberal ideas voting for the Conservative takeover of 1979. During the 1930s the largest families in America were poor, white Southerners who couldn't find work in the South during the Great Depression and scattered throughout the nation so that by the late 1960s approximately 25% of white Americans outside the South had at least one grandparent from the South, so that the almost universal portrayal of Southern whites as ignorant hicks created a widespread slow-building backlash (a phenomenon we're sure to see repeated if the next generation decides to come down against the two current biggest breeders, Mormons and Hispanics.) And as Naomi Wolfe pointed out, there was no way all those attempts to bring the rest of America up to parity with white males could sit well with those white males who were less savy and who got Left Behind.

But all this bitter finger-pointing is right about one thing. Something has gone badly wrong. The tree of racial equality bears few fruits or flowers, but a lot of cankers.

Would things have been better if Dr. King had lived? Probably. But our image of the man who marched for freedom would have to include a man who also spoke up for higher wages.

Would things have been better if Kennedy had lived? Probably. But the unavoidable cultural turbulence of the 1960s would still have resulted in the resentment and the perceived loss of priviledge among lower class whites which inevitably fuels the bonfires of the Savonarolas of this world. And if he had brought home all those troops in the mid-1960s, how would America have handled such an influx of angry young men who would not have learned how to say "Sir, no sir"?

Things might well have been better, but they would not have been Ideal. The tree would still not have born fruits and flowers at the same time.

But maybe that is What Went Wrong. Maybe we were trying so hard for some Ideal we lost sight of the Real world, full of people honorable, despicable, and every shade in between, most just trying to get by. If that is the case, turning around and bashing other people over the head with our Ideals is only going to make things worse in the long run.

Ideals are wonderful when they inspire us, but let us not get so lost in our vision of an Ideal world we can't deal with all the Real people we have to share the planet with.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Brighteyes told me that the moon was formed when an octopus the size of Mars crashed into the Earth.

Science fiction
Double feature,
Dr. X has
Built a creature....

Minimus Worksheet Template, Chapter 1 Part 2

I'm writing these down so I can keep track of them. If you spot any additions or corrections that need to be made, please let me know.

My husband suggests turning these into a card game. There's enough here you can start stringing sentences together into short paragraphs and conversations, either verbal or written -- I recommend both.

New Nouns: sister, soul, birthday

Noun Bank: mother, father, daughter, son, small child, cat, mouse, sister, soul, birthday, gift

Verbs: I am, we are, you are (singular), you are (plural), is, are, I have, sit (plural), come (singular)

Pronouns: I, we, everyone, my

Conjunctions: and, but

Greetings: Hello, Hello (plural), Goodbye, Dear (female), Dear (male), Dearest (female)

I am a [noun bank].
I have a [noun bank].
I have a [noun bank] for you.

You are a [noun bank].
I am a [noun bank] [and/but] you are a [noun bank].
I am a [noun bank] [and/but] [name] is a [noun bank].
You are a [noun bank] [and/but] [name] is a [noun bank].

I am a [noun bank] [and/but] [name] and [name] are slaves.
You are a [noun bank] [and/but] [name] and [name] are slaves.
[Name] is a [noun bank] [and/but] we are slaves.

You are (pl.) slaves [and/but] I am a [noun bank].
You are (pl.) slaves [and/but] [name] is a [noun bank].

[Name] is a [noun bank].
[Name] is a [noun bank] [and/but] [name] is a [noun bank].

[Name] and [name] are slaves.

[Name] is a [noun bank] [and/but] [name] and [name] are slaves.

[Name] and [name] are in Vindolanda.
[Name] is in [place name] [and/but] [name] is in [place name].
[Name] is in [place name] [and/but] [name] and [name] are in Vindolanda.

[Name] is in [place name] [and/but] we are in Vindolanda.

You are (pl.) in Vindolanda [and/but] I am in [place name].
You are (pl.) in Vindolanda [and/but] [name] is in [place name].

Everyone are slaves.

Everyone are in Vindolanda.
(I know the proper English is "Everyone is....". I'm not sure how to handle that yet.)

Hello [name]!
Hello [name] and [name]!
Hello everyone!

goodbye [name].
Come, [name].

Sit, everyone!
Sit, [name] and [name]!

