Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coloring with Quality

I recently pulled out some real colored pencils for First Son. I found them on clearance at the local art store a few months ago and was saving them for a special occasion (meaning when I really needed him to be occupied while I finished something). I will never ever buy Crayola ones again. The artist-quality colored pencils have much brighter and more vibrant colors and flow more smoothly onto the paper. More importantly, they don't break as often and they are easier to sharpen. They are more expensive but they will last us a whole lot longer! I haven't actually tried out other brands, which might be just as good. I'm going to watch the paper for the 40% off coupons they put in the ads every now and then and send Kansas Dad to pick out a new set just about every time (which will be even cheaper than the clearance price I paid). I sense all three kids will receive a set of colored pencils (or two) next year for Christmas.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Review: NurtureShock

I posted some quotes and discussion on chapters two, three, four, five, six and nine earlier, but wanted to comment briefly on some of the other chapters.

Chapter one took a look at praise and why it's not so useful after all, including when it is useful (when it's specific). I had read all that before and probably you have, too, but if not, check it out.

Chapter seven focused on teenagers and arguments with parents, explaining why arguments themselves may not be bad after all. They tend to show respect (as opposed to just going behind a parent's back). If given some respect of their own with concessions when they make sense, teens who argue are actually less likely to be in real trouble. I thought it was interesting, but it wasn't pertinent to our own family yet.

In chapter eight, you can read about an astounding preschool and kindergarten curriculum (though it seems to me more of a process) that is providing amazing gains for children in districts across the country (so much so that some have lost at-risk funding because the children no longer test as at-risk). If you are homeschooling young children, do yourself a favor and find a copy of this book. You can also read about Tools of the Mind here. With a few simple methods, children are focusing on improving their self-control, patience, and focus (avoiding internal and external distractions). Surprisingly enough, these traits prepare children better for learning in later grades than letter and number work (though they do some of that, too). Some of the techniques are easily adapted for the homeschool and we may be trying them out, though I think there are lots of ways to focus on the same skills in other ways outside the classroom environment. One of the aspects I most appreciate in the program is the 45 minutes they devote to sustained imaginative play.

Chapter ten discussed strategies for teaching our children the spoken language. I wasn't too surprised at most of the research presented as I think I'd read of much of it before, but I'm still always fascinated by it. Our three children have always seemed a little slow to get started when talking but seem to catch up in about a week near eighteen months. I did have to wonder how Second Daughter would fare on the standard survey of words, given that she says things like Jesus and chocolate but took so long to consistently say Mama. (I'm not worried about her language development, by the way. I expect she'll follow First Daughter's example, who said about five words at fifteen months and was speaking in complete paragraphs by eighteen months.)

If a parent is concerned about speech development, the most important thing seems to be responding to vocalizations made by the infant or toddler quickly and appropriately. One interesting quote:

[Y]ou might think kids need to acquire a certain number of words in their vocabulary before they learn any sort of grammar--but it's the exact opposite. Grammar teaches vocabulary.

The conclusion presents some interesting research on gratitude, happiness and general well-being in the context of a discussion on research on children's well-being in all areas of growth, giving two assumptions that have been incorrect time and again in the studies they presented.

The first assumption is that things work in children in the same way that they work in adults.


The second assumption to that positive traits necessarily oppose and ward off negative behavior in children.

This book is well-worth your time. It doesn't take very long to read and brings to light the kind of research going on right now that can benefit parents immediately (and they present clearly ideas you can use). Amazingly, they have over 80 pages of notes referencing actual research papers.

They mention in the introduction how cavalierly the media treat research like this. If there's nothing better (meaning more sensational) to report, a new research study will be noted, not in relation to its actual importance or usefulness, but dependent on how much space or time that needs to be filled. This book fills a need parents have for accurate information to counter what we may be reading in parenting magazines or the general media.

I had to wait in line for it at the library, but it was worth it.

Getting Back to Normal

My extended family just left and we're settling back into normal. The kitchen is a mess and there's laundry to be done, but I think I need a nap first. Just watching the cousins run around was exhausting! So much fun, though. Pictures to come, I'm sure.

Hope you had a relaxing Thanksgiving and are enjoying as much beautiful weather as we have!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Quote: NurtureShock

We thought that aggressiveness as the reaction to peer rejection, so we have painstakingly attempted to eliminate peer rejection from the childhood experience. In its place is elaborately orchestrated peer interaction. We've created the play date phenomenon, while ladening older kids' schedules with after-school activities. We've segregated children by age--building separate playgrounds for the youngest children, and stratifying classes and teams. Unwittingly, we've put children into an echo chamber. Today's average middle schooler has a phenomenal 299 peer interactions a day. The average teen spends sixty hours a week surrounded by a peer group (and only sixteen hours a week surrounded by adults). This has created the perfect atmosphere for a different strain of aggression-virus to breed--one fed not by peer rejection, but fed by the need for peer status and social ranking. The more time peers spend together, the stronger this compulsion is to rank high, resulting in the hostility of one-upmanship. All those lessons about sharing and consideration can hardly compete. We wonder why it takes twenty years to teach a child how to conduct himself in polite society--overlooking the fact that we've essentially left our children to socialize themselves.

