Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day Four . . .

Still vacationing . . . and we've seen a lot.

- Mt. Rushmore: Beautiful. Inspiring. Just what you would expect. But we went back in the evening to see the night show, and that was very disappointing. Plus then, we had to fight the ridiculous crowd to get out of the parking garage.

- Crazy Horse Memorial: We didn't actually go in -- it was $27 per vehicle (Rushmore was only $10!). But you could see it from the highway. I wanted to see it because when I was here as a child, they only had the smallest of starts on it. Cool to see the progress. But they finished Rushmore in 12 years or so -- I wonder why Crazy Horse is taking so long?

- Jewel Cave: The second longest cave in the world. We did the "Scenic Tour". Beautiful down there! Our favorite part was the "cave bacon", a 25-foot long something-or-other that looked exactly like bacon.

- Trail ride: Mostly for Leslie, our horse girl. The girls loved it. I must have been sitting wrong somehow -- my knees and ankles were killing me! I could hardly walk for a few minutes after we got off.

- Chuckwagon barbecue: beef, beans, baked potato, peach half, biscuit, gingerbread . . all served up on a tin plate with lemonade in a tin cup. And then a show of cowboy music. An entertaining evening!

- Deadwood: We did the walking tour . . saw where Wild Bill Hickok was shot . . read about panning for gold . . walked through a mediocre museum . . since we weren't interested in gambling, there didn't seem to be much for us here.

- The Bighorn Mountains: while driving across Wyoming to Cody. Oh. My. Goodness!!! I do believe this was the most beautiful scenic drive I've ever been on. Absolutely gorgeous!!!

The next two days are devoted to Yellowstone. More to come.....

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Our First Family Vacation!

We left yesterday for our first real family vacation. That sounds kind of pathetic . . . you see, while we lived in NJ, all of Keith's time off was spent coming back to Kansas to see family. The girls and I did a few "field trips" together, but Keith was never able to join us. This is Kandt Klan Travel Experience Number One.

And it's going well! We've hit four destinations so far.

1) De Smet, SD -- the setting of the last five Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Personally, I was very excited about this. "Look! It's the Brewster schoolhouse! It's the huge, well-stocked pantry in the surveyor's house! It's the whatnot . . the china shepherdess . . the schoolhouse where Laura rocked the desk . . . the house Pa built after Laura left . . " Yeah, I was probably kind of annoying. There was more I wanted to see -- like, the site of Laura and Almanzo's first house, and the five cottonwood trees Pa planted for Ma -- but Keith was being very patient. We moved on to . . .

2) The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. A huge auditorium in the process of being decorated on the exterior with various local grains for a big festival this fall, as is done every year and has been for over a century, I believe. Kind of have to see this to appreciate it. And now that I've seen and appreciated it, I think I'm done with it.

3) The Badlands. Wow. Seriously, wow! They are beautiful! And we're going to drive back tonight to see them in the setting sun, with the shadows and all. But I did learn that I am even more afraid of heights than I realized. At one scenic outlook stop, you could walk out to the edge of the cliffs to look out over the valley. Keith and the girls kept going a little further. And a little further. And I kept saying, "Stop. Stop! STOP!" I really couldn't stand it. I had to turn around and walk away -- I just couldn't watch. Hyperventilating and heart palpitations. Ohhhhh.

4) Wall Drug Store. If you haven't heard of this, you probably won't understand us making a specific stop at a drug store in a small South Dakota town. But this is no ordinary drug store. It's an international phenomenon. There are signs for it everywhere, even in Europe. The place fills up a city block. A restaurant, a snack bar, an ice cream parlor and a fudge kitchen. Touristy merchandise, western clothes and artwork, cheesy photo op spots. A traveler's chapel, a bookstore, a jewelry shop, a place to pan for gold or precious stones, an animatronic T Rex that comes up to "feed" every 12 minutes. Kitschy and almost as corny as the corn palace. But it was still fun.

