Thursday, December 31, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

Happy New Year!  Rational Jenn has the New Year's edition of the Objectivist Round Up, which highlights some of the best posts of 2009.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day

Jewish Christmas Dinner was a success, although I got a bit tired of all that beige food.  (Why is it all beige?)  But I enjoyed cooking it and everybody had their favorite dish.  I think Sammy ate most of the latkes, Adam loved the apple cake, and I, of course, loved the brisket, although the matzo ball soup was surprisingly good, too.  Only the broccoli souffle was a disappointment.  Luckily, it was much better for breakfast this morning!

Unfortunately, we're all sick.  Adam and Sammy are on the tail end of a bug but I think I muscled through those two days of cooking only to crash hard today.  And Christmas Day is not a good time to be off your game.  Well, not for me, anyway.

I'm not so sure I like Christmas Day.  It's so chaotic and messy.  There are a million presents mixed up with wrapping paper.  I'm constantly paranoid that gifts will get thrown in the trash.  Also, I'm generally very uncomfortable when there are too many objects around me.  I feel like I have to keep track of every object and it overloads my system.  So after a while I freak out and make everyone clean up before moving on.  But where are you going to put all the stuff?  Nothing has a place yet because it is all new, so there really is no putting away.  And you really don't want to put it all away, right?  That would not be fun at all.  You want to pile it up and go back to the pile over and over throughout the day.  But that pile of stuff, oh my god, it just drives me nuts.  Does anyone have a system for an orderly Christmas morning?  I fear that when we have two children that I might have to just excuse myself from the whole event.  I mean, I'm exaggerating here, but I do have a real problem with too much visual input.  I've been meaning to write about that for some time but now it will have to wait until next year.

My neurosis didn't cause too much trouble though, because Sammy seemed overwhelmed as well.  The mess didn't get too bad because she only opened about half her presents, and that took all day.  She'd go off to play with the latest thing and then she'd forget about the presents and want to color or wash her hands for a half hour (her normal activities).  Also, the only thing she really seemed to want was candy.  She begged for candy all day.  Candy was the number one thing on her wish list when she visited Santa at the mall.  I swear, we said this last year but I'm saying it again:  I will never again make the mistake of allowing so much candy at Christmas-time.  Sugar turns my daughter into an unpleasant creature, to put it kindly.  Next year, we will not do an advent calendar with candy (maybe I'll write cute little notes or find tiny toys), there will be one small piece of candy in the stocking, and if we make cookies, Sammy will get one.  One cookie, and then the rest are given away or go in the trash.  But we cannot have cookies available in this house for an entire month, along with chocolate and Pez and all the candy that is given out at the stores.  No, no, no!  I swear, never again.  Will you remind me, please?

So anyway, we're off to New York tomorrow, where Adam has a conference.  We decided to make a little family trip out of it and stay a few days.  It's been quite a while since I've been to The City, and I'm really excited.  We've got a list of fun activities planned, but really, I just want to soak up the unique energy of the place. 

So long for now.  I'll be back in 2010, reporting on all the Little Things going on in my world.  I wish you a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

Miranda Barzey has the Christmas edition of the Objectivst Round Up at her blog, Ramen and Rand.  This week the round up has a theme:  The Benevolent Universe Premise.  (Objectivists often refer to this idea as the BUP.)  Leonard Peikoff describes the Benevolent Universe Premise this way:
Although accidents and failures are possible, they are not, according to Objectivism, the essence of human life. On the contrary, the achievement of values is the norm—speaking now for the moral man, moral by the Objectivist definition. Success and happiness are the metaphysically to-be-expected. In other words, Objectivism rejects the view that human fulfillment is impossible, that man is doomed to misery, that the universe is malevolent. We advocate the “benevolent universe” premise.

The “benevolent universe” does not mean that the universe feels kindly to man or that it is out to help him achieve his goals. No, the universe is neutral; it simply is; it is indifferent to you. You must care about and adapt to it, not the other way around. But reality is “benevolent” in the sense that if you do adapt to it—i.e., if you do think, value, and act rationally, then you can (and barring accidents you will) achieve your values. You will, because those values are based on reality.

Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism,
lecture series (1976), Lecture 8.

What a perfect theme for Christmas!  I hope you enjoy the round up and I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Little Thing

Adam:  Sammy, you're so much fun we're going to make another one.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jewish Christmas Dinner

When I was growing up, my family usually had two big dinners for Christmas, one at my parents' house on Christmas Eve, and one at my aunt's house on Christmas Day.  My mom and my aunt are both great cooks, but despite my aunt's fantastic shrimp cocktail appetizer and chocolate mousse dessert, by the time the evening of the 25th rolled around I felt like Christmas was over.  Santa had come and gone, the presents had all been unwrapped, and everyone was a bit tired.

Christmas Eve was always the big event for me.  Even as a child, I think I loved Christmas Eve as much as I loved Christmas morning.  Christmas Eve is when we sang Christmas carols and felt the magical anticipation of what was to come the next morning.  Christmas Eve is when the kids would plot how we would stay up late enough to catch our parents playing Santa Claus, while the adults got toasted and argued about politics, God, and football.

So as an adult, I decided Christmas dinner would always be on Christmas Eve in my house.  And a few years ago, I stumbled upon the idea of cooking traditional Jewish food for Christmas dinner.  I think I had the itch to make a beef brisket and the idea just blossomed from there.  That year I made brisket, potato latkes, a buttery noodle dish called kugel, and a fruit dish I've forgotten the name of, although I do remember it had Manischewitz wine in it.  That mostly-full bottle of wine sat in our pantry for over a year, mocking Adam by bringing back all of those painful Passover memories.

Anyway, I fell in love with the idea of making Jewish Christmas Dinner a tradition in the Mossoff home.  I was looking for some kind of food-theme that would carry over from year to year, and I'm not really crazy about turkey or any of the other traditional foods.  I also love the humorous dig at the supposed religious nature of the holiday!

That was in 2005.  Now, finally, in 2009, we are having Christmas at home again and I'm getting my second chance to cook Jewish Christmas Dinner.  I spent 3 days planning the menu and making my shopping list.  Today, I do the grocery shopping, and tomorrow, I start cooking.  I had to create a written schedule for the cooking because so much requires advance preparation (brisket is much better after sitting in the fridge for a day).  Here is the menu:

  • Matzo ball soup (appetizer)

  • Beef brisket

  • Broccoli soufflé

  • Potato latkes

  • Jewish apple cake (dessert)

And check out the cooking schedule:


  • Noon – 1pm:  Prepare and brown beef brisket

  • 1pm:  Get brisket into crockpot on high

  • 2pm:  Turn crockpot to low

  • 4 – 5pm:  Make chicken soup and refrigerate

  • 7 – 7:30pm:  Remove brisket from crockpot, separate meat and veggies, and refrigerate


  • 10am – noon:  Make apple cake

  • Noon – 12:30pm:  Prepare matzo balls (don’t forget the schmaltz from soup) and refrigerate (for at least a half hour)

  • 1 – 2pm:  Prepare latkes batter and refrigerate

  • 2:15 – 2:30pm:  Take 6 eggs out of fridge and separate.  Keep whites at room temperature.

  • 2:30 – 3:30pm:  Boil matzo balls and reheat soup; add matzo balls to soup and cook for a few minutes

  • 3:30pm:  Serve matzo ball soup

  • 4 – 5pm:  Prepare broccoli soufflé

  • 5pm: Put soufflé in oven

  • 5 – 5:30pm:  Prepare brisket and veggies in 9X13 pan for oven

  • 5:30pm:  Put meat in oven with soufflé

  • 5:30 – 6pm:  Fry latkes

  • 6 – 6:15pm:  Make thicker sauce for meat if necessary

  • 6:15:  Dinner is served!

I am so excited to cook all of this good food!  And now there are 3 of us to eat it instead of just 2.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Adam Sandler

I caught Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song on the radio the other day and it made me smile for about an hour.  You've probably heard it before, but who can get tired of a song that rhymes "Scrooge is" with "Stooges."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Music, Maids, and Mail

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I finally started practicing on the piano, and it's all coming back to me.  For my first song, I'm going to learn Sammy's favorite, The Rainbow Connection.

  2. I had somebody come in and clean the house for me.  What a luxury!

  3. The Christmas cards are pouring in.

Objectivist Round Up

Rational Jenn has your Round Up number 127.  I like that number because it includes 27, my favorite number of all time.  27 is 3 cubed.  And all good rationalists know that 3 is the best number of all.  Check out these philosophical triads.  And don't forget that all good/bad things come in 3's, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, or Leonard Peikoff's Disintegration, Integration and Misintegration.  

Have you ever noticed that when I give examples, I almost always give 3? 