From Chapter Nine: Plays Well With Others in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Saturday, November 21, 2009

By the Way

As of yesterday, Second Daughter very clearly says Mama, but she usually screams "Mom!"

She is often carrying a book she wants me to read. Immediately. I think once I heard her say "Mom read book!" but it's just as likely she thinks "Mom" means "Mom read book."

It's adorable. I think my throat hurts from all the reading, but I don't care.

Wishing You a Wonderful Week

The first wave of guests for Thanksgiving arrives tomorrow (the second wave on Tuesday). We have a busy week that will include all the traditional Thanksgiving eating as well as birthday cake. I am so excited to have them all coming!!

As we'll be focusing on real life this week, I won't be spending much time online. I want to wish you all safe travels and a Happy Thanksgiving!

Discussion: NurtureShock

Observational studies have determined that siblings between the ages of three and seven clash 3.5 times per hour, on average. Some of those are brief clashes, others longer, but it adds up to ten minutes of every hour spent arguing. According to Dr. Hildy Ross, at the University of Waterloo, only about one out of every eight conflicts ends in compromise or reconciliation--the other seven times, the siblings merely withdraw, usually after the older child has bullied or intimidated the younger.

In case you can't tell, I'm finding this book enlightening. I just love it when people look at objective longitudinal studies and tell us what's really making a difference.

In Chapter Six, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explore sibling relationships.

Kramer learned that sibling relationship quality is remarkably stable over the long term. Unless there ha been some major life event in the family--an illness, a death, a divorce--the character of the relationship didn't change until the eldest moved out of the house. for the most part, the tone established when they were very young, be it controlling and bossy or sweet and considerate, tended to stay that way.

Kansas Dad and I have a responsibility to help our children develop strong relationships with each other. It is not enough to simply give them more brothers and sisters; we mush show them how to be a family, how to show their love for each other and how to support each other. Now, it means taking turns being the leader in the parade. When they're grown, loving each other will mean things like planning a wedding shower in the throes of secret morning sickness and smiling the whole time. (Okay, not First Son, but I trust you can generalize.)

[I]n many sibling relationships, the rate of conflict can be high, but the fun times in the backyard and in the basement more than balance it out. This net-positive is what predicts a good relationship later in life. In contrast, siblings who simply ignored each other had less fighting, but their relationship stayed cold and distant long term.

When the kids have free play time, I'm usually within earshot, listening as I fold laundry or wash the dishes. I tend not to interfere when I hear arguments, preferring to let them settle their own differences. As parents, though, we should be instilling in our children the skills and knowledge they need to not only resolve their differences, but to play together harmoniously more often than not. These good times are literally the foundation of their life-long relationships with each other. Brandy had a wonderful post of this very understanding recently.

The authors describe what seems to be a wonderful program at my dad's beloved University of Illinois that teaches siblings skills in four sessions that prepare them to interact with each other without resorting to fisticuffs, yelling or silent treatments (and presumably it would generalize to interactions outside the family as well), "More Fun with Sisters and Brothers."

Kramer's program is unique in the field--she doesn't attempt to teach children some kinder version of conflict mediation. Grown-ups have a hard enough time mastering those techniques--attentive listening, de-escalation, avoiding negative generalizations, offering compliments. Instead, the thrust of Kramer's program is made in its title--getting siblings to enjoy playing together.


Along the way, the children adopt a terminology for how to initiate play with their siblings, how to find activities they both like to do together, and how to gently decline when they're not interested.


In Kramer's program, fewer fights are the consequence of teaching the children the proactive skills of initiating play on terms they can both enjoy. It's conflict prevention, not conflict resolution. Parents are mere facilitators; when back at home, their job is to reinforce the rule that the kids should use their steps together to work it out, without the parent's help.

It seems to me that the program not only teaches skills useful to all relationships, but it supports the family as a whole by bolstering the relationships at its core. There's no reason parents should not use the very same skills to ensure they are responding to the needs of the children as well. (I'm reminded of this quote.)

We have some wonderful friends in Boston who modeled some of these very concepts in how they were teaching their two sons (then) to resolve conflicts: considering who he could control (himself), accepting that his brother may want to do something else, recognizing the feelings of his brother. As with everything we teach our children (especially in reaction to behaviors that are already present), helping them to develop these kinds of skills is a long-term project. It can be especially frustrating, I think, for the older children who must accept the more limited capabilities of their younger siblings. First Son, for example, may have a greater ability to control his own impulses, but he still has a difficult time understanding that First Daughter does not yet have that same control, not to mention Second Daughter who wants desperately to do whatever they are doing but does it all wrong.