Tomorrow we do the Black Hills: Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, a tour of Jewel Cave, and a Chuckwagon Barbecue and Trail Ride. It will be a busy day, but I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


A friend invited me to her Bunko night last night. I've heard a lot about Bunko. I've been kind of wanting to experience it, thus my friend's invitation. Interesting bit of culture, it is.

Let me say up front that I did enjoy the evening. I didn't know most of these women, but they were all very friendly. We had good conversations and a tasty salad supper (a distinctly women's meal, as one lady noted). My friend, the evening's hostess, is celebrating her 50th birthday in a week, so we all surprised her with black attire and gag gifts (think Dentu-creme and prune juice). It was a fun night.

But the game itself . . . hmmm. I don't know that I've ever seen a game that was not designed for children that is so completely devoid of skill or strategy. To be frank, it is a mindless, pointless game of luck.

But it is apparently intentionally so. I got the impression that the heart of the game is less the rolling of the dice and more the physical rearranging of the players. You have partners, but you have to have a different partner with each turn. After each turn, half of the players at your table move to another table. Every five to ten minutes, you are playing with a new little group of people. Put this with a mixed gender group of singles and it could almost qualify as a speed-dating event.

So, you're changing company all night long, playing a game that requires no mental effort beyond simple addition. I do believe that this game was invented solely to provide an excuse for social interaction. There is really no other benefit to be derived from it.

Not that I'm dissing social interaction as a benefit -- by no means! It's just kind of interesting that someone somewhere thought they needed to make up a game for the sole purpose of facilitating it. Why don't they all just sit around and talk since that's really what they're there for? Maybe because their husbands would be more grumpy about giving them up for an evening of hen-house chatter than for an evening of competitive table "sport"? Or maybe because the possibility of winning a little bit of money (again, solely based on luck) makes the idea more palatable to the family left behind with leftovers to reheat? I dunno . . .

Personally -- although I did enjoy the evening, as I said -- I think I prefer to get my hen-house chatter at a scrapbook night or something. I worship a bit too much at the altar of productivity to not try to mix my social time with something else I need to get done anyway. Not that that's something I should be proud of . . .

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Favorite Leslie Moment

When my eldest was very young, she liked to write stories. Stories about princesses . . . and horses . . . and orphans . . . and orphaned princesses with their horses . . . you get the idea. The typical little girl stuff. They were sweet, and I enjoyed reading them. For a while. Frankly, after a couple hundred of these masterpieces, they were getting a little old.

Eventually, as she kept asking how I liked them (and I always try to be honest with my kids), I started encouraging her to beef up her stories with a little more description. They were all plot, straightforward and plodding. "She did this, and then this, and then this happened, and then this . . " I suggested, maybe you should put some dialogue in, a conversation between the princess and her father? Maybe instead of just telling us she's beautiful, you could show us she's beautiful by the way others react to her? Showing instead of telling. It's good storytelling technique. "No," she would say, "I like it this way." Okee, then.

I continued with the showing-not-telling theme in homeschool. I gave her writing exercises about it. I pointed out when an author did it in stories we read. I specifically told her to do it in rewrites of stories I assigned her. But my excellent instruction seemed to be going in one ear and out the other. And she was kind of over her story-writing faze by now anyway.

Then one Saturday morning, she woke me up to ask me if she could get on the computer and write a novel. A novel. What am I going to say -- no? A couple hours later, she called me in and asked if I wanted to read her first four chapters. Four chapters . . . I groaned inwardly. But outwardly, I smiled and braced myself.

But oh, my goodness . . this was a story! Real characters, with real personalities, having conversations, and a building plotline -- I mean, I was floored! It was really good! And I told her so. "I especially love this part," I said, "where the brother and sister are talking."

"Yeah," she replied, "I didn't want to just tell you that she thought he was annoying, so I tried to show you."

BINGO!!!!!!!! WOO HOO!!!!!! I spun around in the computer chair revelling in the moment. Ah, the glory of it all, when your persistence is rewarded.

