Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Taking a break from blogging

my wrist

my wrist

sometimes the universe tells you

that you are too busy

or else that ice skating

is perhaps not worth the risk.

either way I’ve decided

to take a short break from blogging

and focus on more important things

like learning to put on socks.

I brake for moms”

now has new meaning.

I’ve got a stockpile of columns

to get me through Easter,

after that I’ll be pecking

things out quite slowly.

I’m done with capital letters

unless autocorrect helps me out.

Facebook is easier

you can follow me there

and share all your ideas

for afterschooling.

I am waiting

to be healed and inspired.

goodbye for now…


Magic School Bus Science Kit, Mold and Fungi


Can I just say “Eeew”??! When I set off this year to do a better job helping my kids learn science at home after school, I didn’t know it would involve mold and dead rodents.

Actually, maybe I should blame this on Santa. He bought my daughter a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club  through a 50% off deal from Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Here’s our latest kit:

Mold and Fungi

Mold and Fungi

This is the first kit we’ve gotten that is next to impossible to recreate at home. It came with a bunch of things I wouldn’t know where to buy: petri dishes, test tubes, Agar solution, etc. I guess you could find that on Amazon, but it would end up costing a lot more than $12.

Anyhow, here’s a look at some of the experiments we did:

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

A week later something is growing on the A side!

A week later something is growing on the A side!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

The great news is my kids will hopefully have a better time remembering to use soap. 😉

For more posts about our Magic School Bus science kit adventures, click here.


WA State Geography in 60 seconds or less

The devastating Washington Mudslide is making national news this week, but many of my friends from outside of WA aren’t sure where Oso, Darrington and Arlington are. Roughly speaking, the mudslide is happening in the mountains about an hour’s drive from Seattle.

Understanding the geography of another state is difficult. I’m not very good with Arkansas , Vermont, or Ohio geography, because I’ve never been there. So here’s a crash course in WA geography in 60 seconds or less.



Big cities:

    • Seattle (think Space Needle)
    • Bellevue (think Microsoft)
    • Tacoma (think the Tacoma Dome)
    • Everett, Renton and Kent (think Boeing)
    • Spokane (think close-to-Idaho)
    • Olympia (the capitol)
Edmonds Beach

Edmonds Beach

Puget Sound:

  • A huge, gigantic estuary coming into WA from the Pacific Ocean and Salish Sea (picture rocky beaches with mountain views)
Come in August and there'll be less snow.

Visit Mt. Rainier in August and there’ll be flowers

National Parks:

  • Mt. Rainier (duh!)
  • Olympic National Park (Bella and Edward’s backyard)
  • North Cascades National Park (pristine wilderness)
Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park


  • Western WA can be cold and rainy (think, good place to fish)
  • Eastern WA is almost like a dessert (think, good place to pick peaches)
North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Okay, now take a look at Google maps and you’ll have a much better understanding of where the mudslide happened.

This is a very sad time for our beautiful state. My heart and prayers go out to the people of Oso, Darrington and Arlighton.

Will hummingbirds reject GMO sugar?

Can hummingbirds tell the difference between GMO and Pure Cane Sugar?

Can hummingbirds tell the difference between GMO and Pure Cane Sugar?

My son’s third grade class has been gearing up for the Science Fair. For Bruce, this meant experimenting with conventionally grown versus organically grown potatoes.

The organic potato sprouted.

The organic potato sprouted.

The conventional potato did not.

The conventional potato did not.

My son was having so much fun, that I decided moms should get to do a science experiment too. So I headed to Fred Myer and bought two brand new hummingbird feeders. I also purchased Pure Cane C&H sugar, as well as the store brand.

 It didn't say explicitly on the package, but I'm guessing that the store brand is GMO sugar from beets.

It didn’t explicitly say so on the package, but I’m assuming that the uber-cheap store brand is GMO sugar from beets.

I mixed up the hummingbird food with the ratio of 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup water. I also added a few drops of red food dye, which I normally don’t do. Since I was “launching” two new feeders, I wanted to make sure and get the birds’ attention.

Then I set the feeders in my tree and waited. The GMO feeder was on the left, and the Pure Cane C&H sugar feeder was on the right. After one week, this is what I saw:

The birds don't like the GMO feeder!

The birds don’t like the GMO feeder!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. That feeder on the left is half empty. So maybe the hummingbirds like the GMO sugar, but just not as much as the other one.