It's not just me.  3 is a magic number:

Writing Files

I haven't been working on my fiction writing as much as I would like to lately, but I do find an hour here and there to work on my story.  I'm hoping that things will lighten up after New Year's and I can get back in a groove again.

I've run up against two new challenges.  First, I can no longer bring the whole context of my story to mind in just a few minutes.  I usually have to read through my notes to get back to the place I need to be in my head.  This makes the logistics of working on the story much more difficult because I don't have access to my notes while walking the dog or driving around town.  Right now, I have notes in a paper notebook and in a Word document, so I need to be at my desk.  I'm considering trying to summarize what I need to know into a few sentences and putting that on my new Droid phone, which is always with me.  That might be enough.  That phone has already helped me a lot by allowing me to make voice recordings with the touch of a button.  I use that feature all the time.  Hurray for technology!

Another option is to try some outlining software for writers.  I've read about such software but I'll have to go back and find out if it does what I'm looking for.  Any suggestions on that, anyone?

Next, I'm in a research phase.  I've already done research in the form of trolling for ideas, and that's how I found the key element of my story.  But now I have to get more detailed.  I usually don't like doing research but so far this has been kind of fun.  I guess research isn't so bad when you're actually interested in the subject, as opposed to writing some paper for school on a topic you picked because you had to pick something.  I'll have to keep this in mind for my future homeschooling days.  Still, since I've never liked it, I'm not particularly good at research so I'm having to figure out what resources are out there and how to find things and all of that kind of stuff.  That part can be a bit tedious.

That's where I'm at right now.  The story is definitely becoming more defined.  It used to change dramatically each time I worked on it, but now the basic ideas are in place.  I have four characters who are pretty well defined and a few other optional ones.  The main characters have clear motivations in regard to the plot, although I'm having trouble with a sticky issue with one lady.  It's almost like solving a mystery, trying to find a way to weave all of these things together.  Sometimes I think I have the answer but then I go back and realize that I didn't account for some other element. 

Bottom line:  I'm still loving it!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Few Holiday Quotes

I forgot my Three Good Things yesterday, but not because there weren't any.  It was actually an ok day, but I've been so busy I forgot I had a blog.  I thought tonight maybe I'd do Six Good Things for the past 48 hours, but I really can't remember yesterday at all, so I'll just stick with the usual format.

  1. Sammy came home today singing OH CRADLE CRADLE CRADLE, I MADE IT OUT OF CWAY, AND WHEN IT DIE AND WEADY, OH CRADLE I WILL PAY.  I learned that song in Montessori when I was a little girl, too.

  2. When a man in line at the post office asked Sammy if she mailed a letter to Santa Claus, she replied, YES, AT THE MALL.

  3. Sammy is allowed to take down and play with one Christmas ornament from the tree at a time.  She was playing with a red ball when I heard her cry out to the dog:  NO, TOBY!  YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LICK MY BALLS!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Few Random Updates

Have you noticed that I haven't done The Sam Update for a while?  I thought I might change it from monthly to quarterly, but I just realized that I should have done it on Dec. 2.  I guess that's the end of that tradition.  It makes me sad, but now that Sammy is 3, a regular update doesn't seem to capture her development as well as the more subject-specific updates I've been doing like those for potty training and how we use rewards.  Besides, I'll never be able to do a monthly update for 2 children, and I'm hoping that will be the situation soon enough.

Speaking of which, I'm finally back to normal, physically, and we can start trying again.  We've had luck in December twice in the past.  It's a good month for us.

A few updates on Sammy:  she went 4 days without an accident last week, and on one of those days she skipped her nap so there was no mid-day diaper for her to rely on.  Yesterday she had 2 accidents, but she also had 2 successes.  I know there will be more setbacks, but at least for now, I have some relief.

Adam and I are so proud of our girl because she is really learning to control her emotions and use nice words and questions instead of throwing tantrums.  She went through that angry period a couple of months ago, and even after she improved, we've had to remind her dozens of times a day to "use a question, not a demand," and to say "I can't understand you when you scream; try talking in a normal voice," and "Can you ask me nicely?"  But it seems that we're getting through.  When she screams, whines, or demands, we try really hard not to get angry or react emotionally, and we also try not to take the easy, range-of-the-moment solution and just give her what she wants.  This takes huge effort and focus, but once we really knuckled down on ourselves and gave her a few weeks of consistency, she started responding.  I've seen her change from yelling to talking in mid-sentence.  Sometimes she'll demand something and I'll just look at her and she'll use a polite question instead.  A friend of mine made me realize how self-aware Sammy is for her age when I told her about something Sammy does that I didn't know was unusual:  When Sammy gets really upset, she likes to be alone.  So, now, when she really loses it, she'll say, I'M GOING AWAY NOW. I GO TO MY ROOM AND CLOSE THE DOOR AND FEEL BETTER.  THEN I COME BACK AND TALK NICELY AND HAVE HUGS AND KISSES.  And she'll do exactly that.  My friend thought that was amazing self-awareness for a 3-year-old, and I suppose it is. 

Our newest challenge with Sammy is a sleep issue.  She has decided to pull out all the stops to get us to come to her in the middle of the night.  First, it was that she wanted the hallway light on.  She would open her door (but not come out, since her Teach Me Time Clock was not green) and demand that the hallway light be turned on.  Once we convinced her that we were not going to turn it on, she decided that she just had to check on the hallway light a hundred times a night.  So she'd wake up and open her door and say, HALLWAY LIGHT OFF, and then close the door.  Over...and over...and over.  So then we had to convince her that she was keeping us awake and she needed to keep the door closed.  She could turn on her light and play with her toys or read books if she was not sleepy, but she had to be quiet.  So she gave up on the hallway light and now she just opens her door and screams, I WANT MY MOMMY!  I WANT MOMMY TO COME IN MY ROOM AND MAKE ME FEEL BETTER. 

There's nothing particularly confusing about this.  We just need to stay consistent and not go in her room.  (Simple to say, but torture to do.)  If she opens the door and yells out, we tell her that if she can't keep it closed, we'll have to lock it.  (We reversed the handle on her door a long time ago to make sure she didn't accidentally lock herself in, so now the lock is on the outside.)  Locking her door is not a threat meant to punish her.  We always explain that we will do it to help both her and us sleep.  She certainly does not like the idea, though, and one warning has been enough so far.  Sometimes before bed, I'll ask her if she wants me to lock the door so that she is not tempted to open it.  She always says NO, but it's my way of showing her that it is something meant to help her, not punish her.  I'm sure we'll have to do it someday, because she's testing every limit lately.  But in the meantime, we're a very tired family.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sleep, Search, and Sharing

Until I can get over this strange illness, my Three Good Things will continue to be a difficult exercise:

  1. Sammy and I had a 2.5 hour nap today.

  2. I made an appointment with a new doctor tomorrow.  I've been using the walk-in medical care places for the past year and a half so I'm hoping that I like this practice.  And I'm really hoping that they can fix my ear.  I've had fluid behind my eardrum for 11 days now and it's driving me nuts.  But desperation is what drove me to finally try to find a permanent doctor, and that could be a really good thing.

  3. In talking about our respective projects, Adam helped me with my research and I helped him with his.  Cool!


Why do parents make the rule, "no running in the house?" 

And while we're at it, why do parents make the rule, "no jumping on the bed?"


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Potential, Anticipation, and True Love

Three Good Things for the weekend:

  1. We picked out and ordered new lighting fixtures we'll need to install before we paint the house.  We decided to take a chance and go for a very modern style.  Our house is a piece of crap right now, but only on the surface.  I have a vision, and I think it's going to be quite beautiful when we're done.  I love owning and improving a home.

  2. I reorganized Sammy's playroom again.  Had to make room for Santa's gifts!

  3. We got some Christmas lights up on the outside of our house.  Just a few gold lights along our stairway banisters.  It's not ideal.  Personally, I'd like to have every square inch of our house and yard lit up and decorated, but Adam has more refined tastes.  When we had a detached home in Michigan, every year we used to argue about whether to put up the small, white lights or the big, colorful bulbs.  Adam won the argument every year by default, just because we didn't own any big bulbs.  But the last year we lived there, for Christmas he bought me 4 packages of big, multi-colored big outdoor lights, which was his way of saying that he knew how important it was to me.  Unfortunately, we moved, and now I have no idea how we can use those big bulbs on the townhouse.  Next year, he might have to get me a big, blow-up yard ornament.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Clean Home, Playful Home, Happy Home

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Sammy has not had an accident in 3 days.  3 days! 

  2. Somehow, in our little townhouse with only 800 square feet on the main level, we've managed to keep the space open enough so that we could enjoy a rousing game of fetch with the dog (and child) tonight, inside.

  3. There's no place like home for the holidays.  So true.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Is Why I Own a TV

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I walked the dog, showered before noon, styled my hair and put on jewelry, worked on my fiction writing, and cooked a real lunch for myself and Sammy.  It wasn't the first time I did all of those things together, but the first time I did any of them, and I did them all today.  Good day!

