Sunday, July 18, 2010

Anti-Intellectualism and Public Views of Education and Inquiry

I've been gone for a while. Today's picture is of the three cousins sharing a picnic lunch on the Fourth of July. I am now the upper school director and on a twelve month contract, which has dramatically changed my lifestyle. I had the opportunity to give the sermon this morning at our Unitarian Universalist church and I posted my essay below.

"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" Isaac Asimov

My grandmother was never fond of conversations regarding politics or religion. In current culture, this concept has expanded to “never risk offending anyone or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person under any circumstances.” However, we need to argue, debate, and question. As the scientific philosopher Karl Popper once stated, “If we ignore what other people are thinking, or have thought in the past, then rational discussion must come to an end.”

On a personal note, my son is in danger. All of our children are in danger.  This danger is not from any source that the news will tell you about, it’s not H1N1, it’s not terrorism, it’s not even shark attacks.  I think the great danger facing today's youth is that a growing portion of our population are threatening our children’s natural desire to ask why. Questioning is one of the most natural and instinctual behaviors we have. Ask anyone with a preschooler how many times they have been asked “Why?” in the past week.

Susan Jacoby from the Washington Post stated in her article The Dumbing of America, “Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a dangerous mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980… There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality.” This quote struck me as I googled news relating to anti-intellectualism. Although I have had this conversation with so many of my friends in my little circle of “nerd-dom.” But this quote brings up a great point, and that is - why is this not a serious national discussion?

Many of you know my chosen profession is education. As an educator, I try to maintain the utmost respect for the many religions and political beliefs held by my students.  However, I do not hesitate to encourage my students to ask why. When discussing current events, literature, science, and all subjects, the most important skill someone can possess is critical thinking. My students were not afraid to tell me why they agreed or disagreed with The Little Prince’s opinion of adults or whether or not they believe Huckleberry Finn should have tried harder to stay “civilized” at the end of the book.

While critical thinking and questioning is openly encouraged in some educational institutions, many of you have likely heard by now, that the state of Texas has proposed changes to the state-wide assigned history curriculum to stress the superiority of American capitalism, de-emphasize Thomas Jefferson’s contributions due to his Deist beliefs, question the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government, and present conservative political philosophies in a more positive light. I find this to be both horrifying and disheartening, when our country needs a new generation of leaders, diplomats, and citizens trained in the art of debate, argumentation, and critical engagement. Have we ever so desperately needed education reform that encourages questioning, communication skills, and varied historical perspectives within its curriculum?

Unfortunately, critical thinking is on the decline. Not only are memorization, scripted lesson plans, and recited student answers becoming more common, with the expansion of No Child Left Behind and standardized testing; but critical thinking, questioning, and asking why is even discouraged.

News media now commonly portrays those with high levels of education, particularly ivy-league graduates who enter politics and use large words as “elitist.” This drive toward the appeal of the common man, the every-day Joe the plumber, is frightening on many levels. Why would we not want our brightest and most intelligent, educated individuals to be the ones making important political decisions? Are large words the only intimidating aspect of the intellectual politician? I certainly would not want someone without the appropriate education to perform surgery on me. Why would I want someone without experience, education, and a firm grasp of the English language to speak on my behalf as a political representative?  How can intelligence be considered a political liability?

Pop culture does little to help the case of the intellectual. Watching Paris Hilton and the Jersey Shore people shop, tan and swim all day, not pursing a moment of intellectual stimulation is making my job harder. While it has never been traditionally popular to place first in the science fair or to own the newest calculator, or to love books, glamorizing a lack of education is commonly advertised to adolescents. So many young adults are ill prepared for adulthood and living an extended adolescence of tuning out, not pursuing careers, and partying well into their thirties.  If not that path, so many adults find themselves on auto-pilot. Working in a cubical from eight to five, going home each night to the same routine, watching the game and drinking a beer on Sunday night, then push repeat. Yes, we may spend more and waste more than anyone before us, but is this really the best use of our time on this planet? Where is the intellectual engagement? Meaningful discussions? Or personal reflection?

Anti-Intellectualism isn’t anything new. Looking at societies throughout history, it is certainly advantageous for those in power to have an under-educated, particularly zealous group of followers. What can provide more trust, money, and support than people who refuse to ask questions of their leaders? Only now, as tea partiers are dressing as founding fathers they cannot name and reenacting historical events they cannot explain, it is becoming more apparent how far the scale is tipping – not in our favor.

This isn’t totally depressing, because although the problem may be serious and the sources may be beyond our control, we can and should do something about it.

As a child, my family was an anomaly among many of my friends. As opposed to enforcing a set religious dogma on me from birth and expecting me to follow it unquestioningly, I was encouraged to choose my faith and my beliefs based on critical thinking and questioning. As soon as I thought I had everything figured out, my mom would ask, “well, why do you think that?” And then I would have to think everything through once again.