Leslie's going to school full-time this fall, and it has just recently hit me how much I'm going to miss those moments. How much I'm going to miss her. I'm SO glad we decided to homeschool. I love my girls.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gettin' Schooled

More reading . . . I checked a book out of the library last week that, as it turns out, is a high school Economics textbook. Basic Economic Principles, it is called. I have thought for a long time that I really need to understand economic issues better, and exploits of the Obama administration have strengthened my resolve.

I just finished the book a few minutes ago, and in my reading of it, I have come to a few conclusions/realizations. One -- every high school student should be required to take an economics course. This is too important a topic for an American citizen to have little or no understanding of it. Shame on me for waiting this long to get better-informed.

Two -- I am SO not made to be a business person. The general principles I was good with. But, for example, as I read the section on production design, just imagining myself having to deal with such issues on a daily basis started to give me heart palpitations.

Three -- my personal "American experience" is more out of the norm than I realize. For instance, they had a pie graph showing the level of education of the U.S. Labor Force in 1996. Only 25.1% had a bachelor's degree or more. Another 25% had some college, but no degree. So, half of the labor force had not been educated beyond high school. In my life, there was always the unspoken belief that a bachelor's degree was the minimum expectation. Whaddya know -- I'm a minority.

Four -- economics is complicated. Basic principles are simple, but putting them into practice involves people and values and lots of personal issues. Is it unfair if a small percentage of the population has a high percentage of the nation's money? Or is it more unfair if people who have managed to earn a lot of money are "punished" for their success by having it taken away involuntarily? Is living below the poverty level a cause for shame? What about living in affluence? What constitutes "equality of opportunity", and how do we achieve that?

The rancor and demonization that happens between conservatives and liberals on these issues are completely uncalled for. None of this is as simple as either of them think. And neither side is as corrupt, selfish and immoral as either of them suggest. We all want the same things . . . we all want the best for every American citizen . . . we just have different ideas for how to get there.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Learning Games my Girls Loved to Play Anywhere

As I've been rolling over fall lesson plans in my mind, I'm remembering stuff I did with the girls when they were younger. Learning games and such. I shared some of these at Friday School (our homeschool co-op in Jersey), and the moms really liked them. I'm not sure how many readers I have here with little ones, but I thought I would share anyway. Adults can enjoy them, too. And the big advantage -- they can be played anywhere.

The Minister's Cat -- I learned this game watching old "Christmas Carol" movies. I'm not sure exactly how it was originally played, but this is how we play it. Everyone takes turns coming up with a word to fill in the blank of this sentence: "The minister's cat is a <blank> cat." As in . . . "The minister's cat is a funny cat." "The minister's cat is a round cat." "The minister's cat is a purple cat." With little kids I would sometimes have them come up with an antonym to the word I chose (fat - skinny, tall - short). As they get older, you can make it more challenging by having all the words start with the same letter. (This is a great way for you to inject some new vocabulary words, too -- affable, articulate, amiable . . . )

Why is this a good game? It teaches kids the concept that certain words have certain functions in a sentence -- these words describe. Eastin used to always stick in her favorite -- "The minister's cat is a ketchup cat!!!" -- and laugh like a maniac, because she knew it didn't make sense. But the fact that she recognized it doesn't make sense showed the learning that was happening. It also increases vocabulary, as I said before. And it's a great way to kill time waiting for your food at a restaurant (our favorite spot to play this game).

Veo, Veo: We played this one for a while when we were learning Spanish colors. It's basically "I Spy" in Spanish. "Veo, veo, con mis ojos . . . amarillo!" (I see, I see with my eyes . . yellow!) Bonus points if they know the Spanish word for the yellow object that they guess, also. Obviously, a good review for Spanish vocabulary, but the initial phrase also is something to reference later when teaching grammar (the first person singular -o ending, the -s on the end of the plural possessive pronoun, etc.).

Twenty Questions: the Kandt variation: Again, a favorite restaurant game. When we play, we usually limit ourselves to people. And the educational key here is . . . we specifically taught them the efficient way to play. Divide your total pool of possibilities into large categories to eliminate first. For example, "Is this person alive?" is a great question to start with, but "Is this person in this room?" is not. Something I just read recently called this "lateral thinking", and it's a great problem-solving skill.