  2. My cat is becoming a lap cat.  Pets are nice in their old age.

  3. We just finished watching Battlestar Galactica.  It was amazing.  I loved it.  I was not disappointed.  This was one of the greatest stories, ever.  I'm already thinking about the next time I'll watch it, and how old Sammy should be for us to watch it with her.  Just beautiful.

Objectivist Round Up

This week's Objectivist Round Up lives at Titanic Deck Chairs.  I see a couple of entries in Spanish this week.  Muy bien.

Say Goodbye to Training Wheels

After reading my thoughts on teaching Sammy to ride a bike, a friend of mine sent me this super-cool video of a bicycle wheel you can buy that makes training wheels obsolete.  Gadgets are Good Things:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Picking Up, Picking Out, and a Good Pick

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I spent the entire morning running around town: I dropped Sammy at school, then I got a massage, I put gas in the car, I made copies at the UPS Store, I went to the library to donate a children's book I hated and would not allow Sammy to read, I bought stamps for the Christmas cards, I picked up the framed drawing of Sammy, I picked up lunch, then I picked up Sammy.  That took 4 hours.  Luckily, in all the driving time, I had the most recent podcasts of Diana Hsieh and Leonard Peikoff to keep my mind busy.

  2. Adam and I picked out Sammy's Christmas gifts.  Fun!

  3. I finished reading a good book by an author new to me.  Many more promising books to come!


Why, on those HGTV shows that I can't stop myself from watching, do the hosts always say, "Oh, you don't like the paint color?  That's an easy fix."  Every real estate agent I've used says the same thing.

Sorry, but painting is not an easy fix!  If you do it yourself, you need a couple of days per room, plus the cost of supplies which is not insignificant.  You can't paint a little bit here and a little bit there.  You need to have big blocks of time, so, if you're like us, you'll have to hire it out.  If you do, it is close to $1000 per room (at least that's the big city price), and you still have quite a bit of inconvenience.

I got three quotes to paint the entire interior of our house including all doors and trim, and two of them were higher than the cost of replacing all the windows in the house.  Can you imagine that?  Something just seems off here.  Luckily, I think I found a guy who will do it for just a bit over half that.  He was recommended by someone I trust, so as long as I watch him and his crew like a hawk, I'm hoping it will be ok.  There's nothing more disturbing than a bad paint job.  We've been living with what one painter called "the worst touch up job I have ever seen" for a year now.

Tip: When buying a house, if the paint is in bad shape, ask the seller for a credit of about $1,000 per big room (don't count bathrooms and hallways - just bedrooms, living room, kitchen, etc.).  And if they won't give it to you and you still want the house, make sure you have that much to spend.

And don't trust HGTV!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Makeup Mask, Merry Mopping, and Messy Mud

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Sammy got her face painted.  The first time she got her face painted she was scared silly, but now it's just fun.

  2. Although I still can't hear properly out of my left ear, I'm well enough to have played "mop the floor" with Sammy - meaning I dragged her by the arms around the floor on her butt.  I haven't been capable of anything so physical in the past week.  It's nice to be back.

  3. I finally reorganized the hall closet and foyer area for winter.  I say finally, but it's only been a few days since it went from fall to winter and it snowed.  But in those few days, gloves and hats and muddy shoes and mud had accumulated in all sorts of random places.  Now we're ready for the Virginia winter.  Did I mention mud?

A Little Thing

During our daily ritual of putting on her night-time diaper, Sammy and I have developed this game where she gets out the supplies and puts them on the floor and I say, "Wipes? Check!"  "Diaper? Check!" and so on.  The other day, she insisted on saying the words as she got out the supplies, and at the end, she lay down on the floor on her back and said, SAMANTHA? CHECK!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Eating, Sleeping, and Bathing

If you're going to be a professional parent, you really must learn to love the Little Things.  Luckily, I have learned.  I know because I enjoyed this day.  This day when I got up, served breakfast, cleaned up breakfast, took Sammy to school, did the grocery shopping, made hard-boiled eggs, picked up Sammy, took her to lunch, got her down for a nap, took a nap, took a shower, helped Sammy take a shower, made dinner, ate dinner, and cleaned up from dinner.  I also spent about 20 minutes reading, 20 minutes just playing with Sammy, and 20 minutes on the computer, and I'll probably read and watch TV for a couple of hours tonight.  Really, that was my whole day.  I did nothing else.  I never even got a chance to look at my to-do list.  All I accomplished was eating, sleeping, and bathing.  If every day were like this I'd slit my wrists with boredom, but usually there is more time for other pursuits, so once in a while a day like this is a nice break.

  1. Eating:  Sausage McMuffin for breakfast on-the-go, Five Guys cheeseburger for lunch, and leftover sushi (yes, leftover sushi, I know) for dinner.  Not the healthiest food, but it was fast and it was good.  At lunch, I gave Sammy a sip of my Coke and her eyes almost bugged out of her head and her face turned completely red.  Then she asked for another sip.

  2. Sleeping:  We had some nap-time troubles and Sammy ended up sleeping on my chest.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  bliss!

  3. Bathing:  Showers are fun when they are accompanied by such sayings as THERE'S WATER IN YOUR BUTT!  And, I NEED A NEW SOAP.  A YELLOW SOAP.  I NEED A YELLOW YELLOW YELLOW SOAP.  I NEED A YELLOW SOAP NOW, MOMMY.  OH, THANK YOU, MOMMY.

Getting Dressed

So, a couple of weeks ago I decided that it was time that Sammy learn to dress herself.  She's shown that she is capable.  She puts on pants when it (unintended pun alert!) suits her, she can put on her coat using (cute video alert!the "flippy-dippy" method, and her fine motor coordination is above average.  She is also working on buttons and snaps at school, and she sees the older kids putting on shoes and such, so I thought her interest level would be high.

I was wrong.

When I told her I was going to teach her how to dress herself, she seemed excited, until she was asked to perform any part of the task.  She simply refused to try any of the simple tasks I showed her.  I isolated the skills.  For example, all I asked her to do first with her pants was to learn to put them on the floor with the tag at the bottom and the big hole facing her.  NO, MOMMY!  I CAN'T DO IT.  YOU DO IT MOMMY!  HELP ME!  So I tried putting the pants on the floor for her, thinking this part might be more difficult than I realized.  I put the pants on the floor and showed her how to make "tunnels" by lifting up the top part.  She loves tunnels, and was thrilled to see tunnels in her pants.  She was even eager to stick her foot in the tunnel.  But the minute she felt resistance from the material, NO, MOMMY!  I CAN'T DO IT.  YOU DO IT, MOMMY!  HELP ME!  Now, I knew she could do this because she's done it before, but for days she could not or would not stick her legs in those pants.

I tried other things:  games, songs, reverse-psychology, etc.  Nothing made a bit of difference in her attitude.  As long as I was helping, she would try a little bit, but not enough so that she was really learning anything.  We were making no progress.

I could have decided to wait and try again later.  But this resistance she has to putting forth effort really bothers me.  She seems to be the type of child who won't try anything unless she can do it well immediately.  She didn't walk until she was 17 months old, but then she got up and walked like a 2-year-old.  There are countless other examples of this kind of thing.  And I don't see a lot of persistence in her in general.  She is also cautious.  These things are not horrible character traits - I'm pretty sure she gets them from me and I'm pretty spectacular so I'm not worried about her in any overall way.  But I do think that she can use some extra pushing on learning how to put forth effort, and she needs reinforcement to know that it's ok to do things wrong.  (See the comments on my Reward Systems post from last week for further discussion of this.)

So I decided to persist, and having just dispensed with the Cooperation Chart, I decided to turn it into a Reward Chart.  I give her a smiley face on the whiteboard for each dressing task she accomplishes:  putting on pants, taking off shirt, etc.  When she gets 8 smilies, she can choose a piece of candy, a trip to the ice cream store, or dinner at a restaurant.

This is the type of arbitrary reward system that Rational Jenn first addressed and I responded to.  And it worked, which is no surprise.  (Jenn and I agree that these things work in the short-term, but Jenn's objections are about the lessons you teach by offering disconnected rewards.)  Sammy started putting forth effort and learning the new skills.  As soon as she "masters" any particular skill, I wipe it off the board and tell her that she doesn't need the treat anymore, since she can do it now.  (My explanation is much more elaborate, but that's the essence.)  She has had no problem with me eliminating the treats, but of course, there are still things on the board.  We'll see what happens when we're done and there are no more rewards.  But when we eliminated the Cooperation Chart, she didn't squawk, so I'm hopeful.