Then, the chapter got more interesting. There were some research studies on educational videos and books on sibling relationships and conflict management (like Sesame Street and the Berenstain Bears). They found, objectively, what I have often believed: These books and videos make everything worse! I contacted the program coordinator of Dr. Laurie Kramer's program, Mary Lynn Fletcher, who was not only very kind, but forwarded me a copy of the article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly showing the analysis of 261 children's books. (How wonderful!) From the abstract:

Results indicated that although children's books often represent warmth and involvement between siblings, they rarely described children engaging in conflict management or relationship maintenance activities. Parents were predominantly portrayed as responding to children's conflict using controlling methods rather than techniques that might foster negotiation and problem solving.

I already have a habit of excluding (before reading to the children) books that depict negative behavior (actions or words) between siblings and friends, especially if it's behavior my kids are not yet demonstrating. As mentioned in NurtureShock, I think it very likely my young children are more likely to mimic the negative actions or words than to fully understand and implement any resolutions that do appear.

I do think such books can be useful with young children if the children are already exhibiting the behavior, the book demonstrates clearly and consistently the disadvantages of the behavior, the behavior changes by the end of the book, and reading the book is accompanied by explicit instruction or discussion between child and parent about the behavior and its consequences, including alternative ideas for ways to express feelings. (I have similar feelings on books about how monsters in the closet aren't scary. My kids didn't think there were monsters in the closet, but sometimes they do now. I usually regret it when things like this slip past me in books.)

One of the best predictors of how well two siblings get along is determined before the birth of the younger child...Instead, the predictive factor is the quality of the older child's relationship with his best friend.

Seem counter-intuitive?

It's long been assumed that siblings learn on one another, and then apply the social skills they acquire to their relationships with peers outside the family. Kramer say it's the other way around: older siblings train on their friends, and then apply what they know to their little brothers and sisters.

What stood out the most? Fantasy play. It requires children to respond to each other, to attend to the actions of the friend and communicate their own thoughts in the scenario.

Friends, you see, can leave. They can decline to play. Children learn how they must behave so that their friends will want to play again on another day. Siblings, however, aren't going anywhere. It doesn't matter how rude or bossy you are, they'll still be there in an hour or the next day. (By the way, the "social skills" developed in a preschool or day care environment weren't enough. The benefits were associated with real friendships.)

It seems that teaching our children to view each other as friends is vastly important. I think we can see this in some of the older children's literature. I wish I could think of a specific example, but I'm thinking of books like Little Women and Rainbow Valley. (Did these books actually depict sibling conflicts?) I remember reading of the childish agony of brothers and sisters who were separated by anger, even if in a silly argument, and their great desire and joy in reconciling. (I also think these types of books are probably showing a great many positive interactions for the few negative ones, and they are addressed to older children who have a more developed understanding of conflict resolution.)

Based on Chapter Six: The Sibling Effect in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Friday, November 20, 2009

Quote: NurtureShock

The issue isn't some innate flaw with intelligence tests. The problem is testing kids too young, with any kind of test.

The real problem:

In applying the science to the reality, the problem doesn't seem to lie with the age of initial screening. Even in kindergarten, a few children are clearly and indisputably advanced. Instead, what stands out as problems are: the districts who don't give late-blooming children additional chances to test in, and the lack of objective retesting to ensure the kids who got in young really belong there.

What everyone should know:

[I]t needs to be recognized that no current test or teacher ratings systems, whether used alone or in combination on such young kids, meets a reasonable standard of confidence to justify a long-term decision. Huge numbers of great kids simply can't be "discovered" so young.

How the tests really fail our kids:

Real intellectual development doesn't fit into nicely rounded bell curves. It's filled with sharp spikes in growth and rough setbacks that have to be overcome.

We need to question why this idea of picking the smart children early even appeals to us. We set this system up to make sure natural talent is discovered and nurtured. Instead, the system is failing a majority of the kids, and a lot of natural talent is being screened out.

From Chapter Five: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Morning Prayers, More and More

When we first started officially homeschooling, I instituted morning prayers. From the beginning, Kansas Dad thought the second prayer "Watch O Lord" lent itself too much to the evening to be the best part of our morning ritual, but I really liked it, so we kept it for a while.

Recently, though, we switched. At our parish, we always say the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of mass. I thought including it in our morning prayer would help First Son and First Daughter become familiar with it, so they could recite along with everyone else. We still say our morning prayer, just follow it with this one instead of "Watch O Lord."

Because "Watch O Lord" was a bit long, I didn't expect the children to memorize it, but they had! Kansas Dad usually reads and prays with the older two at bedtime. There's an elaborate ritual involved: one book from each (Kansas Dad is reading snippets from The Book of Virtues as his choice each night), then lights out and rocking for one song with First Daughter, then rocking for one song with First Son (they take turns picking the music; First Daughter always picks Junior's Bedtime Songs while First Son always picks Rock-A-Bye Veggie), then Kansas Dad prays for God and his angels to watch over all the kids (and so on), then each of the kids prays whatever they like, then Kansas Dad prays something more traditional like a Hail Mary.