One year when we were studying animals, we started playing the game focusing on the animal categories we were studying. "Is it a vertebrate?" "Is it a mammal?" "Is it often domesticated?" etc. This reinforced the lateral thinking AND the information they were learning in science. They had a great time trying to find animals that would stump mom and dad.

Botticelli: A game from Keith's growing up years -- and a next step after our people 20 questions game. This actually is more for older kids and adults, because it's more complicated and requires a general knowledge of well-known people (but 10-year-old Eastin has been playing it for quite a while). The "leader" with the target name for everyone to guess gives the first letter of the target person's last name. Then, in order to earn the right to ask a question about the target person, players have to stump the leader with a description of someone else whose name starts with that letter. For example, if the name starts with B, someone might ask the leader, "Are you the inventor of the telephone?" If the leader guesses right ("No, I'm not Alexander Graham Bell."), then no question can be asked. But if the leader is stumped, the player can ask a yes/no question to get more info about the target name ("Are you alive?") After that, all people chosen for stumping questions have to meet that criteria as well (that is, they must be alive if the target person is).

It's more complicated to explain than it is to play . . . but the girls love it, and again, it is VERY educational. We bring up famous people that are new to them . . and they learn new facts about people they are familiar with (because you want to make those stumping questions pretty obscure to stump them) . . and again, they are doing more of this lateral thinking. This one's a great travel game, because it can take a long time.

Ah -- now I'm in the mood to go out to lunch so we can play. "The minister's cat is a redundant cat . . ."

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Personal Guilt Trip

I often feel guilty. About many things. And I can't always accurately judge whether or not the guilt is legitimate.

Case in point. My summer has not been nearly as productive as I hoped. I had a whole list of projects I was hoping to get done, but I've barely scratched the surface. A friend asked me yesterday how my summer was going, and I told her I've been being a lazy bum. "Well, that's what the summer is for," she replied, as do most people when I tell them how little I'm getting done.

Is that really what the summer is for? People who work full-time do not have the luxury of being a lazy bum during the summer, just because it's summer and "that's what the summer is for." Laziness cannot be the purpose of the season if the majority of the population is not afforded the pleasure.

There's another area of guilt: being a stay-at-home mom. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I love being able to spend the time with my girls and really know them. I love having a flexible schedule. I love not having to wake up to an alarm most mornings. But I realize that so many women do not have those luxuries -- and almost NO men -- so I feel guilty enjoying them. So, I get up in the morning before I have to, make a long to-do list of stuff to accomplish in my day . . . and then feel guilty when I don't do it all.

I love the fact that I can afford to buy organic foods and good quality meat now at the grocery store without juggling things in my budget. But many friends can't. So I feel a little guilty every time I enjoy a good steak off of my grill. This isn't right. What good is a blessing if you can't enjoy it?

It just occurred to me that "guilt" may not be the word I want here. "Guilt" implies some wrong-doing on my part. I haven't done anything wrong when I buy and eat a good steak. I'm not doing anything wrong when I make good use of the flexibility of my time schedule. I'm not even doing anything wrong when I have a relaxing unproductive summer day at home. (Now, too many of those, and then we might have a problem...)

My "guilt" comes from the fact that I'm getting something good that others aren't -- others who are just as deserving. It's that mindset that it's not fair that one person has something good that everybody doesn't get -- a mindset that seems to be behind socialism and its cousins. I hate that mindset. Objectively, I recognize the fallacy and futility in it. But apparently, it's pretty ingrained in my psyche somehow.

I suppose if my "guilt" motivates me to act on behalf of others to allow them to enjoy more of the blessings I have, then it's a good thing. But I need to figure out how to keep it from stripping the joy out of my life at the same time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Proof is Not Ultimate

Another book I read in my reading blitz at the beginning of the summer: The Ultimate Proof of Creation, by Dr. Jason Lisle. Actually, I started this book over the long, miserable winter but put it aside for a while because I was less than enthralled. Which hints at the gist of my review here.