Another thing I notice is that she does seem to take joy in the actual dressing, once she gets it.  She tells strangers at the store that she puts on her own pants now.  She practiced taking off and putting on her shirt on her own yesterday, just to try it.  I'm considering eliminating the rewards even before she masters everything, because I think she might have finally gotten the idea that, if she keeps trying, the accomplishments will come.  But I don't want to ruin this lesson by stopping too soon.  The lesson of effort is more important to me than the dressing.

Now, I wish I had thought of this in the beginning, but there was a better way to go about this.  I wanted some extra kind of motivation to kick-start her effort, but it didn't have to be so completely disconnected from the actual rewards of independent dressing.  A few days ago, I realized that a perfect "reward" would have been to allow Sammy to pick her own clothing once she could put it on herself.   The problem with that is that I already let her pick her clothing somewhat.  I'll either let her choose from 2 outfits, or pick the pants, or whatever she's in the mood for that day.  Many days she just asks me to pick for her.  She also chooses her shoes and socks, so this wouldn't be a new privilege.  So, it wouldn't have been a clear thing - that she was earning this privilege by stepping up her responsibility.  Still, it probably would have been better than the totally arbitrary reward. 

So I'm sticking with the Reward Chart for now because it would be confusing to change, but I don't feel like there is all that much difference in the two approaches.  Ideally, you wouldn't use either, but simply show the child how to dress and count on his natural desire for independence to guide him towards putting forth the effort.  This is the way even Sammy learns most things.  And sometimes she's early and sometimes she is late with certain skills, and I'm fine with that.  I do think that most of these things should be done at the child's pace and when the child is ready and naturally interested.  But I don't believe in 100% child-led learning.  This getting dressed issue was something of an experiment for me and for her, and I think we both learned a lot.  I won't jump as quickly to a reward next time, but try only to use them in the cases I explained in my earlier post.  And, I think, I hope, that Sammy learned something about effort.

P.S.  Since I wrote the draft of this post, there has been further discussion in the comments on the earlier one.  I haven't changed my mind, but I do have some additional thoughts on the whole matter, so you might want to go back and re-read that if you're interested in the subject.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

3 Ring Binder

I want to take a moment to alert you to one of my favorite blogs:  3 Ring Binder.

When I first came across this blog, I knew that I'd found a kindred soul when I read the subtitle:  "A place to collect, store, and eventually integrate ideas."  That is just so me!  A little compulsive, a little serious, and a little cute. 

I've been reading LB's blog for a year and half now and I've not been disappointed.  3 Ring Binder is filled with the most wonderful stuff:  original poetry, extremely clever observations, political analysis, and lots of humor.  She also comes up with the most clever post titles I've seen anywhere.  I love clever titles!

Sometimes she gets on a roll and I can't believe that one person could think of so many interesting things to say.  She's on one right now.  Check out these brilliant little gems, all from the past week:

Holiday Cocktails - I love to read about people's everyday values - their Little Things.  LB reveals how seriously she takes her values with her detailed account of what she found in a simple library book.

Boring, Bored, Bore - This is one hilarious story, but it's more than funny - it's a glimpse into the mind of a woman who thinks about everything. 

A dog, I hope - I wish I could make a Christmas card out of this beautiful story.  I guess sharing it here is my way of doing just that.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Still Sick and Still Sucky, but Shaping Up

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Adam stayed home from work to help me.  What a guy!  He really saved me today.

  2. I got to the doctor in time to save my ear drum from bursting.

  3. A photo of Ben Rathbone's drawing of Sammy is up at his web site.  We're getting it framed and we'll display it next to a pastel drawing of me at about the same age.  Sammy and I look very much alike and it's really cool.  As soon as we have them together I'll take a photo and post it here.  And as long as I have your attention on Ben's work, you really should check out his portrait of Jerald Schwab.  I think Ben's work is amazing.

Reward Systems

Rational Jenn has written yet another great post on parenting:  Discipline without Rewards.  My thoughts are similar to hers, but differ enough that I wanted to write a response here.

You should really read the whole thing yourself, but here are a few paragraphs that (I hope) essentialize Jenn’s position:
Alfie Kohn, in his book Punished By Rewards , defines rewarding as a parent saying to a child "Do X and then you'll get Y." If you can put the interaction into If-Then terms, then it might be a reward. That is what we do not do around here with our kids--promise them something in order to get them to behave in a certain way...

My primary objection to using rewards is that the process involves a kind of mental bait-and-switch tactic. It takes (some or all of) the child's attention away from what needs to be done and why and places (some or all of) his attention onto the reward.  In encouraging the child to switch his focus away from the rational reasons he ought to engage in a certain behavior, he is losing a valuable opportunity to learn some deeper ethical lessons...

If-Then Rewarding, while certainly effective in getting a child to act in a particular way, doesn't reinforce the more abstract ideas of independence and responsibility and other great things I think my kids need to practice and understand thoroughly before heading out into the world.

I agree with all of this in essence, but I have some important disagreements.  I don’t think that “reinforcing the more abstract ideas of independence and responsibility” is always accomplished by means of having a concrete connection between cause and effect in every instance.  I guess I'd summarize my position as: "Use extrinsic motivators temporarily, for long-range skills and habits, and never as a default."

First, I think rewards are appropriate to encourage effort at gaining new skills, especially skills that are much more easily acquired when young like swimming or riding a bike.  Kids can not and do not think long-range at birth, and they don't know that their effort will pay off in the end.  They need to learn this.  Getting them to put forth effort for a totally arbitrary short-range reward is a great way to get them started, if they are not so inclined.  I'm not willing to let my daughter suffer the natural consequences of not learning to swim or ride a bike without trying rewards to get her started.

I think that it is a parent's job to teach a child how important it is to put effort into long-range activities and skills, where the natural consequence will not be achieved quickly.  How can children learn this except by being "tricked" into doing it a few times?  You can push your children with negative, arbitrary punishments ("practice piano for an hour a day or you'll be grounded") or with positive, arbitrary rewards ("practice piano consistently for a month and we'll take you out to the restaurant of your choice").  I think the positive way is much better.  But if you leave it to them entirely, I don't see how children could be expected to foresee the wonderful effects of such persistence before they have any experience.  I don't think it takes much of this kind of rewarding, but I do think it takes some.  In the piano example, I would imagine a month might even be too long.  Once the child learns one song, they have a data-point to understand that continuing to practice will bring more and more value.  My point is that it is ok, and even necessary, for children to do things for which they have no independent, intrinsic motivation.  In other words, in some cases:

The child will only learn the rewards of virtue after practicing that virtue, in action, and seeing the positive results firsthand.

Even then, I think the more connected the reward is to the behavior, the better.  I call these logical consequences.  I got this from Susan Crawford, who makes a great distinctionbetween natural and logical consequences, saying that a natural consequence happens if the parent just stays out of the way, whereas a logic consequence is imposed by the parent, but connected to the original action in a logical way. (The natural consequence of learning to swim is simply gaining the skill.  A positive, logical consequence would be throwing a pool party for the child at the end of summer.)  Outside of the positive and negative versions of these consequences are the arbitrary, negative "punishments" and the arbitrary, positive "rewards."  But I don't see a clear dividing line between positive, logical consequences and many rewards.  The pool party could be viewed as a reward.  There is a continuum, although once you get to star-charts it's arbitrary, and I'm fine with that too if there is nothing else you can think of.  I have a great example of this that I'll save for my next post about how we're motivating Sammy to dress herself.

Second, I think rewards are great as a stop-gap.  We used the Cooperation Chart for that reason.  We used it for 10 days and it worked and we went back to our usual natural and logical consequences.

And third, I think as long as the norm is to focus on natural and logical consequences, it's fine to use rewards on occasion simply to make the parents' lives easier.  If you have some isolated behavior that you want to encourage or stop, and you have a lot going on and it just needs to get done to save your sanity, a reward is fine.  It just has to be a rare exception and not the rule.  I don't think a few instances of using rewards will harm the child. 

Despite this disagreement with Jenn, I agree with her basic point.  I am horrified with the way that parents often default into reward systems for everything - money for grades, ice cream for politeness (when the child is old enough to be polite for the right, selfish reasons), TV for chores, etc.  This kind of parenting is a recipe for secondhandedness, for sure, and this is a more fundamental issue than the exceptions I note here.  But I don’t think this damns rewards entirely.  I think they just need to be used for the right reasons.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Not Really in the Spirit Tonight

It feels dishonest to even try to find Three Good Things today.  It sucked.  This day really sucked.

  1. Since I'm sick now, we're still in watching-TV-mode, so I did get to watch an episode of So You Think You Can Dance with Sammy.  I do love that show, I suppose.  Sammy liked one of the male dancers.   That was cute.

  2. I don't have to cook dinner.  Of course, the reason I'm not cooking is that the asparagus went bad and then Adam called at the last second saying he forgot to leave work and will be late getting home.  He can figure out how to feed Sammy, because I'm done.  I had leftover pizza for breakfast and lunch, so why not make it 3 for 3?  But, at least, I don't have to cook.  And I'm not washing dishes, either!