It is now three weeks later. I have emptied, bleached out, and refilled the feeders three times. The birds refuse to eat from the feeder they know to be GMO.

I’ve tried filling up the “bad” feeder with “good” sugar, and the birds still avoid it like the plague. They won’t go near it at all.

That, my friends, really freaks me out. If hummingbirds won’t eat the stuff, then why would I feed it to my kids?

Wonderbag Chicken with a Coconut Kick

I LOVE my Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker! Here’s something yummy I threw together tonight and cooked while we were at a Little League game.


  • 1 lb chicken filets
  • 2 eggs +  bread crumbs, salt and herbs to bread the chicken
  • coconut oil
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


(Don’t know how to “bread” something? Click here.)

Fry breaded chicken in coconut oil for about 10 minutes while you chop veggies. Don't know how to

Fry breaded chicken in coconut oil for about 10 minutes, five minutes on each side.

Chop 5 carrots, 1 onion, 1/2 bunch celery, and 1 bell pepper

Roughly chop veggies.

Dump veggies on top of chicken. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Test with thermometer to make sure the dial is way past 190 degrees.

Dump veggies on top of chicken. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Then, test with thermometer to make sure the dial is way past 190 degrees.

Add two cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Cover and bag up for 1-3 hours.

Add two cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Cover.

Wonderbag for 2-3 hours.

Wonderbag for 2-3 hours.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

This meal is sweet and spicy. You could take out the sweetness by using olive oil instead of coconut oil. Or, you could amp up the spiciness by adding chilies.

For more information about the Wonderbag, check out their website.


What to expect when you interrupt my dinner


Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Daily Herald: If robocalls could hear, they’d get an earful from the kids. (Oh, and no, my kitchen table does not normally look that nice!)

Here comes the lamb

Fresh Rhubarb!

Fresh Rhubarb!

By the middle of March I struggle to remember how much I love the Pacific Northwest. Snow is one thing. Rain is another. But the gray? That can really get you down.

They say March is “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” My daughter knows this expression too. That’s why she keeps yelling “I hate the lion!” every time we go grocery shopping in the rain.

But today, March 21st, a miracle happened: sunshine.

It’s hard to describe how the special color of light, and the warmth coming in through window panes, can change a person who is starved for sunshine.

Whoo-hoo! We made it!



Wooden Spoons and Christians


I come from a loving, atheist home that was completely absent of all corporal punishment. Not everyone is so lucky…

This week I’ve been reading stories from adult survivors of traumatic childhood discipline from Christian families and it’s made me think hard of some of the things I witnessed as a child growing up in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

It’s really difficult to take off my 2014 goggles. In today’s world, corporal punishment of children has been scientifically proven to be counterproductive as well as abhorrent. But a couple of decades ago, parents didn’t know better, right?

Right??? Um… I think???

The more I ponder, the more I realize that my childhood memories of what I witnessed happening to other kids are confusing and hard to process.

Which of these juveniles were being abused, and which were being lovingly disciplined?

  • The 8 year-old who had belt marks on her back that showed while changing into her swim suit
  • The teenager whose mother locked her in the bathroom in front of family and friends to humiliate and contain her
  • The 6 year-old whose mom gave him a bloody nose when she slapped him
  • The teenage daughter whose mother slapped her for talking back
  • The children whose mother brought a wooden spoon to our house to use for intimidation and discipline
  • The father who belted his teenage son

That was a trick question. I don’t know the answer. But with my 2014 goggles, it’s hard not to judge.

As a child, I had no idea. I thought that was all normal behavior in families that spanked. Plus many of those kids came from Evangelical, go-to-church-multiple-times-a-week homes. Their families prided themselves on being good Christians.

Now, I’m left wondering. Were the parents reading precursors to books like To Train up a Child? Were worse things happening that I wasn’t aware of?

I’ll never know.

Proverbs 13: 24 says “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (NIV)


Psalm 23: 4 says “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (NIV)

I’m not a Biblical school, but to me it seems that “the rod” is most likely a shepherds hook that you would use to keep your sheep safe–not beat them with.

There are so many better ways to discipline a child than with physical violence.

I hope that my childhood friends who grew up with corporal punishment are able to break the cycle.

I hope they have 2014 goggles on too.