From that starting point, I became free to question, think differently from my parents, and engage in open conversation and debate about issues of the environment, politics, and my own opinions that changed often through my teen and young adult years. This was certainly not the easiest route my parents could have chosen for our family. Because let’s face it, it would have been so much easier to have teenagers who didn’t ask for an explanation of my curfew time or how grounding me was a violation of my rights.

However, what would be more pleasing for a small conservative religious community than unquestioning, quiet, well-behaved young women and men? Some of you already know that Josh, my husband, and I have known each other since we were kids. And a great example of what I’m referring to here, is when, Josh and I were debate partners and we were in the same high school sociology class.  On several occasions, our teacher told the class things that were so obviously false, like people were homeless because they chose to be, and women’s rights in China and the MidEast were much better than they were in the U.S. Josh and I decided that the least we could do is bring printed articles of evidence to share with the class to disprove our teacher. As you might have guessed, we were kicked out of that class.  That same year while we were punished for challenging an all-knowing teacher, it was entirely acceptable for the conservative Christian students in our high school to be allowed to bring their Bibles to science class in a silent protest of the teaching evolution.

So many other communities are of a similar mindset, that children should remain unquestioning and obedient. Why do we want our children living like this? Yes, asking questions about science, about societal norms, about faith may bring undesirable results for those around you, but can also bring a depth of understanding, a journey of discovery, and such greater strength in what you do believe. Is that not what we are all striving for?

Even before today, I am sure most all of you recognized that anti-intellectualism is a major problem. We looked more closely at the causes of this problem, and then discussed possible solutions that can get us back on track. In closing, I would challenge us all to look at opportunities in our own lives to challenge, question, and encourage others to do the same.

Through my own journey, I cannot imagine a better fit for myself and for my family than a Unitarian Universalist church. There is not a better community of people who will encourage my son to ask why, consider multiple perspectives, and think critically about the world around him. I hope to resist rolling my eyes at the twentieth “why?” of the day, and I will continue to encourage Ben to question everything around him – even if it means he gets kicked out of high school sociology someday.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Learnin'

I can't even describe how busy we've been over the past month. Ben has moved beyond the complacent, play independently and sleep early stage into the needing attention every waking hour or else I have a meltdown stage.

He is absolutely loving first word books. So far, he recognizes and says ball, dog, tree, kitty, and onion. I think onion is the funniest. We don't even eat onions all that much, but I think he likes the way the word sounds. When he says it, it's more like "nun-nun," and it always cracks me up.

Monday, April 26, 2010


We all knew it would happen eventually - Ben is walking! I'm about ready to put his helmet back on until he masters a little more control (kidding). I'm sure in another couple of weeks it will be all I have to keep up with him. 

Along with walking, toddler behavior has also started appearing on occasion. We have had more than one instance of lying down, feet pounding, wails in reaction to a frustrating situation or not getting something he wanted. And so it begins...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Three Weeks Later

Wow! How this spring is getting away from me! I can't believe it's been three weeks since my last post. Ben has been non-stop motion that entire time. He now has a couple of new molars, which caused some sleep issues lately. I had a sinus infection and have been out of commission with severe spring allergies, and Josh has been traveling all over the state in an effort to push for smoke free legislation with his American Cancer Society position. Between all of that, I feel as if I haven't sat down in weeks.

We've been watering our seeds, but have not seen much activity yet. We may have been better off buying grow lights. Hopefully we will have a greenhouse next spring and not monopolize the dining room table / sliding glass door as our makeshift seed starting center. 

I am into the last five weeks of the school year and can't believe it's almost over. This has been the most incredible school year yet, and I have learned so much this year too. Today one of my students placed fifth in the regional math contest and 11 of my 13 students placed in the regional writing contest. Next week is the state-wide math competition. Although I'm not very competitive, and our school is not very competition focused, our students consistently rank high among area schools. With the contest experience from this year, I can't wait to see how we do next year.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Another video blog day. I've had a terrible time with allergies, which has now progressed into a sinus infection. I have had little energy left for creativity, projects, or much else.