Well, it turns out First Daughter has been reciting "Watch O Lord" as her prayer a great many evenings. It is such a sweet sound to hear her little voice recite the prayer!

Lessons Learned

In an effort to increase Second Daughter's fat intake, we want to feed her more yogurt. Unfortunately, the organic whole milk yogurt at the store is very expensive, even the big containers that don't have pictures of babies on them. I was recently reminded by some friends that I can make my own yogurt.

Only I learned making yogurt in my crockpot is not going to work in the wintertime. I ended up with cold milk, a little soured. It's just too cold in my kitchen. (I should have known since even in the bread machine I have to increase the amount of yeast I use in the winter.)

I tried a more traditional method (cooking the milk on the stove then placing it in the oven) but managed to end the process halfway through by letting the oven get too hot and killing the bacteria. (The chickens liked it, though.) It would be fine if I could get six hours of guaranteed interruption-free time.

So, the moral of the story is: we buy our yogurt until spring. (Kansas Dad joked we could just set our thermostat higher, but I think that would be more expensive in the long run than buying the yogurt.)

Also, in case you were wondering, shelling popcorn is not as easy as all the books and websites would have you believe. (They all just say "Shell your popcorn, store and eat!") I spent a few hours (while also overseeing snack time and paper plate turkey construction) shelling it by hand and ended up with half a quart jar of popcorn and a big blister on my thumb. We're going to try one of these, even if they say it doesn't work. There has to be a better way. (I'd be happy for any advice on the matter.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quote: NurtureShock

Parents often fail to address early childhood lying, since the lying is almost innocent--their child's too young to know what lies are, or that lying's wrong. When their child gets older and learns those distinctions, the parents believe, they lying will stop. This is dead wrong, according to Dr. Talwar. The better a young child can distinguish a lie from truth, the more likely she is to lie given the chance.

It happens every day:

In studies where children are observed in their homes, four-year-olds will lie once every two hours, while a six-year-old will like about once an hour. Few kids are an exception. In these same studies, 96% of all kids offer up lies.

Learning about white lies:

Simultaneously as they learn to craft and maintain a lie, kids also learn what it's like to be lied to. But children don't start out thinking lies are okay, and gradually realize they're bad. The opposite is true. They start out thinking all deception--of any sort--is bad, and slowly realize that some types are okay.

How parents can stop lying:

What really works is to tell the child, "I will not be upset with you if you peeked, and you tell the truth. I will be really happy." This is an offer of both immunity and a clear route back to good standing. Talwar explained this latest finding: "Young kids are lying to make you happy--trying to please you." So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the kid's original thought that hearing good news--not the truth--is what will please the parent.

We teach our children to lie:

Despite the number of times she's seen it happen, she's regularly amazed at parents' apparent inability to recognize that a white lie is still a lie.

Why it matters:

Encouraged to tell so many white lies, children gradually get comfortable with being disingenuous. Insincerity becomes, literally, a daily occurrence. They learn that honestly only creates conflict, while dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict. And while they don't confuse white-lie situations with lying to cover their misdeeds, they bring this emotional groundwork from one circumstance to the other.

On tattling:

They've learned that nine times out of ten a kid runs up to a parent to tell [tattle], that kid is being completely honest. And while it might seem to a parent that tattling is incessant, to a child that's not the case--because for every one time a child seeks a parent for help, there were fourteen other instances when he was wronged and did not run to the parent for aid.

When the child--who's put up with as much as he can handle--finally comes to tell the parent the honest truth, he hears, in effect, "Stop bringing me your problems!" According to one researcher's work, parents are ten times more likely to chastise a child for tattling than they are to chide a child who lied.


The era of holding information back from parents has begun.

From Chapter Four: Why Kids Lie in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Looking Forward

Kansas Dad adjusted Second Daughter's car seat today, and changed it to forward-facing. I've heard it's a good idea to keep babies rear-facing as long as possible, but she'd outgrown the limits of the seat. She took her first ride to get an H1N1 shot and didn't seem to enjoy it very much.

On the bright side, we waited about one minute after I finished filling out the forms. I took them to a mobile clinic in a near-by small town and it was wonderful compared to the huge waits I heard about at clinics in the big city near-by.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quote: NurtureShock

For decades, we assumed that children will only see race when society points it out to them. That approach was shared by much of the scientific community--the view was that race was a societal issue best left to sociologist and demographers to figure out. However, child development researchers have increasingly begun to question that presumption. They argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue--but we tell kids that "pink" means for girls and "blue" is for boys. "White" and "black" are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own.


We might imagine we're creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender--they're plainly visible. We don't have to label them for them to become salient. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use T-shirt colors.

Don't be afraid to talk about it:

The point Katz emphasizes is that during this period of our children's lives when we imagine it's most important to not talk about race is the very developmental period when children's minds are forming their first conclusions about race.


It's possible that by third grade, when parents usually recognize it's safe to start talking a little about race, the developmental window has already closed.