Girl at the End of the World, by Elizabeth Esther


Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future, by Elizabeth Esther, is so good and so powerful, that in addition to crying and laughing I also feel a little bit ill.

Elizabeth’s story of growing up in The Assembly, as the granddaughter of church founders, George and Betty Geftakys, is harrowing. Preaching on street corners by age nine, ingrained with the belief she would be Left Behind at any moment, taught that the natural curves of her body were to blame for tempting all men into sin, and spanked every day in the methods of Michael Pearl; no wonder this mom of five has PTSD. Reading about so much awfulness made me start shaking.

Gracefully, Elizabeth lightens her memoir with bits of this-is-so-messed-up-I-can’t-believe-it humor.  For example, when Elizabeth is finally permitted to attend public school, it’s only because her parents commissioned Elizabeth to bring her high school to Jesus.

The most stomach churning moments in this book have to do with child abuse. On page 41 she describes “obedience tests” aka “mat-training” or “blanket training”. Children were placed on mats and then spanked every time they reach off the matt. Elizabeth describes how some mothers would intentionally tempt their children by placing candy all around the mats, and then spank them when they reached for the candy. Pardon my French, but “What the fudge?”

There’s another section in the book where Elizabeth’s father tells her its God’s will (because Dad said so) that she give up her hard-earned position on the school newspaper–that had me in tears.

Thankfully, Elizabeth Ester has found healing. Part of her new life comes from the Catholic church. What I found so interesting about the last chapter of the book, is that Elizabeth is describing what Methodists like me call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It’s when we base our faith in God on four things: scripture, church tradition, reason, and our own experience. It took a lot of courage for Elizabeth and her husband Matt to lean on reason and experience, when they had been so spiritually abused by the other two.

Girl at the End of the World is a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous book. It’s a cautionary tale to all Christians. If we believe the Bible is the living word of God, then we need to let the Bible live and breathe. We need to stop letting people use the Bible as a weapon. If we believe God gave us free will, then we need to exercise our own opinions and stop wiping our wills clean.  If we believe Christ died for us so that we may have eternal live, then we need to live.

Live well, Elizabeth Esther. You deserve it!

P.S. You can find more about Elizabeth Esther by reading her blog. Thank you to Convergent publishers for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Why ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal

Have you ever heard of Bill Gothard? If you answer “No” to that question, don’t feel bad. I had never heard of him either, until recently. I’m just an ordinary SAHM, sending my kids to public school and taking them to my nice, friendly United Methodist church on Sunday.

But how about this… Have you heard of the Duggar family from TLC’s popular show “19 Kids and Counting”? You have? Good! Now we’re getting somewhere. You know all about Bill Gothard only you didn’t know it. Gothard is/was good friends with the Duggars.

What we’re really talking about is a group of fundamentalist Christians (some people would say cult), who have a huge impact in the American homeschooling movement today. The name of their organization is the Advanced Training Institute, or ATI, for short. Part of their message is that good Christians don’t send their children to public schools.

Right now ATI is going through a major scandal. Bill Gothard, the former leader, has been accused by over 34 women of sexual harassment of minors. The allegations include fetishes, grooming, and in one case, groping. These stories are being shared on a website called Recovering Grace. Here are some examples:

The trouble is, most public school families like mine haven’t heard about any of this. Why should we? Hmmm… Maybe because the Duggar girls are on a book tour right now, promoting their ATI lifestyle. We know all about the Duggars; we just don’t know the whole story.

Let’s start with something really horrible: Blanket Training.

Never heard of blanket training? Me neither! Apparently, it’s when you put a young infant on a blanket and then hit the baby every time she puts her hand off the blanket. You train the baby through physical discipline to stay on the blanket. More about blanket training.

If smacking babies isn’t enough, here’s something else to make your blood boil: Stay-at-home-daughters.

That’s when parents give their daughter such a horrible education (or no education), that she’s unprepared to get a GED, go to college, land a paying job, or even move out of the house. She’s stuck at home forever, doing housework and taking care of her siblings, until her father allows her to enter “courtship” with a man he selects. More about stay-at-home-daughters here.

FYI, some of these links are from a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, where former homeschoolers are sharing their stories. A lot of the accounts come from growing up ATI, but not all of them. Also, some of the people share really positive views of growing up homeschooled, including one of the website founders, RL Stollar.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is also related to two other websites: Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Their goal is to make sure that America doesn’t forget about children like Hana Grace-Rose Williams, and to help create simple laws that would protect homeschooled children in the future.