Ben, on the other hand, is all energy all the time. When not playing piano, he picks up nearby objects and pretends to be on the phone. Occasionally, he's actually using a play phone.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Playing Piano

All of the children in my family, and both Josh and his sister took piano lessons as children. We all five took lessons from the same woman, in fact. For my college graduation gift, my grandfather gave me a piano that he carefully cleaned, re-felted, and tuned after purchasing it from an SBU auction. Piano playing is one of Ben's favorite pastimes. It will be before I know it, when he is old enough to start lessons. I think we will choose a different instructor, though.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

First Quilt

For the past several days Josh has been in Texas with work and my computer stopped working, so I had some time on my hands. I began and finished my first quilt! My inspiration was the pro-mom blogger SouleMama's log cabin quilt she made for her daughter. Her take on log cabin quilting - little measuring and any width of rectangles sewn together to make squares, seemed to fit my ability level. The quilt top went smoothly, but quilting the quilt was far more difficult than I expected. I made the quilt from one of my great grandmother's pillowcases, one of Josh's dress shirts, my old pajama shirt, and some of Ben's old pajamas mixed in with fabric remnants I already owned. Some of the fabric stretched more than others, and there are several mess up places across the top because of not accounting for the different materials. Next time I'm sticking to cotton and no stretch and I think it will work out much better. The batting is Soft and Natural 100% cotton and the underside is "super cuddle" white fuzzy fabric. This made for the perfect heavier weight throw. I made 12 squares, 18 inches across each, making a  54" x 72" blanket. I will try to post some close-ups soon.

Josh is now home from Texas (I'm sneaking a minute on his computer before he gets up). Ben is feeling better, but is still coughing a little and snotty. His grammy keeps promising me that with better weather, he should feel better soon. I certainly hope so.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Super Freakonomics

I finally finished Super Freakonomics. This book and its original - Freakonomics, contain a series of economic discussion questioning everyday behavior and social phenomena. The chapters seem somewhat disjointed and some topics are far less interesting than others, but they chose mainly controversial topics that have caused me to  question my own perspectives on several issues.

The authors begin discussing the statistical chances of being injured while walking drunk. A section of the first chapter is devoted to the declining IQ of schoolteachers. Although I recoiled at this initially, the logic and data maintains. Decades ago, teaching was the primary choice of females entering the workforce, and only the brightest qualified for those positions. Today, bright women may choose careers in business, law, medicine, education, along with so many others. The pool of bright women is diluted and the quality of education has declined at the same rate. Sadly, the only chance of returning to education becoming a select field is to increase teacher salaries and make that career option competitive with other equally demanding career fields.

Another notable section discusses the car seat industry denying the release of information comparing car seats to regular seat belts for young children (not infants/toddlers). The authors have independent research conducted and find that much simpler solutions could be built into cars, but the car seat lobby will not let that happen anytime soon.

I will not dissect each chapter, but the authors continue with discussing prostitution rates, terrorism, global warming/cooling, organ donation, and problems in the medical community. Through all of these areas, the authors dispel myths while sharing feasible options and explanations of how so many of these problems can be solved.

Some of my favorite classes in college were behavioral research, sociology, and statistics. I absolutely love to look at data and reevaluate situations and opinions for fallacies and statistical error. I may do a separate post on Freakonomics after I reread it to refresh my memory, but I would not hesitate to recommend the pair. Both of these books strive to find and explain "things you always thought you knew but didn't," with a rich bibliography and reference section in each if and when you find the need to conduct some fact checking of your own.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wooden Toys

I am in love with wooden toys. I know they get a bad rap for paint peeling and some containing lead paint, but for the most part, they are great. Ben has wooden puzzles, a set of wood blocks, wooden stacking rings, and his newest - a wooden hammer and pegs ($3 at a thrift store!) He also has one of those wooden activity centers like in doctors offices. Maybe it's the simplicity of these toys without any batteries or flashing lights.  Or the appeal may be my own nostalgia, picturing my own grandkids someday playing with these toys, but either way, they are my favorite.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Break

Spring break hasn't meant the same since college. I love that by teaching, I am able to continue to relax and refresh for one week each spring. But in college, I used this week to travel the country. In my four years of college, I visited Oregon, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Illinois. My friends and I mostly took road trips, particularly in the years I drove a conversion van. This makes my visit to Bolivar to see grandpa a little less exciting, but so much about my life has changed that sleep and laundry are far greater priorities for this week.

Ben and I both enjoy the extra time in pajamas. He has started mimicking behavior, and was feeding his dog a play bottle this morning.

He also had some awesome bed head, to go with his hip pajamas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

One Year Photos

We returned to JC Penny's for Ben's one year photos. I don't love them as much as his Christmas pictures, but they weren't bad for the price. I love the bright green on the white background. It seemed very springy. I also squeezed him into his Converse All-Star shoes, although they are a little small now. None of the pictures really showed his shoes anyway.

He was being a total ham during the photo session. We didn't bring any props except for his Build-A-Bear from Grammy and Poppy. It fit better with the darker background and overalls.

 was on such a great posting roll, then Ben was sick, then I was sick. We are now on spring break and I am hoping we will be able to get out of the house more, weather permitting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baby Signs

First, I can't believe I haven't yet posted that Ben no longer needs his helmet! This has been as much a relief for us as for him. The helmet was getting stinky and becoming a huge pain to deal with, and we are thrilled that all of that is over with. He doesn't go back to the neurosurgeon until next year, and he will probably need another CT scan when he's three.