Environment isn't enough:

The other deeply held assumption modern parents have is what Ashley and I have come to call the Diverse Environment Theory. If you raise a child with a fair amount of exposure to people of other races and cultures, the environment becomes the message. You don't have to talk about race--in fact, it's better to not talk about race. Just expose the child to the diverse environments and he'll think it's entirely normal.

Kids self-segregate:

Those increased opportunities to interact are also, effectively, increased opportunities to reject each other. And that is what's happening.

Race can be discussed like gender:

What jumped out at Phyllis Katz, in her study of 200 black and white children, was that parents are very comfortable talking to their children about gender, and they work very hard to counterprogram against boy-girl stereotypes. That ought to be our model for talking about race.


To be effective, researchers have found, conversations about race have to be explicit, in unmistakeable terms that children understand.

From Chapter Three: Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quote: NurtureShock

The performance gap caused by an hour's difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader. Which is another way of saying that a slightly sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a mere fourth-grader. "A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development."


Perhaps most fascinating, the emotional context of a memory affects where it gets processed. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

Teenagers suffer the most:

Brown's Mary Carskadon has demonstrated that during puberty, the circadian system--the biological clock--does a "phase shift" that keeps adolescents up later. In prepubescents and grownups, when it gets dark outside, the brain produces melatonin, which makes us sleepy. But adolescent brains don't release melatonin for another 90 minutes. So even if teenagers are in bed at ten p.m. (which they aren't), they lie awake, staring at the ceiling.

Awakened at dawn by alarm clocks, teen brains are still releasing melatonin. This pressures them to fall back asleep--either in first period at school or, more dangerously, during the drive to school. Which is one of the reasons young adults are responsible for more than half of the 100,000 "fall asleep" crashes annually.

The schools don't help:

While the evidence is compelling, few [school] districts have followed this lead. Conversely, 85% of America's public high schools start before 8:15 a.m., and 35% start at or before 7:30 a.m.


But of all the arguments [Dr. Mark Mahowald, Director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center has] heard, no one's argument is that children learn more at 7:15 a.m. than at 8:30. Instead, he forcefully reasons, schools are scheduled for adult convenience: there's no educational reason we start schools as early as we do. "If schools are for education, then we should promote learning instead of interfere with it," he challenges.

It's not just academics:

Several scholars have noted that many hallmark traits of modern adolescence--moodiness, impulsiveness, disengagement--are also symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation. Might our culture-wide perception of what it means to be a teenager be unwittingly skewed by the fact they don't get enough sleep?

But there's more:

All the studies point in the same direction: on average, children who sleep less are fatter than children who sleep more.

A big difference:

Among the middle schoolers and high schoolers studied, the odds of obesity went up 80% for each hour of lost sleep.

From Chapter Two: The Lost Hour in NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashely Merryman

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Quick Breads on the Range

I have been making a lot of quick breads and muffins recently. This has mostly been in an effort to discover the staple pumpkin muffin recipe for our family (and I'm still working on it). It has also had the wonderful advantage of stocking my freezer with four or five loaves of bread to pull out when we have guests for Thanksgiving. I have developed a little system that works very well for us.

First, understand that I consider all quick bread recipes fair game for muffins and vice versa. Just modify your cooking time (and the pan, of course). Muffins will bake for 20-25 minutes and loaves for 45-65 minutes, depending on the recipe, the pans selected and how full you make your muffins. After a while, you'll get a feel for how long it takes to make a favorite recipe in the pans you have and will hardly have to check to see if they're done. (I make a note to myself the first few times I bake something so I have a very good idea when to check in subsequent attempts.)

If I have enough ingredients on hand (and of course I like to keep our baking supplies well-stocked), I double the recipe. It takes almost no extra effort with twice the results!

As a side note, I almost always replace half the oil in muffin and bread recipes with ground flaxseed. Just triple the amount of oil when measuring the flaxseed and add to the dry ingredients. So, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup oil, I use 1/4 cup oil and 3/4 cup ground flaxseed (1/4 * 3). I love the rich nutty flavor and it's supposedly healthier. My local Kroger affiliate sells a 16 oz bag for $2.99, less on sale, which is a better price than Amazon. We keep meaning to check the local health food store to see if they have it in bulk for less.

Just about every recipe will tell you to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, but I don't. I can't mix much by hand because of tendonitis, so I depend heavily on my power mixer. (We bought ours on clearance just before our wedding and it was the best use of a gift card in my life. I'm pretty sure we use it at least once a day...but I digress.) I always mix my wet ingredients in the mixer and then add the dry. They always turn out just fine. (I do try to fold in extras like nuts and chocolate chips by hand right at the end.)

Now the batter is ready. I always make 18 muffins (even if the recipe is for 12) and one loaf. I never use liners when I'm making muffins. If I'm making something with lots of fruit (like blueberry sour cream muffins...mmmm), I spray the tins with Pam with flour. Otherwise I just use regular cooking spray. (Since you usually have to spray liners anyway, it's cheaper just to omit them. After a while your pans will be well seasoned and you may find you prefer the liner-less taste as well.)