Dear [male name or noun],
Dear [female name or noun],
Dearest [female name or noun],

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday [name]!
Happy Birthday, dear [male name]!
Happy Birthday, dear [female name]!
Happy Birthday, dearest [female name]!

My [noun bank],
My dear [female name or noun],
My dear [male name or noun],

I have my [noun bank].
You are my [noun bank].
[Name] is my [noun bank].

Who is this?
What is this?
Who is [name or noun bank]?
What is [noun bank]?

But who is this?
But what is this?

Who is this and who is [name or noun bank]?
Who is this and what is [noun bank]?
What is this and what is [noun bank]?
Who is [name or noun bank] and who is [name or noun bank]?
Who is [name or noun bank] and what is [noun bank]?
What is [noun bank] and what is [noun bank]?

Happy Birthday to you!
You are very welcome.
Thank you very much.
How beautiful.

Once upon a time

[female name or noun] is famous.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Minimus Worksheet Generator, Chapter 1 Part 1

The Minimus teacher's guide suggests you make your own worksheets for the students. This customization has it's benefits, but it takes time. Here are the possible sentences you can make with the vocabulary in the first section:

Who are you?
Who are you (plural)?
I am [name].
I am a [mother/father/daughter/son/small child/cat/mouse].
We are slaves.
I am in [place name].
We are in Vindolanda.
Mouse leaves.
[male or male noun] leaves.
Note well.

I don't know the rules for gendered nouns and verbs in Latin, but I think these are all safe. You can ask the child to translate a few of these into Latin, or you can give the child the Latin and ask for the English translation. I give Brighteyes a short list in English and the book and let her work it out for herself. That's enough written work for a six year old. She thinks its fun.


My husband has finally started a science blog. Now he can astound and confound the whole internet as much as he does me.

My first blog carnival

I'm checking out the fuss, and theoretically the fuss is checking out me.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Yesterday we went to look at new stationary. I showed Brighteyes the 5/8" and the 1/2" writing tablets and asked her if either of those interested her more than the 1" paper she was using or the lined notebook paper I use. She chose the 5/8" paper.

She also picked out a $1 address book. It's got pink flowers, and it has a line for birthdays. All last night and today she squealed over it, begged me to let her write in it, and copied out the addresses I wrote in it. I think we have a winner.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home. The girls entertained the checkout line by singing "Happy Birthday" in Latin over and over again. I have no idea what folks thought.

Sunshine has been having trouble with the concepts of "more" and "less" and with writing her numbers. I backed off with both those things weeks ago, knowing that when her brain was ready for it she would show an interest. She's been looking at those pages this week. Today she took off with both skills and completed over a dozen math worksheets. I had to insist she stop when her hand tired out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Caught with my mouth open.

6 1/2 yo Brighteyes has been extremely fussy lately. She tends to get that way right before a developmental leap. I try to hold my temper and wait it out, but living with a hair-trigger volcano can be hard on the nerves.

Yesterday my "I hate writing" child, who throws a tantrum over being asked to write a dozen words on a page, told me she didn't want to use the 1" first-grade paper. She wanted to try one of the sheets of lined notebook paper I use for their narrations. She then copied out the first ten lines of "The Three Little Kittens" on regular notebook paper, exclaiming how much fun it was. Her handwriting was very legible, and she had no trouble handling the thin lines.

This morning she copied out the next 7 lines, saying this was so much fun she must find more poems to copy out, before becoming stymied and throwing a tantrum over a line length problem.

My jaw is still on the floor somewhere. I haven't even recovered enough to look for it yet.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Stupid Mom Tricks

Brighteyes started writing pen pal letters this fall. I took one of the letterss she wrote and set it aside so I could put a stamp on it. I found it this weekend while looking for the penny stamps. My face is beet red.

So Lizzy, it's not her fault or your fault your letter is so late. Blame it on her stupid mother.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Flashback 6/16/2003: Breakfast Q&A

I try for the Goldilocks approach to teaching: not too much, not too little. Sometimes I get it just right.

This morning over pancakes:

3yo Brighteyes: What's in those jars on the counter?

Daddy: That's something for Mommy and Daddy to cook with.

3yo Brighteyes: What is it?