The author purports to give the "ultimate proof" that the universe was created as described in the Bible and not by Big Bangs and evolutions. Let me disclose here that, while I'm not a rabid 6-day creationist, I find many of their arguments and evidences very plausible and many of the evolutionists' arguments and evidences completely disingenuous. That said, this book didn't really cut it for me.

To summarize his basic argument: one can't use physical evidence solely to convince anyone on either side of the origins debate, because that evidence will always be interpreted according to one's worldview. An evolutionist looks at fossils in layers of earth and sees millions and millions of years; a creationist looks at the same and sees the remnants of a catastrophic global flood. No one was there when the layers were laid, and either explanation is feasible, so nothing can be "proven" from the physical evidence. (Yes, the flood explanation is most definitely feasible if you genuinely consider the evidence objectively, as a scientist is supposed to do.)

The key, he says, is to show the superiority of the creationist's worldview. And he does so by showing that only a creationist worldview can account for the "preconditions of intelligibility" -- the conditions that must be accepted as true before we can know anything about the universe. Such as the reliability of our memory, the reliability of our senses, and the laws of logic. He argues that when an atheistic evolutionist depends upon these things, as he must when he is making his case about the origins of all things, he is being arbitrary and inconsistent -- his belief system or worldview can offer no basis for their existence or validity. He must "borrow" those beliefs from Biblical thinking.

I have some sympathy for his point. I think it is true that most atheists and most evolutionists have not thought through the implications of their beliefs to their irrational and despairing end. But I am quite skeptical of this notion of "ultimate proof" -- that we will ever be able to offer rational arguments that will bring such people to a hallelujah-come-to-Jesus moment. Faith is an affair of the heart and will as much as the intellect. We do need to address the questions the intellect presents to us, but they will never be the "ultimate" answer.

Beyond that, the book was just rather dry. Only recommended if you're really into logic and apologetic argument. Not exactly light-hearted summer reading.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thoughts While Getting a Massage

- Ooo . . her hands are warm. Good deal.

- This is a student massage at the massage school in South Sioux. She seems to be doing a good job so far. Very friendly. Too friendly. I wish she'd stop trying to engage me in conversation and let me relax.

- I remember the first massage I ever got. At a resort on a vacation. The masseur was a man, and I was a little anxious about the whole thing. Then he sat down before he started working on me and asked if I would mind if he prayed first. Would I mind? Wow!

- Ouch. Why do my forearm muscles hurt so much? Too much computer time?

- So, who gave you the gift certificate for the massage, she asks. My family, for Christmas -- four massages for throughout the year, through October. Well, that's better than a diamond necklace, isn't it, she says. The gift that keeps on giving! Yes, it is. But I still wish you'd stop talking to me.

- I'm amazed at how commonplace massages have become in some circles. There are an awful lot of people I know -- and not wealthy ones -- who, from the way they talk, get massages on a pretty regular basis. They used to be a luxury, right? When did they become regular healthcare maintenance? I only get them when they are given to me as gifts.

- Time to turn over . . and out comes the padded horseshoe for my face. It always looks more comfortable than it is.

- I wonder what all goes into the training to be a masseuse. Do they learn the detailed structure of our muscles? Do they do exercises to strengthen their hands and forearms? This girl would probably tell me if I asked, but that would just start up a conversation, and she seems to have caught on to the fact that I prefer the silence.

- Always interesting the parts of my body where they find knots that hurt the most . . . my left shoulder, my forearms, the insteps of my feet, certains spots around my shoulder blades -- and the very bottom of my lower back. What up with that?

- I should look more into what are supposed to be the health benefits of massages. I always hear about it getting rid of toxins or something like that. I don't even know what that means.

- And . . it's over. Bummer. It's always so hard to get up from the table. Yeah, I should do this more often.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Random Thoughts on Freedom

I wish, I wish with all my heart
To fly with dragons in a land apart.