I use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to fill the muffin tins. I wipe off the excess, so each muffin really is 1/3 cup. Then I pour the rest of the batter into the loaf pan. I can fit my 12 muffin pan, my 6 muffin pan and my loaf pan all on one rack in the oven. I just pull out the muffins around 20 minutes and move the loaf pan to the center to finish baking. Per the good advice of Whole Grain Baking, I let the muffins cool in the pans for about ten minutes, then pull them out to cool completely.

Muffins are more versatile than loaves for us. I like having the portions already decided and the 18 muffins instead of 12 means they're a little smaller portioned (which is less helpful if you decide you can eat two or three since they're "smaller," not that I know from experience or anything). Also, it's nice to be able to taste a muffin before deciding to give the loaf away, especially if it's a new recipe or I was out of something (which of course never happens, or only sometimes, or every other time I bake). I often freeze the muffins so Kansas Dad can pull a few out for lunches and snacks.

Recently, I've been freezing the loaves. I have a banana nut one baking right now to add to the pumpkin chocolate chip loaves in the freezer for our guests. If by any chance we don't eat them, I can send every family home with a loaf!

Anyone else have muffin tips to share?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thankful Thursday

Today, Moses made a mess on the carpet, so I put him on the line outside while I cleaned up. Then I read stories and put the girls in their rooms for naps and then...I got distracted. About an hour and a half later, I remembered him...and he was gone.

He'd pulled up his stake and was nowhere in sight.

Oh, he's run away...he could be anywhere. He could be run over by a car. He could be...

First Son was asking, "Mom, where's Moses?"

I decided to go to the front yard and call him from there...and there he was, just outside the front door. Oh, thank goodness.

He was treated to two hot dogs as a reward.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Case You Need Just One More Book

Back in October, Mum in Bloom recommended a new website to me: Just One More Book!

I haven't had a chance to listen to many of the podcasts, but I have created a list of books they reviewed that I want to check out for our family. After eliminating the ones we'd already read and the ones I knew immediately were inappropriate for us, I still have over 300 books. That's just from the actual reviews. It looks like they also have some interviews with authors and illustrators, so it could be a resource for children that are interested in learning more about the writing process.

It's ridiculous how excited I am about reading all these books. Thanks again, Mum in Bloom!

The Molars Are In

Second Daughter now has four molars poking through. Whew. That was a few tough weeks with all four breaking through at the same time. For her and for us. Let's just hope she starts sleeping better soon.

She also has a fat lip. That's not really going to help the sleeping.

WFMW: Cleaning that Kleen Kanteen

Anyone else ever reach for the Klean Kanteen with soapy hands and realize the lid is still tight? If Kansas Dad (or someone dear to your heart) isn't around, I have to rinse and dry my hands, open the bottle, and then start washing again. At least, that's what I used to do. Kansas Dad (as always) had a brilliant idea.

Now I just grab a wooden spoon, thread it through the hole at the top and use it as a lever. Works perfectly every time, soapy hands and all.

That's what works for me. Head over to We Are THAT Family for more Works for Me Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Case You Want to Try Some Veggies

We've been watching Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving and it's fine. Nothing too amazing, but not too bad. Here on the Range, we are firm fans of Veggies. First Son himself has pre-bought a few of the recent videos. We simply must own them all. I've resigned myself to the fact.

Not every family is a Veggie family, of course. I'm sure there are some families that just want to own one or two Veggie videos. If so, you might be wondering which are worthwhile. Here's a list of our picks:

Lyle the Kindly Viking is Kansas Dad's favorite. It's a fun little story of sharing. The first half, Omelet, is hilarious if you know Shakespeare's play Hamlet at all. The Lyle story is designed around the music of Gilbert & Sullivan and is a delight. Even the silly song is full of references that will bring joy to any adult watching.

Gideon Tuba Warrior is my favorite. The story of George Mueller, a man who trusted God for everything is amazing. The silly song is hilarious. Gideon's story is told with a marching band, slushies and flashlights. Believe me, it works. Kurt Heinecke is amazing.

Sumo Of The Opera may be First Son's favorite, though he would never pick just one. This story is particularly good at helping First Son deal with his frustration when he can't get something perfect the first time. Even he will spout, "Perseverance is when you keep on keeping on." The telling of the story of St. Patrick is truly one of the finest moments in VeggieTales. You can watch it for yourself here.

Madame Blueberry is a classic. Every family can learn a little about real contentment and happiness from Madame Blueberry's trip to the Stuff-Mart. We even love listening to the song until the credits end.

We can't forget LarryBoy, of course, everyone's favorite plunger-headed hero. The best of the bunch is LarryBoy and the Bad Apple. In it, LarryBoy actually saves the day and everyone learns about temptation as well as some tactics for fighting it.

Josh and the Big Wall and Rack, Shack and Benny are also wonderful. They are classic VeggieTales.