We are working on a few baby signs. So far, he claps, waves hi, and raises his arms for "all done" and sometimes even says something that sort of sounds like "all done." He can say mom, dad, dog, uh-oh, and no. I am working on teaching him the signs for drink, food, and more, but the hardest part is being consistent. I think it will come more quickly when we are home together this summer (in two and a half short months from now.)

I am so eager for summer. These cold, dark, rainy days are tiring. I still don't feel caught up from daylight savings time and missing half a week of work last week. I do have a few more book reviews to write, mostly in thanks to the poor weather.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Outside Playhouse

As if Ben doesn't have enough, I came across this outdoor playhouse and it was a heck of a deal. I regularly frequent Children's Orchard, a used children's clothing store in Springfield. It's a chain, and I linked the title to their national website. They offer cash or store credit for used children's clothing, toys and equipment. This fits perfectly with my values of frugality, reusing, and not keeping what we don't need - even in storage.

On a regular basis, I try to bring in boxes of Ben's clothes as he outgrows them. I keep a running credit with the store and have come across great deals on a stroller, dress clothes for Ben, nursing clothes, and I even bought my Maya Wrap there.

At my most recent visit, I came across a mint condition playhouse, as pictured above. Within ten minutes of them bringing it out and assembling it, I bought it and they had to take it apart all over again. It included the printout of the same item new - priced at $250. The store priced it at $100 and I had $75 store credit, making it a $25 purchase. How could I resist?

The employees knew it wouldn't last long because it had been kept indoors only (until know) and is in such great shape. Ben is still nervous about crawling outside for some reason, but he'll cruise around cautiously, favoring the doorbell which makes different noises each time he presses it.

The slide is another one of Ben's awesome birthday gifts, and it seems to fit next to the house in his outdoor play area. We still haven't decided if his setup would be more practical near the clothesline or the garden, each on opposite sides of our house, but both requiring our time and attention. I'll probably ask Josh to drag it around to each side of the house at least a couple of times before I decide.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

In a rare move, I picked up a book of pure fiction. The Lace Reader was assigned to me by my book club - an eclectic group of mothers, people in education, architecture, law, and business. And if any of those ladies haven't finished the book yet, I promise not to reveal any spoilers.

The Lace Reader tells of Towner Whitney, a young woman from an upper-class family in Salem, Massachusetts. In spite of moving to California as an adult, she is drawn back into her confusing and estranged relationship with the women of her family. All of these women are "readers" of varying degrees, that is to say the read other's minds and fortunes with the aid of holding up a piece of lace and looking through it for images.

Just as The Thunderbolt Kid made me want to visit Des Moines, The Lace Reader made me want to visit Salem, Massachusetts - even more than Iowa (go figure). The descriptions of historical homes and streets, docks and harbors are seriously affecting my decisions about future vacations.

Throughout the novel is passages from "The Lace Reader," a guide on how to make and read lace. Descriptions of bone bobbins, lace pillows, and the ceremony of cutting off the lace is described in vivid detail in these introductions to each chapter.

The storyline is intriguing if not rambling. A murder mystery, love affair, religious cult, domestic abuse, and family drama, all intertwined, make for a book that is difficult to stop reading, even during the slow parts. Without saying too much more, the ending makes the journey worthwhile.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Restocking the Flock

A couple of weeks ago we suffered from a chickenocide. Although my spell check doesn't recognize the word my father-in-law should be credited with, our flock has suffered great loss. We awoke to dead chickens all over our yard and pasture, and only four remaining hens, stunned but unharmed. The small door to the coop was open, but the large door was locked. we are still not sure if it was a small dog or a opossum that killed and dragged our chickens across acres of land without actually eating or carrying them off.

One chicken was scared by the invader enough to jump the wooden fence into our backyard, where our own dogs picked up. We have a dog door leading from the backyard to our laundry room, and the next day I entered the laundry room to find a dead chicken and two proud dogs waiting for me. I then prepared to pack my bags and leave for Springfield for good. We already own a house there after all. It was almost too much.

However, after a night of reflection, we cleaned up the yard and began the search for suitable additions to the flock. As always, we found what we were looking for on Craigslist and Josh drove to Seymore for twenty three pullets and two roosters. He purchased a few different breeds, but mainly production reds this time around. We lost two in the first week, from the chickens crowding and trampling in transport and in the coop over the first day or two. The rest seem hearty and brave enough. 

The four big hens and the one duck are still laying and all of these changes didn't seem to affect their stride one bit.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Touch of Pneumonia

For those who know me personally, it may seem strange for me to be posting pictures of Ben playing and having fun, knowing he is home sick this week. 