  3. Adam is taking the insane little ball of tantrum we call a daughter to Parents' Night at school, so I'll be free of both of them soon.  If I'm lucky, it will be quiet for an hour or so.

I guess that was a mostly backhanded Three Good Things, but it's the best I can do.

Objectivist Round Up

The Round Up is here, at Rule of Reason.

Chicken Thighs in Red Wine

I can't remember where I got this recipe, but I never cook anything without my own modifications and this appears to have been simplified in a typical Amy way, so I think it's ok for me to post it as my own.

I'm not a big fan of chicken.  Boring!  But this super-easy recipe makes the tastiest chicken I've ever had.  I've made it 3 or 4 times in the past few months, and that's saying something.  (I improvise so much that I have a hard time making anything more than once.)

1 yellow onion
About 3.5 pounds of chicken thighs, bone in or out (as much as you can fit in the pan)
Garlic powder
Dried parsley flakes
Olive oil
Red wine
Chicken broth


  • Preheat oven to 350.

  • Corsely chop an onion and place at bottom of 9X12 lightly greased baking pan.

  • Coat chicken in salt and pepper, a little garlic, and parsley.  Put on top of onion and drizzle a little olive oil on top.  Bake for 20 minutes.

  • Add ¼ cup red wine and ¼ cup chicken broth to bottom of pan and continue to bake for 40 more minutes.

You can also just cook a few thighs in a pan using the same principle:  brown them in butter and herbs (I used onion powder instead of onion), then add the liquid, cover and cook until done.  Also, you can increase the liquid (within reason) if you like more sauce.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Like a Bull in a China Shop

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Sammy was still too sick for school and we had another magnificent day.  It's frustrating and confusing that she loves school so much and yet she and I get along so much better when she does not go to school.  Today, she picked out her own clothes and put on her underwear, pants, socks, shoes and coat.  She's still working on the shirt, but she gave that a good try too.  She also pooped in the potty 4 times and only had 1 accident, was generally agreeable, and behaved herself so well in the lighting store that I was able to browse for close to an hour.  Have you ever taken a 3-year-old to a store filled with breakable objects at knee-height?  If so, you'll understand what a great moment this was.

  2. The first thing Sammy said when we entered the lighting store was, WHERE IS THAT LADY? WHERE ARE CRACKERS?  You see, back in April, we went to that store and a saleslady gave her some crackers.  Almost 8 months ago, this happened!  And we did see the same lady, and Sammy recognized her, and she got crackers again.  It was really quite special.

  3. Thank goodness for the pharmaceutical industry.  Mucinex is the best.  A little Mucinex/Ibuprofen cocktail and I'm as good as new.  Well, I'm not miserable, anyway.  I'm feeling good enough to stay up for a couple of episodes of Battlestar Galactica, and that's what's important, right?

A Little Thing

Sammy, it's time to get your diaper on for the night.


What about your diaper?


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Countdown Begins

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. We received our charcoal drawing of Sammy today, which we commissioned from our friend, artist Ben Rathbone.  It's amazing.  I'll post a link to a photo of the drawing once he gets it up at his web site

  2. Adam is, at this moment, practicing on the piano using the headphones.  Awesome!

  3. Sammy opened the first door on her advent calendar today.

Sci-fi, Sickness, and Schedule

I forgot my Three Good Things yesterday!  Let's see if I can remember anything:

  1. Adam and I are finally into the new material in our viewing of Battlestar Galactica.  Our 18 month moving saga and the writer's strike interrupted the series for us the first time around.  Six years later, we're finally going to find out who the last Cylon is!

  2. Sammy has conjunctivitis which is not a good thing, but for some reason sick days with her are always a nice break from the routine.  Yesterday we watched TV and read books and napped and ate all day.

  3. I learned something from the sick day.  A lot of Sammy's behavior problems stem from the rushing around that goes with her more hectic school schedule.  I had suspected this, but now I'm sure of it.  Yesterday was the first day since early September that we didn't have to get out the door for school or weekend activities at a certain time, and she was so much more pleasant to be around, even when I had to put eye drops in her eyes.  We did go out to the pharmacy, but it wasn't something that had to be done on a schedule so the fact that it took her an hour to get ready didn't matter.  I know she's going to have to learn how to get ready without all the angst, but it's nice to have a little bit more understanding of what's going on with her.

A Little Thing

For the past few weeks, Sammy has really been showing off her singing skills.  All of a sudden, she just started singing along with us.  She's always sung the simple ones with us on occasion, and she sings her own tunes in her own language all the time.  Now she can (mostly) sing songs like Silent Night, Frere Jacques, and Rainbow Connection (that's not an easy one!), and she's quickly learning all the Christmas songs.  Still, I was shocked when she asked me to sing Star Spangled Banner the other day, and belted it out right along with me!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Kid Friendly Stuff

We recently installed these light switch extenders to give Sammy more independence:

Light Switch Extenders

The plastic just screws onto the switch plate and there is a hole for the switch.  When you pull down on the plastic, it pulls down the switch.  You can buy a set of two from For Small Hands.  We put one in her bathroom and one here in the hall.  She already has a floor switch in her room and she can reach the switch in the main floor powder room with her stool.  Now she can reach just about every light she needs in the house.

We also have her closet organized at her height:


This part of her closet has no door.  It looks sloppy, but she can get to all of her clothes easily.  Pajamas and underwear are in the baskets on the floor.  Dresses and sweaters are hanging.   Pants and shirts are in the wire bins.  Pillows and blankets go on the shelf above the hanging garments.  Of course, she has her own laundry basket which is on the other side of the closet to avoid confusion.  And yes, she does use it.

(Her closet is indeed half-yellow and half-white.  We hope to remedy this next month when we get the house painted.)

Soon, I'll have a report on how we're doing with getting her to dress herself.  We've had her closet set up this way for a long time, but it will mean a lot more once she is a fully independent dresser.

A Little Thing

I love this exchange because it expresses selfishness and goodwill at the same time.
Sammy, may I look at that blue crayon?
I just want to look at it.
I like the color and I'd like to see what it is called.
Please?  It will just take a second.
Ok.  You're right.  It is your crayon.

(5 minutes later, when I'd completely forgotten about it)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Three of the Five

Three Good Things for Thanksgiving weekend:

  1. My house smells like Noble Fir.

  2. My house sounds like Christmas music.

  3. My house looks dirty since I was too busy to clean it.

2009 before decorating

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

Happy Thanksgiving!  If you're not too busy cooking, take some time to check out this week's edition of the Objectivist Round Up, hosted by Rational Jenn.

A Classic American Dish

You've got to love a recipe that starts out like this:
A classic American dish, this preparation takes full advantage of every delicious bit of the lobster.

Kill with a knife, [see page] 491,
     3 lobsters (1 1/2 pounds each)
When they are still, separate the tail and ...  

From Joy of Cooking
recipe for Lobster Newburg

On page 491, it does indeed tell you exactly how to kill a lobster by stabbing it in the neck.  It even gives you this handy tip:
[After stabbing the lobster], to avoid muscular contractions, you can put the lobster in the freezer for a few minutes until it is still.

And no, I haven't tried it yet.  Maybe next Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On an Upward Swing

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. It started out grey and rainy, but ended up clear and crisp.

  2. I was pulled over for running a yellow light, but the policeman just gave me a warning.

  3. Before noon, I had to deal with yogurt in Sammy's hair, 4 (count 'em, 4!) poopy potty accidents, pee purposely dumped out of the potty on to the carpet, the paper towels used to clean the pee put into the toilet, and an hour-long adventure in getting a 3-year-old to put on her pants which destroyed the entire morning.  But Sammy and I had a great afternoon getting tons of stuff done and having a fun time doing it.  And she successfully pooped in the potty 3 times.


Michael had such a good comment on my last Little Thing about Sammy wanting to learn to fly that I decided that his comment and my response warranted a separate post:
When I started reading your explanation to Sammy that even in the future that she will not be able to fly, I got that sinking feeling I get sometimes when listening to my friends "over explain" or "over intellectualize" simple details to their young kids. I do not know if my sinking feeling is valid or not, but I can say that what you said to Sammy does not qualify.

Your line, "[t]hat’s why we build machines like airplanes" is pure gold. Simple, succinct, and one of thousands of nuggets parents can drop that teach the kids how to focus on to think.

I have no idea if I would enjoy having my own kids, but no subject is more fascinating than child raising. Thanks for blogging on your experiences!

Here is my response, which I composed as a comment, but decided to post here:
Michael, yes, I had a quick debate in my head in that moment about whether to say anything about not being able to fly.  I would not have said it without the airplane line.  But I do suffer from over-explaining.  It's a great point you make, and it's something I work on all the time. 