The Coalition is suggesting regulations for homeschooling that include:

  • Parents homeschooling their children should have a GED or high school diploma.
  • Homeschooling parents should not be sex offenders.
  • Parents should teach the same subjects as public schools, but be free to use any materials they would like.
  • Children should not be forced to be at grade level.
  • Parents should be required to maintain academic records for the homeschooled children (so they could later go to college.)
  • Parents should be required to submit birth certificates to the state. (Btw, in the case of Hana Grace-Rose Williams, nobody was certain when she died how old she was, and her body had to be exhumed during her parents’ murder trial.)
  • Progress should be assessed each year with an exam of the parents choosing.
  • There should be a yearly portfolio review.

To me as a public school person, these ideas seem like no-brainers. But to the homeschooling community, this is a big deal. Check out this thread on The Well Trained Mind message board to read the vitriol.

My understanding is that some homeschoolers view any regulations as a potential threat to their rights to homeschool, and therefore are against any oversight whatsoever. There’s also a libertarian vibe running through all of this, that is hard for me (personally) to understand.

It’s really important to note that not all homeschoolers in America are religious. Also, many families who are religious, choose to homeschool for primarily academic reasons.

When it comes to schooling, I am Pro Choice. I’ve taught at a really horrible public school before. If my children were living in that district, I would want to be able to homeschool too. So I fully support the right to homeschool and want that option to be protected.

But whoa! How are we as a society to protect kids from people who are so brainwashed that they would hit young babies and burn their daughters’ birth certificates? How do we protect the next Hana Grace-Rose?

I think the people running Homeschoolers AnonymousHomeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, are really brave for speaking out. That’s why I’m adding them to my blogroll.

So the next time you see the Duggars on television, pay close attention. Those smiles you are seeing? They might be forced.

P.S. Interested in finding out more? Check out Free Jinger.

Hot Rocks and Old Crayons

An easy art project for all ages.

An easy art project for all ages.

Got some old crayons laying around? Turn them into masterpieces!

Heat rocks from your garden in the oven at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. (Smooth rocks work best.) The rocks will be hot to the touch, but not dangerously so. Use hot pads just in case, to protect your kitchen table.

Then color with old crayons. The wax will melt on contact, producing a beautiful paint-like effect.


Birthday Parties have “changed”


Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Daily Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140316/BLOG5205/140319518/Greedy-piggy-bank-is-too-precious-to-butcher

What Parents Can Learn from Bronies

Why should I give a hoof?

Why should I give a hoof?

I’m Generation X which means I’m old.( sigh) I guess that’s why I never heard of Bronies until the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony popped up on my Netflix screen. For the uninitiated, Bronies are tween, teen and adult males who LOVE the television series “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” created by Laruen Faust, (NOT the previous shows from the 1980s.)

I’m not a Millennial, so my first reaction was “What the heck?” But then the third grade teacher in me had an epiphany. Social Emotional Learning–how to get along with our fellow human beings– is one of the hardest things to teach. For some reason, young men who have previously felt excluded from typical boy society are connecting with this show. They are learning social skills, making friends online and through conventions, and expressing themselves through art, music and charity. Their lives are better, and all because of a cartoon.

I wanted to find out why…

To be honest, I’ve overheard “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” dozens of times while I’m making dinner, but I had never sat down with my four-year-old daughter and watched it with her in its entirety until this week, when she’s been home sick.

From the very first episode, I can see the appeal. The series starts out with Twilight Sparkles being her own worst enemy. She is so lost in books and learning, that she ignores all of the conventional steps needed to make and keep friends. It’s hard to tell if she doesn’t know how to make friends, or just doesn’t care.

Any parent who has struggled to teach kids social skills can relate. “When somebody hands you a book, say ‘thank you’. When you ask someone for a favor, say ‘please’.” Some kids come out of the womb already knowing these things, and others need to be taught explicitly. It’s easier to teach a child to read than to be charming.

As “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” moves along, the episodes sprinkle social emotional learning lessons with other aspects that hold an adult’s attention. There are huge vocabulary words, alliteration, and creatures pulled from ancient mythology. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, although there’s a lot of that too.