I wrote all of this week's blog entries on Sunday evening. That is my new method of keeping up with the blog. I'm writing several entries at once, when I have the chance to sit down and concentrate, then they will be scheduled to post each evening during the week. I'm hoping this will help me stay with posting at least every other day or so, as things start to pick up around the farm this spring.

Ben woke up the next day with a fever and has had one since. We took him to the doctor Monday, Wednesday and again today, and he has the very earliest stages of pneumonia. His fever spiked to 105 degrees on Wednesday, and he was prescribed strong antibiotics to fight a throat infection and the pneumonia both. Josh and I have shared taking off from work all week, and he is doing better each day. He is having long crying jags that we aren't used to, and he has been getting up throughout the night - furthering our leanings toward having an only child. I already forgot the constant mind static I feel when I haven't had a good night's sleep. Today's picture is his actual state - mostly sleeping when not angry or eating. I'm sure he will feel better in another few days.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s may not sound like the most intriguing setting for a book. However, this is the hometown and era of Bill Bryson, upon which he reflects in his memoir - The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

I'm somewhat of a slow reader, and I always have more than one book going at once. This book took me a little over a month to finish, and the first half was far more intriguing than the second. I blogged about this book in late January here, The concept of photographing a year of food is fascinating. I would love for this moment to be recreated by researchers for the average American family today, but I can only imagine how disheartening it would be for nutritionists everywhere.

Bryson portrays the 1950s as happy and plastic. Cheerful yet almost too good to be true. His recollection is from  the skewed vision of his childhood. The streets of Des Moines, the department stores and historical homes, and sweet neighborhoods and grocery stores made me want to visit Des Moines, for no other reason than to find these places from the book.

However, the last half of the book features less humorous anecdotes and more emphasis on his teenage years, trying to find his dad's stash of men's magazines and cigarettes. He closes with a depressing look at Des Moines today, with most of the nostalgia from the first half of the book now bulldozed for the sake of Wal-Mart and a Travel Lodge.

The funny stories from the first half of his book have motivated me to try reading another of his - A Walk In The Woods, about his trek on the Appalachian Trail. I'll be sure to post about that one too.

Other upcoming book posts include The Lace Reader (recently finished reading for the first time), Super Freakonomics (just started reading that one, but I'll be sure to write a refresher about how much I loved the first book - Freakonomics), My Life as a Guinea Pig (still in the middle of), and another entry combining a few of the Malcom Gladwell books I've read over the past few months. I would have written about those earlier, but I'm still not sure what I think about them just yet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Preparation

We got a bit of a late start, but we have already purchased and received our seeds and began garden preparation. Last year we had six raised beds that were 6' x 6' each. We then tried square foot gardening in each of them. This proved to be difficult because of how hard it was to weed and harvest the middle, from standing outside of the boxes. so this year we took all of those boxes down but one and plowed over a much larger area to plant in rows.
The smaller garden near the house

We plowed the garden with a tractor that has been in Josh's family for quite some time. His father brought it to us last week and Josh could not be more thrilled. It's too tall to store in our barn due to the opening and layout of our barn, so he erected a carport next to the barn. The less exciting part of that day was picking rocks out of the garden. A rite of passage for any southern Missouri gardener, I believe.

The big garden
We are still deciding between renting or buying a tiller to pull behind the tractor to finish readying the garden. After that, we are going to divide the soil into wide rows for planting. Our seeds are either harvested from last year's crops, (mine and my grandfather's), or purchased from Baker Creek. I'm a little late starting some of them indoors, but I hope to get that going soon too.

Last year I mentioned several books that were used as garden resources when we were getting started (Square Foot Gardening and Carrots Love Tomatoes). This year, we are keeping the close container / square foot garden that's next to the house for lettuce, herbs, and a couple of tomato plants that we will be able to reach easily, but for the big garden, we are using Storey's Basic Country Skills as our primary resource.

Our little weed picker

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ben's Birthday Party

The weekend following Ben's birthday, we had a small family gathering to celebrate. We didn't have a theme or matching hats, but we did have good weather, farm animals and time to walk the trail and spend time outside with our nearest and dearest.

Because everyone's Saturdays are so busy, we decided to have a birthday brunch and serve breakfast food. It made good use of our eggs and was quick and easy to prepare. After presents we had homemade cupcakes, but Ben got the special birthday cake as seen in the picture.

Ben got his first real pair of cowboy boots from PFI, given to him by my parents' neighbors. He was pretty excited about them. He later discovered they are perfect containers for his wooden blocks too.

He received too many wonderful gifts for me to post a picture of him playing with each, but the tricycle above was another big hit. I love that it straps him in for now, but most of it comes apart and will leave him with a stand alone tricycle when he's old enough. We've already taken this one all over the farm and down to the pond and back. It's quite a workout to push that uphill through the weeds.