We enjoyed both Veggie movies, especially First Son. Honestly, the Pirate Movie soundtrack is one of the best Veggie products. (I'm not alone on this. Recently, the Big Idea Store had all CDs and DVDs half price and this CD sold out first. I know. I tried to buy extras to give as gifts.)

Another great CD is A Very Veggie Christmas. Kansas Dad and I have enjoyed this one for years, long before we had children. We've always planned to host a Christmas party and serve every Polish dish named in this song. Someday we'll get around to it. Maybe when the kids are older and ready to help make some of the recipes.

There are so many other wonderful Veggie movies, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Please feel free to comment if your family likes something else the best.

If you are interested in buying any Veggie DVDs or CDs, watch the advertisements for local Christian stores. Ours often has at least one in every "doorbuster" sale for $5.

While it's true Kansas Dad and I have eventually tired of watching most of the videos, we are continually thankful our kids have chosen Veggies as their characters of choice. Most of the other ones out there (and we're familiar with most of them) are quite grating on adult ears. The Veggies are always including little jokes and asides purely for the parents in the room.

Query XII

My three year old daughter has cooler jeans than I do.

How should I feel about that?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Query XI

I had so many helpful responses on my last query, I thought I'd submit a question that has plagued me for years:

Should you floss before brushing or after brushing?

Review: The Young People's Book of Saints

The Young People's Book of Saints by Hugh Ross Williamson.

828 By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. "The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history." Indeed, "holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal." -- Catechism of the Catholic Church

This book is a wonderful collection presenting a few pages on 63 saints. It's not at all clear how Mr. Williamson chose his saints. Kansas Dad, for example, thinks it's unconscionable that St. Augustine was excluded. It is a collection of Western saints and it was originally published in 1960, so that explains some of the choices. There did seem to be a focus on the saints of England, and it's certainly addressed (in a wonderful conversational, not at all condescending way) to young people.

The stories are in chronological order. Mr. Williamson draws connections between them as he tells their stories - saints that met, saints that influenced each other, saints that served God in completely different ways. He begins with St. James the Greater and continues through history all the way to the First World War.

I love reading about the saints. I love reading to the children about the saints. We can learn much about loving God, loving others, and fulfilling our faith on earth. The Catechism points us to the saints as examples of faith.

2005 Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord's words "Thus you will know them by their fruits"- reflection on God's blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.

A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: "Asked if she knew that she was in God's grace, she replied: 'If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.'" -- from the Catechism

And here:

2030 It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation. From the Church he receives the Word of God containing the teachings of "the law of Christ." From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the "way." From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle. -- from the Catechism

We learn to stand firm for what Christ has taught as Truth. We learn to persevere and strive always to develop to the furthest the talents God has bestowed. We learn to seek God first and all else in service to Him. We learn humility.

I could easily have pulled a quote from each of the vignettes. Each story, only two or three pages (including illustrations), guides us closer to God, if we will only attend. The children and I read Scripture every day in our homeschool, but I believe the Saints bring the Word of God to life for them in a special way.

The online curriculum around which I have loosely based our homeschool schedule suggests this very book for first year students in England. I am considering it for our own homeschool, though I would be so very pleased to find something similar concentrating on saints in the Americas.

This particular edition is an ARKive Edition from Sophia Institute Press. They print each page just as it appears in the original, so there are some phrases and attitudes the modern mind might find surprising. (The references to the "Mohammedans" stood out the most to me.) I think an aside or two from a parent reading aloud would be enough to direct a child to respect all people and their faiths while always praying they will turn to the one true God. (An easy thing to say; a difficult thing to teach.)

This book is a delight. Please, find a copy and read it with your children.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. I have not received any payment for this review, but I did receive a free copy of the book The Young People's Book of Saints. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend Update

Kansas Dad and I were ambitious in the kitchen last night. We made pumpkin masoor dal and were pleased with the results. The dal is not spicy, but we added some cracked red pepper (only one tablespoon) to the topping so mixed together it had a little heat. We could only find brown lentils, so we missed out on the nice orange color shown in the picture. It certainly made a lot of dal! We'll be eating it tomorrow again. Does anyone know if dal freezes well?

Other news on the Range:

We had no water pressure Thursday night. Kansas Dad bought a bunch of gallons of water and we lived without running water overnight. We were very happy the plumber was able to get it fixed on Friday for much less than we feared. Our pressure tank, though, is apparently on its death bed, so we'll be saving up for a new one. For the moment, though, we have better water pressure than since we moved in and our pressure tank isn't cycling every few minutes.

Due to the lack of water, the kids and I spent Friday morning out instead of on our lessons. We visited the library and a big park. I think spending some extra time outside in the beautiful weather we've been having is a perfectly adequate use of our time. Soon enough it will be too cold to venture out every day.

Kansas Dad tripped and sprained his ankle Saturday night. He says it's not as bad as it could be, but he's on crutches. (First Son still calls them crunches and First Daughter calls them scrunches.)

Second Daughter said mama this morning. I'm not really counting it because she was just mimicking me, but I anticipate the real thing soon.