Here's an example: when she said I CAN TRY, I either said, "Yes, you can," or I said nothing - I can't remember.  But there was no way I was going to tell her why trying wouldn't do any good in this case.  And I suppose I could have said, "Yes, you can try by building an airplane or buying a hang-glider," but that is beyond her, and so would have lessened the most important part of her observation: that when you can't seem to do something, you need to try.  We've been working on that with her - getting her to see that you succeed by putting forth effort.  So for her to make this comment on her own was a beautiful thing.  She gets it.  And that was the important part.  Any qualification or correction at that point would only have served to undermine her new understanding about effort.

Children need explanations.  They positively crave explanations and information.  But recognizing how to give the child the right level of explanation for his knowledge and context is a huge challenge.  I actually think I got this one right, but I get it wrong a lot of the time, too.  Still, I agree with Michael - this is what makes child-raising fascinating!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Thoughts

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. One of the local radio stations has started playing Christmas music and I'm totally ready to hear it.  This year we're staying home for Christmas for the first time since Sammy was born, and I can't begin to describe how happy I am about that.

  2. I drank my first hot chocolate of the season.

  3. Sammy is off from school for the rest of the week and I'm actually quite happy about having the extra time with her.  As much as she loves school, and as much as I need the time for myself, I miss her.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Little Thing

In the car, Sammy likes to have her window rolled down and to hold a napkin in the wind.  I guess she likes to watch how it moves or the feel of it pulling out of her hand.  She was doing this the other day, when I heard her say, IT BLEW AWAY!  MY NAPKIN BLEW AWAY.  I WANT IT BACK, MOMMY! 

I said, "I'm sorry but I can't get it for you.  It's way behind us now and we can't go back to get it." 


After I recovered from the killer cuteness, I said, "That is a wonderful thought, Sammy. It's a great idea, but I'm sorry to say that even when you are bigger, you won't be able to fly.  People can't fly like birds.  That's why we build machines like airplanes.  But we can't fly."

She said, I CAN TRY, MOMMY.

Art, Drugs, and Rock 'n Roll

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Really great visit from Chicago friend.  Lots of talk about art and technology.

  2. Peter Lehmann Shiraz.

  3. Sammy figured out how to play the demo songs on the new piano within 5 minutes, and went into a spinning frenzy. 

Cooperation Chart Update

As you may recall, I created a Cooperation Chart for Sammy a few weeks ago.  We only used it regularly for about 10 days.  It really worked!  It broke our mutual bad behavior pattern and gave us some structure for discussing the problems. 

We've identified some specific problems that had cropped up back then.  Sammy was, indeed, missing her daddy.  The problem, though, was that she didn't know how to express it and to deal with it.  Her disappointment and sadness came out as anger, so that in the mornings when Adam would be getting ready to leave she wouldn't talk to him except to yell at him and even say, YOU GET OUT OF HERE NOW.  GO TO WORK NOW, DADDY!  She would not kiss him goodbye, and sometimes she would even be mad when he got home in the evenings. 

After we got a little bit of control using the Cooperation Chart, we were able to talk to her about it.  She could keep herself calm enough to listen just a little bit each day, and after a week or two of  continuous discussions about why daddy goes to work, how we all miss each other, and what we can do to feel better about it, she got it!  I also used the trick of giving her a little object from Adam's desk to keep in her pocket all day at school.  She liked that, but I don't think it helped for more than a day or two.  I think it was the persistence with which we kept explaining and explaining, in a gentle and understanding way, that got through to her.  She still gets a little bit angry on Mondays, after Adam has been home all weekend, but she's getting used to the idea that her anger doesn't solve anything (a very important lesson!).

The hitting and really heinous screaming and yelling stopped immediately with the Cooperation Chart.  I'm not sure why, but I do know that she feels terrible when she loses control like that, and maybe seeing something concrete at the end of the day was enough for her to put more effort into controlling herself.

I don't think the Cooperation Chart has helped with the potty training in any real way.  Since we're not using the whiteboard anymore, I might turn it into a new reward system for using the potty and see if it helps.  The candy helped for about a week, but she is back to pooping in her pants again.

The delaying is still a problem.  When I say that it's time to get dressed or eat dinner or whatever, Sammy seems not to listen.  When she does react to my calls to action, much of the time she yells DON'T TALK, MOMMY! or BE QUIET, MOMMY!  I had suspected that she was reacting to being ordered around, so I started putting extra effort into finding alternate ways to get her cooperation.  It has helped quite a bit, so I think I'm on the right track.  Here are some things I've been doing: 

  • I use timers whenever possible.  When the timer tells Sammy that she needs to get dressed for school, she understands that it's not an arbitrary decree from Mommy.  For a while, she would scream and yell whenever I'd set a timer, but she got used to it.

  • I use questions as much as possible.  We are just now teaching Sammy to ask us things instead of giving orders.  We probably should have started this a long time ago, but when your child first starts speaking in sentences, you don't want to correct a minor issue like using a question instead of a demand.  But we let that stage go on too long.  So now I'm constantly telling Sammy to use a question, and at the same time, I'm telling her what to do.  This makes her mad, and rightfully so!  When I realized this, I asked her if this was what made her mad and she said YES, so I told her that I would try to use my questions, too.  So, whenever possible, I find a way to ask a question.  I can't very well say, "Do you want to go to bed now?" because if she says NO then I'm stuck, so I have to be creative.  This almost always leads to the next technique:

  • I give choices.  This is the most useful tool I have right now, and I'm working on finding creative ways to give choices for just about everything.  "Are you ready to put your shoes on now or would you like to draw for one more minute?"  "Would you like the pink coat or the blue sweater today?"  "Would you like to finish breakfast now and pick out your clothes or should I go get them while you keep eating?"  It sounds crazy, but sometimes just asking her, "Do you want to go up the stairs ahead of me or behind me?" is all she needs to get moving.  Sometimes it's hard to find a way to ask a question/offer a choice.  What do I do when she's standing outside the car with the door open and the rain pouring down on us, just looking at a cloud, while I wait for her to get in?  And that leads to the final technique:

  • I try to allow for slow reaction-time, and to have patience.  I've found that, a lot of times, just waiting a few seconds in a situation like that is enough.  She knows it's time to get in the car.  If I say anything at all, she gets mad.  Sometimes, if it goes on too long I'll say something like, "I'm getting wet," and that does the trick.  But sometimes it takes a good 3 seconds or so for those words to sink in.  3 seconds is a long time when you're getting soaked.  I used to demand an immediate reaction, but I'm learning to give it just a little bit more time, and that is helping a lot.

Because of this challenge with her anger and defiance, I've put off teaching Sammy any new skills.  She's still struggling with the potty, too, so I didn't want to add more conflict to the mix.  But now I finally feel comfortable enough to begin our next adventure: teaching Sammy to dress herself!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Can't Wait to Play!

Three Good Things for the weekend:

  1. Saturday was Stay-at-Home-and-Catch-Up day, and I did.

  2. Sunday was Visit-Friends-for-Lunch day, and we did.

  3. This weekend our local music store was having Unload-that-Excess-Inventory-Sale, and they did, on us.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Flirt, Fall, and Fiction

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Sammy has a boyfriend!  Well, ok, not really.  But I mentioned this boy before - he's the one who beamed when I remembered his name the other day.  Well, today at the school playground I said hello to him again, and he said, "No. That's not my name.  My name is Izo."  I said, "Izzo?"  And he said, "No. Eeeeeeezo."  I happened to see his mother and asked if that was his nickname, since it does sound a bit like his real name (which I'll withhold).  She had never heard of this, so I suppose he had just made it up.  Sammy got really excited and we all chased each other around yelling, "Izo, Izo."  Sammy was giddy and giggly and didn't want to leave.  Then when my back was turned, apparently Mr. Izo pushed her because when I turned around she was on the ground crying.  He said it was an accident but his mother said she saw it and it didn't look like it.  They made up and we left, but in the car, all Sammy could talk about was Izo.  This all seems like classic 3-year-old flirtation to me, especially the pushing.   The whole thing reminds me of her first run-in with the species we call boys.

  2. I am really enjoying this fall weather.  I think this might be the longest real autumn I've ever experienced.  Los Angeles and New Orleans don't have a real autumn at all.  Chicago and mid-Michigan have very nice fall weather that lasts about 2 weeks.  Virginia has been beautiful both years that I've been here.

  3. In the past few weeks, I've come up with two more story ideas.  I'm not sure if they will work or not, but they are good possibilities.  One of them is a kind of unique short story that would have to be completed quickly, so I'm going to do a little thinking on it alongside my work on the original story (which is coming along).  Wow, I went from a desert to an oasis of ideas.

She Found Another Instrument

Can you believe this girl and her instruments?  Of course, I only caught the tail-end of her musicality, but you might enjoy the egg slicing and eating, too.  Happy Friday!