I hope no one felt left out, but I really enjoyed keeping his birthday a small family affair. The breakfast idea was a big hit, because everyone had the rest of the day to themselves and we had time to recuperate and clean up before going to a church event that evening. i'm still not entirely sure where we are going to put everything he got, though.

Monday, March 8, 2010

First Time Coloring

As suggested by our Parents as Teacher's person, we have started letting Ben practice coloring. He's a big fan for brief increments of time, followed by attempts to eat the crayons and paper.

I love the Crayola big pad of paper, and he actually did much better when the paper was held vertically, but I couldn't do that and hold the camera at the same time. After he had this paper pretty well covered, I cut it up and made it into thank you notes for his birthday presents. The "washable" part of these crayons proved to be true, as he enjoyed coloring his shirt as much as he enjoyed coloring the paper.

After a day of appointments, Ben has graduated from helmet therapy. These pictures are actually from a few days ago. His head isn't quite where they hoped it would be, but the surgeon said that we can expect no further change and the doctors are all pleased with the growth and shape of Ben's head. Considering his age and all he's gone through, everyone is impressed with how great he looks. We will continue to have annual checkups for the next couple of years, but the prognosis is good.

At the later appointment, his pediatrician postponed his vaccinations again because his ears are clear but he has a red throat and low grade fever. We're going back in another two weeks and hoping for health.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Catching My Breath

Whew, what a hectic few weeks we've had. I have plenty to write about - Ben's birthday party, spring farm preparation, a new outside playhouse for Ben, a new (to us) tractor, new chickens, first time coloring, and two books I just finished reading. I'm sure I could come up with even more, but I'm wanting to divide everything up to write shorter and (hopefully) more frequently.

Earlier this week, I had my first article published! Earlier, I posted my article submission here, about nursing through infant surgery. It made it into this month's La Leche League's New Beginnings (pages 10-11). I am so excited about being published. I've written an education article that was published locally a few years ago (about teaching reader's theater in the classroom), but this is the first major publication I've had. I absolutely love writing and hope to continue through this blog and maybe through other outlets as well.

Tomorrow, Ben has several appointments with his surgeons, doctor, helmet people. We will hopefully find out if he is finished with helmet therapy. I know we are certainly ready for it to be over with. It smells terrible and Ben has gone from being fine with it and used to sleeping in it, to dreading each time it has to go back on. I'll be sure to post how the day goes again tomorrow.

And, thanks for all of the comments and emails about Ben's playhouse. It was quite the project and I still haven't finished everything I would like to add and adjust with it, but Ben certainly enjoys crawling in and around it.

Pictures are from us spending time outside, taking advantage of this wonderful weather. Ben spent most of his time carefully studying bits of leaves and sticks, when not playing in his playhouse.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Ben!

Today Ben is one year old. He celebrated by skipping daycare and spending the day with grammy. He joined Josh for lunch and had dinner with grandma Sherry and grandpa Steve. Between all of that, I gave him his first haircut (just a little off the back) then quickly finished up his birthday present that I have been working on since a little after Christmas - Ben's Barn! It's a felt playhouse that fits over a card table.

The front is made to look like a barn door and he has a lamp on one side and a mailbox on the other. The mailbox opens and has letters that he can put through the opening. I made the lettering by printing the words "Ben's Barn" and then using that as a pattern to trace onto the felt.

One side has a vegetable garden with corn, radishes, onions inside pockets made to look like soil. Some of the vegetables have jingle bells sewn into them and others have crinkly plastic or other textured fabrics on the inside. The stems are bendy and made by sewing pipe cleaners into felt tubes. The corn is woven white and yellow corn, just like the corn we grew in our garden last summer.

The other side has an apple tree and a corral which holds his stuffed cow. The apples come off with velcro, and I may make pears or oranges to stick on there some day.

The back is our pond with velcro fish, a dragonfly, and cattails.

The inside is much less complicated, mostly covered in book pockets. 

I also used clear plastic sheeting to make picture frame pockets around the top of each wall.

And curtains for each of the side windows. The tiebacks are also tied around the legs of the card table to keep everything in place a little better.

And he has a fireplace in back. I still need to sew around each of the windows and trim the bottom a little. He absolutely loved playing with his barn. He crawled in and out through the door several times, then pulled all of the books out of the pockets, the apples off the tree, then crawled back in and out a few more times, trying to see if he could get his head through the mail slot. 

Felt is so forgiving and it is very much like using construction paper. Nothing was turned and top-stitched and everything but the lettering was cut freehand without doing much of any measuring. I sketched out my plans and I must give credit to my blog-spiration here. You will see many of her ideas repeated throughout my playhouse project, (mailbox, mesh in the windows to keep your kid from climbing through them, tree and garden ideas, etc.) and I am so grateful for her blog and sharing her creativity with the rest of us. She includes a lot more details about how to make each section and templates that make it possible to completely repeat her process.