First Son carried an alligator and snake he made yesterday to church this morning, intent on giving them to his Sunday School teacher. Once there, though, he refused to give them up. He told us, "I need to think about it a little more." So home they came. His teacher was quite understanding.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Review: Joseph and Chico

Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told By a Cat by Jeanne Perego, illustrations by Donata Dal Molin Casagrande, translated by Andrew Matt.

What a delightful book! We read about Pope Benedict's life from birth through his election as Pope, through agitations, wars and other tribulations. In clear and accessible language filled with anecdotes, we see a young boy grow into a great man.

Even the introduction, by Father Georg Ganswein, is worth our time. It is addressed to the children who read the biography. In it, he says:

Precisely because he is filled with trust in Jesus, the Pope is not discouraged by difficulties and never gets tired of loving everyone. In a special way, children, he loves you all, and he also knows that, with a little effort, you know how to be generous. Better yet, he prays every day that you may grow up to be healthy and good in body and soul. You will then be happy and be able to make the world a better place.

Let's be honest. A great many Christian books are twaddle. They may be presenting Christian behavior, but they're not enjoyable. Joseph and Chico is nothing like that. It is a wonderful book, beautifully illustrated. I had to request it from interlibrary loan, but I will be on the watch for our own copy, and a copy of the sequel, Max and Benedict: A Bird's Eye View of the Pope's Daily Life.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Candy Experiments

We didn't have water, but we did have fun! We tried out some of these candy experiments.

I'm pretty sure First Daughter ate another piece of candy every time I turned to talk to First Son about what we were doing. First Son ate his share as well. I don't know how much they understood, but they liked seeing the colors, dissolving the candy and watching it fizz when I added some baking soda (if they were acidic).

I think we may make candy experiments a post-Halloween tradition.

As for the water, it seems our pressure tank isn't working. We'll be calling a plumber about that in the morning. We have plenty of bottled so no worries yet. The kids and I may make an unplanned field trip tomorrow, though, so we can be out of the way. Kansas Dad had to cancel his classes. His students are probably celebrating.

Art Class

Tuesday was rough, until after nap time. After a little rest, everyone was feeling better, so we picked up The Little Hands Art Book and tried out the Light & Dark activity. First Son loves mixing colors more than just about anything else, so he was thrilled. Even First Daughter did very well with her mixing. I loved letting them play with paint much less mess. (The book suggests a muffin tin, but we used egg cartons.)

Hooray for fun art after a rough day!

Catching Up

I've finished going through all the October pictures. They've been uploaded and ordered! My goal is to get them in an album within two days of receiving them. (It's good to have goals, right?) I'd forgotten how many pictures I'd taken in the last few days of October and have a few I wanted to share.

Second Daughter going down the slide. She needed help getting to the top, but not getting down.

First Daughter made bunk beds for LarryBoy and Alfred.

First Son finished his handwriting book. I had thought he would need more practice, but his progress in the last few weeks was tremendous! I still have an extra practice book, and we may use it, but for now he's working on our address and phone number. Here's the last page from his official kindergarten book. In case you can't see it, he drew a chicken on a nest of eggs with the sentence, "This is a chicken."

First Son also recently made some chocolate chip cookies. All by himself!

And of course, there was Halloween. At first the kids said they wanted to be LarryBoy, wearing the hats and capes they already have. That was fine with me - nothing to buy. When I pulled out a few costumes we had in the closet, though, they both changed their minds. We have a bear, a bunny and an astronaut.

Second Daughter didn't really understand what any of it meant. She only enjoyed the houses that had pets, though she did love eating M&Ms when we got home.

Keeping My Cool

It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that.

1. Last Tuesday I had the worst day ever with the kids. The girls are both battling colds and I think that combined with the craziness of Halloween weekend finally reached boiling point. In the hour or so before naps, we were all in tears more than once. I am pleased to report I did not lose my temper. I don't even think I raised my voice. Eventually, all three kids fell asleep. I worked out (since I had missed on Monday) and after naps, everyone was much happier.

2. I'm counting #1 twice. It was that awful.

3. I finally chopped and froze the last of the serrano peppers.

Visit Faith & Family for more Small Successes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Music and Book Review: Peter and the Wolf

Have you heard Peter and the Wolf? Prokofiev is not one of our composers for music appreciation this year, but I requested the CD when the book made it to the top of our preview list. I thought First Son might be more interested in them together than in either one separately. We've been listening (and reading) intently for weeks now. (I have only recently discovered the joy that is audio books for our drives in and out of town. The children are generally quiet as they listen at least the first three or four times. It works best if I limit our selections to ones that can be completed at least once in a round trip, though.) I wasn't familiar with the story before, but I enjoyed the performance on this CD. (Kansas Dad was a bit distracted by its implausibility, I think.) Just as important are the tracks after the story which explain a bit about the composition and the composer.

Peter and the Wolf is the book we read. I thought the illustrations were fine, but not really necessary to enjoy the music.

Anyone have other suggestions for audio books or similar CDs for young children?