And if you're in the mood for more cuteness, you might enjoy this audio clip of Sammy singing in the shower.  At least, I know the grandparents will enjoy it:

Sammy Singing in the Shower

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sammy Stuff

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I am now regularly getting the response, I LOVE YOU TOO, MOMMY.

  2. Sammy wrote the letters "t" "o" and "c" and sounded it out...t...t...tah..TOBY!  (Then I helped her to sound out "toc" which is of course pronounced like "talk."  Everything is phonetic right now; spelling doesn't matter.)  The girl really is learning to write as she learns to read, and it's happening quite naturally.  She's not doing any writing at school and I'm not pushing it.  This is all her on her own initiative.

  3. The grocery delivery Peopleguy came today and Sammy actually kept her clothes on the whole time.

Objectivist Round Up

This week, Titanic Deck Chairs hosts the 123rd edition of the Objectivist Round Up

And this is my 666th blog post. 

And Rational Jenn has a milestone of her own to report, which she does in her usual, hilarious fashion.


There are things that surprise you when you become a parent.  Ok, let’s face it: almost everything surprises you, but some things more than others.  One thing that I never expected was how much I would love the physical closeness I have with my daughter.

I didn’t grow up in a touchy-feely family.  We didn’t hug much, and we didn’t even express our feelings with words all that much.  Don’t get me wrong – we loved each other – we just didn’t express it in those ways.  I never thought much about hugging and cuddling and kissing my daughter before she was born.  I thought much more about all the things I wanted to teach her and how much I would enjoy watching her develop into a rational being with her own, unique personality.  Those things are still the biggest values for me, but what an unexpected bonus it is to have this other, more sensual aspect to our relationship.

Sammy wasn’t a cuddly baby, so I didn’t discover this until she was around 18 months old.  Once she could get around on her own a bit, she seemed to want to come back to home-base a little more often.  It was as if she needed a bit more of that mommy-security once she gained the physical independence of separation.  This was also about the time she stopped nursing, so that might have been a factor.  When she was an infant, she wasn’t easily soothed by being held and cuddled, but at some point, she started to actually enjoy being snuggled before bed.  She still sleeps best when she is in her own bed in her own room, but now I sometimes get the sweet pleasure of her falling asleep on my chest.  We spend a lot of time just hugging and tickling and sitting close together while reading a book.  I love it.

When we are close like this, all is right with the world.  Touching her hair or her arm or kissing her cheek gives me butterflies.  It's very hard to describe because it is an integration of emotion and sensation.  She is my daughter and she is of me and when I touch her I know it in my bones.

I’m sure this must be a universal feeling amongst parents, but to me it is a delightful surprise.  People always talk about how much they love to hold their babies or snuggle with them, but I had no idea they meant this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Think She's a Talker

Three Good Things for the day:


  2. We got really good financial news today. 

  3. I got a lot of Little Things done today, which makes time for work on bigger things.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Management

I stole that title from a book.  I bought the book because its subtitle, "Tales from Parenthood, Lessons for Managers," was so intriguing.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the book when I finally read it.

But Jason Crawford's recent post on a management principle he calls "Query for Judgment" reminded me of those fascinating parallels between parenting and management.  His rule is, "by default, always ask your reports for their judgment before giving your own."  The reasons he gives for his policy line up nicely with Faber and Mazlish's ideas of giving children respect, allowing them to own their emotions, and giving choices.  Sometimes I wonder why businesses don't see the value of hiring former full-time parents.  Those few years of "time off" from the workforce are really like management boot camp.

I've added Jason's blog about his adventures starting up his own company in San Francisco to my blogroll.  Check it out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Three Good Things for the day:

  1. My daughter thinks the "th" sound is hilarious.

  2. I used my new Droid phone to record thoughts as I walked the dog. 

  3. Those were some damn good thoughts.

Montessori Observation

I spent about an hour in Sammy's Montessori classroom this morning.  It was great to see her in action in her new environment, but it was hard to tell if she was acting differently because I was there.  I was hoping that she would go off on her own and do some work without me, but she wanted to show me everything.  She showed me how to do the brown stairs (teaches height and width), the red rods (teaches length), and the moveable alphabet (pre-reading).  We also had a snack together, which was prepared by Sammy and an older classmate.

As always happens when visiting a Montessori classroom, I was struck most by the way the children interacted with each other.  The atmosphere in that classroom was one of benevolence and cooperation, which is exactly the opposite of what we are all taught to expect from children.  Children are supposed to be little "selfish" heathens who need to be tamed.  They are expected to treat others badly until we pound it into them that they must share and be polite.  The children in Sammy's class were not perfect.  There were times when others encroached on Sammy's work, or something was grabbed at, but these were the exceptions.  The teacher had to step in once that I noticed, to remind the children not to touch another's work.  ("Work" is what the Montessori materials are called.) 

I also noticed that most of the children were smiling and friendly to each other, and to me.  One boy asked if I remembered his name, since we had met before.  He beamed when I did, indeed.  (The children addressed each other by name quite often.)  Other children told me how Sammy needed help carrying the biggest blocks, or how they liked to have a snack with her.  Since I did not know how to help Sammy do her work in the proper way, I was instructed by the children not to sit on the rug, but next to it, and that the rods needed to be aligned vertically on the rug, not horizontally.  These instructions were not the bossy behavior you sometimes see with children (including my own) but sincere help and assistance.  I love the Montessori combination of great freedom for the children, but with instruction and expectations for the proper way to use things.  It is not the freedom of subjectivism, but the freedom of trust and respect.

Sammy and I arrived early so I saw how the children filtered in.  The teachers greeted the newcomers, but there was no need for them to get up to tell the children what to do.  The kids just hung up their coats and went right to work.  Some worked independently; others worked in groups.  The teachers gave lessons or read books to small groups that formed organically.  I didn't stay for "circle time" which is when the whole class does some kind of activity together.  I might want to go again in the later part of the morning to observe that.

One final thing I noted was how big and clumsy I felt in that classroom, with all of its child-sized things.  It made me realize concretely how uncomfortable and frustrated children must feel with all of the adult-sized things that surround them.  I don't believe in turning one's home into a full Montessori environment, but it must be such a wonderful relief for the kids to enter that world designed for them each day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

This Is the Point of the Exercise

I'm going to have to dig deep for Three Good Things today:

  1. It was warm and sunny again today. 

  2. I got some time to myself tonight, which I always desperately need after a weekend of visitors.

  3. My cat is sitting next to me on my desk, purring.  It's one of my favorite sounds.

They're always there, those Three Good Things, if you look for them.

The Public Option

Another reason to homeschool is revealed in this conversation between mother and daughter:
"How many movies do you watch a week?"

She thought a bit, counting up on her fingers and trying to remember. "Oh--I don't know--five or six, maybe more. We watch t.v. pretty much every day in at least one class and any time we have a sub they put in movies or something. We watch stuff like Mythbusters a lot and call it chemistry."

She paused a moment then said, "At least it's not like my history teacher who flirts with girls in the class then shows us pictures of himself without his shirt on and talks about his tattoos."

You can read the whole frightening post at Scribbit.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This is one of those times when listing Three Good Things (the parts) doesn't nearly express the goodness of the weekend (the whole).  Adam's parents were here for the weekend, and seeing them with Sammy is one of the great joys of parenthood.  We spent most of our time together shopping and just hanging out, and here are the only concrete events I can come up with:

  1. We decided that the Yamaha YDP140 is the piano for us.

  2. I bought a brown coat which makes me look forward to cooler weather.

  3. My husband finally bought some new clothes.  He looks mighty nice in a dark blue suit.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

It's a little bit late, but Rational Jenn has your Round Up this week.

A Little Thing


Friday, November 13, 2009

New Toy, New Song, New Me

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I got a Droid!  It's Verizon's version of the iPhone and it's pretty cool.  Maybe it will help me become so much more productive that I'll have more time for blogging.  

  2. Sammy's new favorite song is Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  It's a lot more fun to sing than Baa Baa Black Sheep. 

  3. I had a lot of bad luck today.  It took me four trips to the Verizon store to get the darn phone, and it wasn't their incompetence or anything but bad luck.  My blog was down this morning.  I almost ran out of gas.  Things just didn't work.  And yet, I was in a good mood all day and everything worked out fine in the end.  Who the heck am I, anyway?

A Little Thing

After yet another potty accident:


Blogging Bog-Down

I apologize for the lack of good posts here lately.  Somehow, I seem to be very busy lately.  I'm working on a couple of home maintenance issues (why do all the light bulbs burn out at once and why does it cost $8000 to paint the interior of your house?), some insomnia problems (aka, too much thinking), a lot of laundry (aka, poop clean up), and a little bit too much Battlestar Galactica (Adam and I are watching the whole series straight through on DVD - we never saw the last season so no spoilers, please).