Daddy: It's Texturized Soy Protein that's been flavored to taste like beef and chicken. It's --

3yo Brighteyes: What *is* it?

Mommy: Chicken-flavored beans and beef-flavored beans.

3yo: Oh.

The New "Jews"

I thought there was a "mutton dressed as lamb" quality to Conservative hatemongering:

In a modest triumph of political re-packaging, crimes once held to be exclusively "Jewish" -- impiousness, disloyalty, cosmopolitanism, physical cowardice, sexual license, communism, etc. -- are now called "liberal." Maybe it's even progress of a kind, because liberalism's a voluntary state of mind, while the anti-Semitic undertones never go away.

I fail to see how any rehash of "The Articles of Zion" can be considered "progress", no matter who the target is. Especially not when the target is me.

Friday, January 06, 2006

First Friday

Our first Friday with a different schedule than the rest of the week was not a huge success. Try a crashing failure. Brighteyes says she loves Draw, Write, Now, but when we tried it she said it was too much work and threw such a temper tantrum it completely derailed the rest of the morning's lessons. That book gets put back up again. I'll try doing a relaxed Friday without it, but she might not be old enough for doing different lessons on different days. All in all, our "relaxed" Friday stressed us out totally.

Sunshine has spent most of her free time this week sitting down with Dover How to Draw books, especially How to Draw Dogs. Yesterday and today she brought them along to lessons and started working on drawing dogs. I gave her a piece of paper and let her at it. Signing her name and the date to each day's paper gave her practice writing her letters and numbers, and when her hand tired out from the drawing it was time for her reading lesson. Her dogs are getting more recognizable.

My husband thinks Sunshine will insist on a unit studies approach when she is older, so I'll have to see about adapting a classical to unit studies. I know other parents have done that as well.

Einstein's Obscured Collaberater

Technically, Einstein obscured all his collaberaters, but none so thoroughly as the collaberater he married. Whatever virtues he had, the man Did Not Play Well With Others.

Happy Birthday Son

Happy Birthday to my son, born on this day a few years ago with an unusual birth defect, with one of the worst hospitals in the nation looking after him, died three weeks later of a hospital-born infection. Ever since then January has been a black time for me. I'm not going to be at my best for the next month. Sorry.

If I ever find the strength of will to blog about my experiences with the American health care system, be warned. I have very, very seldom experienced a case where the words "good" and "doctor" belong in the same sentence.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How about "American Mistress of Stone"?

My husband and I are now listed in the American Masters of Stone. Yay! But I didn't realize he'd sent in my "Hurricane Rita" picture. Arrgh! We were scheduled to do a demo in Jackson the day Hurricane Rita hit, so we sat around twiddling our thumbs all day. I gotta get that changed PDQ.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What she said

Yule Heibel has a magnificent rant today (1/2/06) on gendered definitions of "big stuff" and "small stuff".

Monday, January 02, 2006

Today 6yo Brighteyes woke up and read books until breakfast. We had 2 hours of lessons, officially starting Minimus and culminating with Sargon of Sumer. Then she worked on a windmill she wanted to build and read more books. During lunch she wanted to discuss Vitamin D, Pompeii, Vesuvius, Cicero, evacuation routes, volcano formation and warning signs, seismographs and how they work, and the role of plate tectonics in the biosphere. After lunch she read some more, played outside, practiced her broomstick flying, quizzed Mom about "metaphors", climbed a tree, helped her sister up the tree, jumped out of the tree, got the water hose and soaked her tree-bound sister, and played some more. Then she came in and read about botany. Over supper she wanted to discuss Ancient Egypt, Modern Egypt, the various conquerors of Egypt, Alexander, and Alexander's military tactics and engineering feats. After supper she played with Legos and Geo-mags, took a bath, danced with her sister on Mommy's bed, then curled up with an herbal with plans to memorize all the herbs and make all the crafts, including the food, the herbal dyes, and the pot-pouri.

And this was a quiet day.

Ahh, the poor girl. Those 2 hours of lessons in the morning must be completely crippling her ability and inclination to learn anything on her own during the rest of the day.

"Scientific Theory"

I've been asked why the theory of Intelligent Design doesn't deserve some kind of mention in scientific textbooks. After all, isn't it just as much a "theory" as evolution? No. ID may be a general "theory" but it's not a scientific "theory". Science has a very technical definition of that word.