I custom fit this to our small card table. I believe she used her dining room table, and somewhere she mentions that with felt, it is a little tricky to manage that much fabric when you are in the final stages of putting everything together. Because I did the inside and outside, I had a tough time managing the weight of the final project when I was sewing the finishing touches. I still need to go back and fix a couple of things and it's going to be tricky to keep the fabric from breaking the needle or pulling in the wrong direction.

I didn't use any patterns or templates, so I don't have any of that to share on here, but I think the best part about the barn is that I used features of our own farm and home. Ben's barn was the single biggest crafty/sewing project I have ever attempted and I think it was a big hit.

This is from his first haircut. I figured while I had the good scissors out I might as well cut a few of the long places in the back. I already don't like how old his haircut makes him look.

Monday, February 15, 2010


We started brushing Ben's seven teeth this week. He doesn't mind it as much as I expected.

Our helmet appointment was this afternoon and his head hasn't progressed any further over the past two appointments. He's very close to being within the "normal" range for his head size and proportions, but I'm not sure he's going to get there. Helmet therapy is so uncommon for children of his age, and their bone structure is not as mailable aside from surgery. We go to Dr. Sami again in March and we will hopefully "graduate" from helmet therapy. I am so ready to be done with it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Almost 1

Ben will be one a week from tomorrow! I realize how cliché it sounds, but his first year has gone by all too quickly. I tried so desperately to live in the moment and keep track of the most momentous events by writing them down. There are still moments too precious to capture here, like the connection we've had through nursing, or his excitement in initiating peek-a-boo for the first time.

Ben started daycare last week and will be going three days per week for the rest of the school year. He enjoys playing with the other children, but is still getting used to the new routine and the separation from familiar adults. He has been in the care of us or family exclusively until now. Considering that, he's doing quite well with this transition. The daycare workers have commented that he definitely lets everyone know if he needs something. I think that's a trait that Josh and I may have equally contributed to his personality.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Taxes Finished

Every year I have had to file taxes, I do my own. This makes my tenth year of being a taxpaying citizen, and my tenth year of filing with TurboTax online. I think most of the online programs are pretty comparable, but Josh ran the numbers through H&R Block and I used TurboTax and we ended up with a bigger refund through TurboTax. That doesn't really make sense, but I think it includes more deduction categories or something. Josh commented that this is such a good example of why the tax code needs to be simplified.

It took me about five hours this year because I had to total a mountain of medical bills and receipts. Our out of pocket medical expenses ended up being $6,892 for the year. That's not even including the three thousand we put on the flex spending account card. Unbelievable. We have health insurance. I really don't understand how people without health insurance can handle medical catastrophe without filing medical bankruptcy. I went through every bank statement for the year and highlighted the medical expenses, Josh's work expenses, and anything I spent on my classroom and it was fascinating to see what was left.

I didn't realize how our country's recession has affected us until I thought about last year compared to the previous year. Having a child has also changed our spending habits dramatically. I'm already trying to be optimistic about this year. Without major medical expenses, and with both of us working regular, salaried jobs that have taxes withheld, I think everything should go smoothly.

I am still adamant about cutting costs where possible. We may not need to buy shampoo or toiletries for another year with the amount I bought with my couponing binge. However, if we run out, there is no way I will shop without a coupon. We also purchased a Sam's club membership with intentions of buying in bulk to save. On diapers alone, we will make back our membership fee this year.

Ben is so, so close to taking his first steps. He stands for quite a while, and can walk all over the house if you hold one of his hands or if he's pushing his train.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Year of Food

This picture is from Life Magazine in 1951 and is an example of what the average blue collar family ate in one year. The amounts are based on Department of Agriculture statistics. The man in the picture worked for the Du Pont plant in Cleveland for $1.96 per hour. His family spent $25 per week on food.
This is the annual grocery list:
  • Evaporated milk, 56 cans
  • Cheese, 20 lb
  • Butter, 56 lb
  • Margarine, 21 lb
  • Milk, 698 qts
  • Peaches, 3 bu
  • Grapes, 2 boxes
  • Eggs, 131 doz
  • Apples, 2 crates
  • Oranges, 2 crates
  • Cantaloupes, 1 crate
  • Lemons, 1 crate
  • Watermelons, 2
  • Plums, 1 box
  • Bananas, 1 stalk
  • Peaches, 20 cans
  • Cherries, 11 cans
  • Frozen corn, 2 cases
  • Frozen orange juice, 48 cans
  • Shortening, 72 lb
  • Flour, 450 lb
  • Dried fruit, 8 pkg
  • Sugar, 350 lb
  • Pears, 15 cans
  • Bread, 180 loaves
  • Tomatoes, 15 baskets
  • Potatoes, 690 lb
  • Beans, 3 baskets
  • Radishes, 1 basket
  • Squash, 1 basket
  • Cucumbers, 1 basket
  • Beets, 3 baskets
  • Ice cream, 8 ½ gal
  • Lettuce, 2 crates
  • Cauliflower, 1 crate
  • Cabbage, 1 crate
  • Carrots, 1 crate
  • Celery, 1 crate
  • Peas, 1 bu
  • Onions, 1 sack
  • Orange juice,11 cans
  • Spinach, 22 cans
  • Sauerkraut, 12 cans
  • Cereal, 48 pkg
  • Coffee, 39 lb
  • Tea, 12 lb
  • Ham, 144 lb
  • Pork loins, 132 lb
  • Saddle lamb, 15 lb
  • Saddle veal, 30 lb
  • Carp, 25 lb
  • Salmon, 20 lb
  • Chickens, 31
  • Turkeys, 2
  • Beef, 300 lb