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

I talk a lot on my blog about Afterschooling, which is when parents provide meaningful, structured instruction to their children at home to help shore up learning gaps, or provide extra enrichment. Sometimes, for certain children, learning deficits are social. I’ve shared ideas for promoting social emotional learning in the past, and would like to add “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” to that list.

It turns out, “My Little Pony” is something to neigh about.

Gluten-Free Swiss Steak in the Wonderbag

My American freezer.

My American freezer.

Americans are infamous for their obscenely gigantic refrigerators and I’m no exception. My freezer is usually so packed that something falls out and hits me in the head every time I open it.

That’s a sharp contrast to the mission countries that Wonderbag serves; places where Wonderbags mean reduced deforestation and increased quality of life. Wonderbags can be the difference between a mom being raped on her way to gather extra firewood for dinner, or staying home to help her children with their school work.

That is very sobering.

My American kitchen is a world away. But I’ve found that Wonderbags can improve my quality of life too.

Wonderbag in action!

Wonderbag in action!

This year for Lent my family is trying to simply dinner and focus on family, and our Wonderbag is part of that plan. We are following an old-school/new-school meal plan:

  • Meatless Mondays
  • Taco Tuesdays
  • Wheat-less Wednesdays
  • Throwback Thursdays (leftovers)
  • Fish on Fridays
  • Souper Saturdays
  • Sunday Chicken Dinner

The beauty of this plan is that the kids know what to expect for dinner and I have a clue about what to cook. If I go grocery shopping on Friday, it works out great. We clear out the fridge Thursday night and have fresh fish on Friday.

Swiss Steak--Absolutely delicious but steam's getting in the way of my picture.

Swiss Steak–Absolutely delicious but steam’s getting in the way of my picture.

Today is Wheat-less-Wednesday and on the menu is Swiss Steak made from a bunch of things from my freezer and pantry. The picture doesn’t do it justice; this meal was so yummy my kids asked for seconds. It makes a really good meat, veggie, and gravy concoction that is excellent over rice.


  • 1-2 lbs cube steak
  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 2 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 T Worchester sauce
  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 packet organic ranch dressing mix
  • 1 cup shredded Italian cheese
  • rice (for serving with the Swiss Steak)


  • Sautee the butter, meat, mushrooms, onion, garlic and carrots in a Dutch oven until the meat is brown and the mushrooms have shrunk (about 15 minutes). The veggies will cook down and make a broth that will begin to boil.
  • Add in the seasoning and cheese.
  • Boil for 5 minutes.
  • Cover the bot and bag in your Wonderbag for 4+ hours.
  • Serve over rice.

For more information about Wonderbag and their mission to help the planet and improve the lives of women, please check out their video.


Here in America, Wonderbags can be purchased online through Amazon. Every time an American purchases a Wonderbag, a woman in Africa gets one too.

Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker with Recipe Cookbook, Red Batik


Static Electricity Science

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 26

The Young Scientists Club, Kit #26

I’ve got two new Young Scientists Club kits to review:#26 and #36. I ordered our subscription in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now we get a new science kit every month for a total cost of about $9 a kit.

Kit #26 is about static electricity and is pretty cool, #36 was about famous scientists through the ages and was awful. If that had been our first experience with The Young Scientists Club, I would have been asking for my money back.

Kit 36 was a bust.

Kit #36 was a bust.

The main problem with #36 was that a lot of the experiments needed clay, but the clay the kit came with was all dried up and worthless. That meant that almost every experiment failed, which caused a lot of eight-year-old frustration, which caused mommy-frustration, which pretty much ruined a perfectly good Saturday morning. It was like a chain reaction of awful.

So if you engage in this science-by-mail adventure, don’t order kit #36.

#26: Static Electricity

#26: Static Electricity

Kit #26 however, was pretty good. Some of these experiments you can try at home for free. All you really need are balloons, cereal, and a comb.You just won’t have the nifty script that the kit provides.

Important science fact: When you rub a balloon on your hair, all of the negatively  charged electrons from the balloon jump to your hair. Then the balloon has a positive charge. When the positively charged balloon comes into contact with something that has a neutral charge, like cereal, water, or the wall, electrons from the new item will jump to the balloon.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens when they touch.

There are lots of other static electricity experiments you can do with balloons. Use your imagination and have fun.