The scientific definition of a theory is different from the general definition of a theory. In science you have four levels of ideas:

    1) a speculation, a belief, a hunch, a wild guess -- something that you don't know how to prove. If you can think of a way to prove it, it becomes:

    2) a hypothesis -- something you think you know how to prove but you haven't tested it yet. If your test works it becomes:

    3) a theory -- something that has been proven in at least one test, but needs to be tested more to make sure the first test wasn't just a special case. If the theory survives lots of tests it becomes:

    4) a law -- something people are so sure of they no longer bother to test it anymore. More precisely, a scientific law is something which has survived so many tests that contradictory data only modifies it or presents a special case.
Let's look at an example of the scientific method that is familiar to almost every parent: the infant scientist in the high chair discovering the theory of gravity. Our tiny scientist starts off with a speculation: some force seems to pull things towards the floor. That's #1. Then she figures out how to test this speculation: if she drops something, will it fall towards the floor or not? Now she has a hypothesis. That's #2. She drops something. It falls and hits the floor. Yes! She has a theory. That's #3. But what if it's only an isolated incident? She needs more data!

For the next several weeks (or months) the tiny scientist will dilligently test this theory every chance she gets. Will things always fall down if you drop them? Does the direction and amount of force applied make a difference? Does the material composition make a difference? What about temperature? Does it matter if it went into your mouth first? Eventually she will assemble enough data to assure herself that things really will fall down if you drop them and stop the experiments. At that point she will have reached #4 and have a scientific law. It will have a broad enough base of data to cover any special cases, such as balloons. (Baby Brighteyes saw her first helium balloon while working her way through these experiments and screamed all day long.)

Yes, evolution is a theory. It has got to #3 in the scientific method. That's pretty good work in science. It's almost across the finish line! BUT intelligent design is still on #1. It isn't even in the race yet, and it won't be until it can be tested. It can't compete with anything that has survived even a single test. Until someone can come up with a test for it and test it out, it doesn't belong in the science lab.

If ID ever makes it to #3 in the scientific process list and becomes a scientific theory, it will certainly deserve inclusion in science books. It'll have to offer up a lot of concrete proof first. But no idea that's just on #1 passes muster.An idea gets to #4, scientific law, when the body of evidence for it is so great that evidence against it can't disprove it, but only modify it or point to a special case. Most scientists believe evolution has reached this point in recent years, especially after the de-coding of the human genome. It will certainly be called a law within a generation; but generally scientists are inherently conservative about adopting sweeping statements, as countless inter-science squabbles point out.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Another Reminder Why We Don't Unschool

We found unschooling exacerbates the perception so common to gifted children that the adults around them are withholding information from them. That was certainly the perception I, my husband, and most of the gifted people we know had of the adults around us when we were growing up. When we tried unschooling, I was shocked to see that become the perception Brighteyes had of me. Even though I wasn't withholding information from her, it appeared to her mind that that was what I'm doing whenever she would ask me for a short, simple answer to a complicated problem. Sometimes I could find such answers, but sometimes I couldn't.

All evening Brighteyes has been pestering me, with increasing volume, to teach her how to really, really fly on a broomstick. My protestations that I don't know how have fallen on deaf ears. I've tried to direct her to books on visualization. No luck. I've tried to do a visualization with her. No luck. I've tried to direct her to information on aerodynamics. No luck. I've offered her metaphoric advice such as "angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." No luck at all.

It was like this when we tried to unschool. She wouldn't just want to do any one thing. She would want to do one of the most difficult things known to man RIGHT NOW! Without bothering to cover any of the basic material of course.

After numerous temper tantrums we both came to the mutual understanding that it really would be best if I taught her everything I knew, starting at the very beginning and working our way up to the more complicated stuff after she has mastered the basics. That way, when she does want to know how some incredibly complex procedure works at the drop of a hat, she will already have both a base to start from and the comfort of knowing that even if she can't fully understand it RIGHT NOW we'll get to it in due time, when she has a more thorough grounding in the related subjects.

The number of temper tantrums fell to a quarter of what they had been after we reached that understanding, and her confidence has increased with her knowledge base. This is the first incident of this type we've had in ages.