I woke up this morning with the Dragon Tales theme song running through my head. That's pretty bizarre, because the girls haven't watched that in years -- I'm not even sure it's still on. I kind of miss those days. Dragon Tales, Arthur, Blue's Clues (I'll admit I cried during the episode when Steve went to college -- so did Keith). Life was simpler then. I know the girls miss those days, too.

Leslie has her schedule for school next year. I felt excited for her when I looked at it . . and a little jealous. The teenage years were awful -- not much would make me want to experience all that again. But school, the learning part of it, I loved. I would love to be able to go to school again, to spend all of my time reading, taking notes, absorbing, synthesizing, researching, writing papers . . . and nothing else to do. No housework, no parenting, no other responsibilities. Freedom to just do what I want. But we're never really free to just do what we want -- not in the school years, not in the Blue's Clues years.

Today is Independence Day, the day we celebrate freedom. I bet I'm not that unusual in finding that I don't often feel free. I generally feel tied down to obligations. But I'm pretty sure that's not the kind of freedom the founding fathers were talking about. In fact, I'd be surprised if what we often tout as "freedom" these days would ever have crossed their minds. This idea of having the "right" to live our lives however we want. Too often, that is translated into the "right" to walk away from responsibility, even to live immorally. I'm sure they would be appalled at how we've used the gift of freedom they passed down to us.

When Christ began his earthly ministry, he quoted scripture from Isaiah about his having come "to release captives, to deliver the oppressed". He came to proclaim freedom -- but freedom from what? Apparently, from sin. Not just the eternal consequences of it . . or even the immediate consequences of it . . but the bondage to it. We are slaves to sin; in our own strength, we are truly incapable of living sinlessly, even for an hour. I don't often feel enslaved to my sin, though -- probably because too often, sin is equal to what I want.

A great parenting book I read once said that one of the primary responsibilities we have toward our children is to teach them how to say "no" to themselves, to their own desires. That is the definition of self-control, and no other virtue is possible without it. The problems in our lives come not because we are not free to do what we want, but because we are not free to say "no" to want we want.

True freedom is the freedom to do what should be done, regardless of our desires.

If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed! (John 8:36)

Happy Independence Day, friends!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

My second year of teaching ('91-'92 school year), I sponsored the school's pep club. I remember a meeting we had to make plans for the club-sponsored dance. They were talking DJs, and one of the girls on the Board said, "Oh, we have to get someone who'll play all those oldies from the 80s!" I thought, No. No, no, no. My music is NOT oldies.

Well, there's no denying oldie status now. For the 80s, I mean, not for me. Just sayin'.

Eastin's music/art/dance/drama camp this week had an 80s theme. They danced to Thriller, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Kids of America, Mr. Roboto . . I had a hard time shutting up and sitting still while I watched. They also did some "pop art" projects -- Eastin's had picture of a Rubik's cube and a Simon game. They made friendship bracelets and the little beaded safety pin things we used to swap with each other. Gad, the stuff we forget!

For the final show yesterday, the kids were supposed to dress up in 80s garb. I groaned when we got the memo on that. I had no idea what to do with her. They sent home a list of ideas: solid-color polo shirts, leggings, ripped jeans, leg warmers, big hair, bright makeup, shades . . . I couldn't even find my leg warmers. We finally put her in black sparkly leggings and a bright pink shirt and pulled her hair into a ponytail on the side. Most of the girls there were in Flashdance-like garb. I didn't even think of that. Wouldn't have helped if I had, though -- I wouldn't know how to recreate the look. I just don't do costumes, folks.

I still have a hard time thinking of the 80s as an era, like the 60s or the 50s. But I suppose it is -- or was. Was the 90s? Or the 2000s? They feel even less distinctive to me. My mother-in-law always says she doesn't remember anything about the 60s; she was too busy having babies at the time. I think I'll appropriate that excuse for myself. Grown-up culture pretty much passed me by after childbirth in '96.

When my girls are grown, they'll be talking about the twenty-teens, or something like that. Their generation. And the 80s will be ancient history. Wow.

I haven't felt this old since the American Girl series came out with the Julie books, about a girl who is nine years old in 1974. 1974, people!! Get me -- I'm historical! :)