When I do feel like writing, I want to spend time on my fiction.  I feel some conflict between that and the blog.  I was worried about this problem arising, but I thought the two were so different that I'd have time and motivation for both.  I might have been wrong.  I'm hoping that this is just a glitch, but right now I'm just thankful that this problem gives me an easy blog post.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Three Good Things for the day:

  1. Talked to my parents over Skype using the new webcam (thanks KEPI!) and convinced them to buy one of their own so we can have more video calls with Sammy.

  2. Convinced Adam to go with the Verizon Droid and give up on the iPhone.  We're finally getting smart phones!

  3. Christmas is coming fast and I'm doing serious research on digital pianos.  I keep getting tempted by the acoustics - I know that I'll want one eventually - but the idea of playing with headphones and not having to tune the piano is just too seductive.  I'm sticking with digital - for now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Work, Adam's Work, and a Little Fuel

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I love my new work of fiction writing.  No other work has ever made me bang my desk repeatedly and yell out to the empty room:  "Yes!  F*&@ yes, that's it!  I got it!" 

  2. Sammy and I went to Adam's work and visited a while then watched him teach a class.  We stayed for about 15 minutes and then Sammy said she wanted to go home because daddy was TOO LOUD.

  3. The morning DJ one-upped himself today and played Rush's The Spirit of Radio.  There really is no better song to hear in the car first thing in the morning:

Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that's so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood.
Off on your way, hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the spirit ever lingers -
Undemanding contact in your happy solitude

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Is Why We Are Buying a Piano

Do you think she's the musical type?

Singing, Spurting, and Smiling

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I caught Journey's "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" on the radio in the car, where I could sing it as loud as I wanted and ham it up as much as I wanted, without worrying about offending anybody.

  2. Sammy went through some kind of sudden change overnight.  It's impossible to describe, but both Adam and I can see that she is speaking more grammatically, expressing new thoughts, and is just generally smarter than she was yesterday.

  3. I got Sammy's school photo today and it is one of the best pictures of her, ever! 

Potty Training Update

Sammy has supposedly been potty trained for over 9 weeks now, but we're still in the state where I'm cleaning poop off of the floor, underwear, pants, coats, shoes, and skin (including my own) every single day.  This is much worse than diapers.

About a week or two after she stared school, she got the hang of using the potty all the time.  That lasted for a week or so, and then she decided that she could poop in her pants.  This was bad enough, but Sammy has always been a frequent pooper, so it often meant 3 accidents per day.  At one point, I had found poop in her underwear when I picked her up from school every day for at least 2 weeks.  We made a big deal about not having accidents at school and she's been doing better lately, but it just means that the accidents happen at home now.

More recently, she has reduced her poops to once per day, usually.  That is something of a relief, but the whole problem is starting to wear on me.  I haven't done much about it because everything I've read and been told implies that there is nothing that I can do, and I should expect accidents.  But this is insane.  Here are some definitions of "accident:"

  • An unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance (Nope - I know it's going to happen every day)

  • Lack of intention or necessity (Nope - I know she can poop in the potty; at some level, she is choosing not to)

  • Used euphemistically to refer to an involuntary act or instance of urination or defecation (This is supposed to be the definition I'm looking for but, nope - it's not involuntary; I know she can control it if she puts the effort into it)

  • An unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance (OK, this might be an accurate description)

I guess my point is that these are not really accidents.  She has just chosen to stop using the potty.  Last week, in a moment of extreme frustration, I decided to try something.  Since she can not be trusted to use the potty on her own, I am going to have to force her to sit on it at regular intervals every day.  (I've never made her "try" to go to the potty.  I found that she would never, ever go when told, but if she did it at the time of her choosing, she'd be fine.  I might ask, "Do you need to use the potty?" before leaving the house, but if she says "No" then I let it go.  This has never caused pee accidents.  I totally trust her with that.  Adam makes her try, but I think he's wasting his time.)

So now, every morning and a few times each afternoon, I tell her she must sit on the potty for one minute.  I also force her to sit on it if I hear grunting noises.  I know that she will never poop during that minute.  But I'm trying to impose a consequence for her pooping in her pants.  She obviously does not care about being dirty, despite the conventional wisdom that kids don't like to have accidents or to be dirty.  I've explained to her that the reason we are doing this is that I can't trust her to go on her own.  I've already explained to her what it costs me when she poops in her pants.  I wish I could make her clean it up, but obviously she isn't ready for that.  I've explained about germs and wasted time and wasted money (we've thrown out so many pairs of underwear that I can't keep track anymore).  None of that seems to matter to her.  But I know that she hates to be told what to do, so that's what is going to happen now.  If she doesn't sit on the potty, I will hold her down.  Luckily, we haven't had to resort to that yet.

This technique worked with another problem we had a few weeks ago.  Sammy had stopped following me when we were walking together.  It could take a half hour to walk the 20 paces from the playground to the car and get her strapped in.  I've never been one to hold her hand and drag her around, but after putting up with these delays for a while, I told her that she had lost the privilege of walking by herself and that we had to hold hands whenever we were walking somewhere.  I told her we would do it for one week, and that's all it took.  After a week, she got her privilege back and she's been much better about sticking with me since.  She still needs constant reminders, but she listens.  I'm hoping that forcing the potty issue will work the same way.  I told her we'd start with a week, but that if she was still having accidents, that we'd keep doing it until she had learned to poop in the potty every single time.

So far, we've only had minor success.  She's put a couple of tiny nuggets in the potty, but it is obvious that she is holding it as long as possible and then losing control when she can't hold it anymore.  But I'm sticking with it until and unless I have a better idea.  Now, I'm off to do more laundry...

Monday, November 9, 2009


I must have been hungry today to think of these Three Good Things for the day:

  1. I had leftover lamb stew for breakfast.  Eggs are so Twentieth Century.

  2. Champps has the best patty melt I've ever had.  Wow - go get one tomorrow!  Lunch with Sammy is always fun.

  3. We had crab legs for dinner.  This happens to be both mine and Adam's favorite food.  It was nice to see Sammy enjoy it with us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Silly, Sandals, and Savory

Three Good Things for the weekend:

  1. The musical version of "Go, Dog. Go!"

  2. I wore sandals and a short-sleeved shirt today.

  3. Lamb stew in the crockpot.  (I skipped the mushrooms but added a bag of frozen stew vegetables at the end.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Little Thing

Sammy just taught me how to make a neat pile of cards.  She has some small, square pieces of cardboard that are part of a board game.  She collected seven of them and spread them out.  Then she placed each one in a neat stack.  She picked up the whole stack and tapped the edge on the table to line up the cards.  She rubbed her finger over the top edge of the stack to make sure the cards were aligned.  Then she said,


I love Montessori!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Humming, Heat, and High Traffic

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. My daughter's humming and singing as she works.

  2. The Virginia sun in November is strong enough to heat up my car, even when the temperature is in the low 50's.  Quite a change from the Michigan sun in November.

  3. Highest traffic ever on the blog today.  Thanks, Diana!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Birthday Suit, Boxers, and Balmy

Three Good Things for the day:

  1. We had an old friend from Michigan visit for dinner tonight and the minute he walked in the door, Sammy promptly stripped off her clothes and put on her ladybug shoes.  Luckily our friend has two girls of his own, so he gets it.

  2. I took Toby to the dog park and we met up with two Boxers.  Their owner couldn't get one of them to drop the tennis ball so he could throw it.  He warned me that the dog would bite me if I tried.  I felt like quite the Dog Whisperer when I stood over that beast, made him sit, and then told him to "drop it," and he gave up the ball. 

  3. It's November 5 and I don't need a coat.

Mini Fridge for Mini Me

Adam came up with the brilliant idea of setting up our miniature refrigerator in the kitchen for Sammy.  She isn't able to open the door on the big fridge yet, which hampers her ability to get her own snacks.  We had this little fridge just sitting in our storage room and Adam realized that Sammy probably had the strength to open it. 

Sammy's fridge

He set it up, and, voila!  Sammy now gets her own yogurt and cheese whenever she wants it.  In fact, she loves serving yogurt for two.  She'll get the two containers of yogurt and place them at our respective places at the table, then she will get 2 napkins from the shelf she can reach, and 2 spoons from her low cabinet.  Then she asks, WOULD YOU LIKE HAVE YOGURT WITH ME, MOMMY? 

We plan on putting more food in the fridge for her, but yogurt is her main refrigerated snack.  We do have a small pitcher of milk in there (you can buy the pitcher from For Small Hands for $7.50), but she hasn't had the guts to try it herself yet.  Once she does, she'll be able to get her own cereal for breakfast.  And that will bring me one step closer to my selfish goal of having her be totally self-sufficient in the morning.  Interesting how my selfish goals seem to coincide with what is best for her, isn't it?