This two and a half tons of food is such a clear example of hour our food choices have changed over the past sixty years. I first saw this photo in Bill Bryson's memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a comical reflection of his childhood in the 1950s. He features this picture on the first two pages of the book and refers to it as an example of how plentiful and happy most Americans were during the 1950s. From there, I researched the photograph further and found the actual list, particularly the amount of fresh produce and basic supplies and materials, fascinating. I would be interested to catalog and document the groceries we purchase for a year. I'm not sure if I would be as proud to share that list all of the time. It certainly would not include three baskets of beets, 15 pounds of saddle lamb, or 72 pounds of shortening. I still love the idea of going back to basics.

Ben has started to move into the next box of hand me downs (size 12 months), and I'm so excited about all of the new cute things he has to wear. Josh picked out this outfit for church this morning. It was a pretty big hit, but I can't believe how old he looks.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Food Rules

Michael Pollan's latest book, Food Rules, is a very quik read, and refueled my interest in nutritional anthropology and making better choices about my food. Michael Pollan wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both of which I recommend for everyone to read. He also contributed a great deal to Food Inc., one of the best food documentaries I've seen. For those of you smirking at the idea of comparing that to all the food documentaries I've seen, I would recommend the following: Supersize Me, Food Fight, King Corn, Fast Food Nation, and The Future of Food. I know this may seem so far out there, but I honestly believe that our food choices, how, where and what we eat, can be one of the biggest shifts that Americans can make in order to solve obesity, the health care and welfare crisis, and even the increasing problems children are having in school (ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and poor social and emotional coping skills, etc.)

Back to the book at hand, Pollan outlines very basic rules to follow that would accomplish all of these changes. But I will be the first to admit that food choice habits are so hard to break. Some of my favorite rules are:
#2 - Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
#7 - Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third grader could not pronounce.
#13 - Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
#22 - Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
#46 - Stop eating before you're full.
This continues on through 64 rules, each with a short explanation. This short book is a good compliment to his two longer texts which have the same general theme with much, much greater detail. I feel so strongly about this issue and I truly believe that changing what we eat can change our nation.

In related news, we just placed our seed order with Baker Creek Seeds and we have some big plans for the garden this year!

Ben is up to seven teeth, and he can stand on his own for a few seconds. He hasn't tried to take any steps yet, but he will walk all over the house on his own while pushing his train. Thanks to Tiffany for the cute monkey tags shirt!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

House For Sale

No, we aren't moving. The tenant recently moved out of a house we own in Springfield and we are in the midst of serious preparation to get that house ready to sell. We have been at the Springfield house over the weekend and every weeknight to paint, clean carpets, scrub down walls, and try to get the house in decent condition to list. We are going to start off listing it ourselves, but will resort to hiring a realtor if we have no interest in the home for long enough. It's a three bedroom, 1 1/2 bath, two car garage house and I think it will be pretty nice once it's all fixed up. As soon as we finish all of the painting and cleaning necessary, we are going to stage it with furniture from our house and borrowed from our family members. The whole process is a little stressful with everything else going on, but I'm still feeling optimistic about the whole thing.

Ben started daycare this week too. We only sent him for a couple of half days. He had a great time the first day, but wasn't as happy about going this morning. We called around, toured, and carefully chose a place to send him. I feel comfortable with the location, but there will be some adjustment for Ben getting used to his first time being in the care of a non-family member. He's never even gone to the church nursery, so spending a day with strangers is a pretty big leap for the little guy.

He is pulling himself up to standing and standing alone for a few seconds at a time, but hasn't attempted taking any steps yet. We haven't seen him as much lately because of working full time, then going over to the Springfield house to paint and clean until late each night. I think this is making him extra clingy when we finally do see him. There is supposed to be another big snowstorm, so we're expecting to all be snowed in together for the next few days. That might not be such a bad thing.