Saturday, May 30, 2009


Samantha has many methods to soothe herself when she is hurt or upset.  Sometimes she sits on the step where we used to give her time-outs and cries until she is done crying.  Sometimes she kisses her own toe when she stubs it.  But my favorite is how, when she really needs some comfort, she says, KISS TOBY, FEEL BETTER, and gives the dog a kiss and a hug.  Works every time!

Friday, May 29, 2009

And More TV

I was listening to NPR yesterday and some blowhard music critic comes on bashing American Idol and the fact that Kris Allen won over Adam Lambert.  Now, if you didn't watch the show, Adam was a kind of glam-rock, goth, musical-theater-type and he had the most amazing range and technique.  Kris was the boy-next-door-type, but with an interesting voice and style.  I didn't really have a dog in that fight, since I was rooting for the 3rd and 4th place contestants, Danny and Allison, but for the record, I did vote for Kris because I didn't personally like Adam's voice, even while being blown away by his skill and creativity.

Anyway, this pompous creep starts out by bashing the entire show, saying how he's hated it every single year, and how an artist like Little Richard would never have had a forum on the show, the implication being that the show caters to the lowest-common denominator of poor taste and lack of originality.  He hated it, that is, until this year when Adam Lambert showed up.  Then this jerk spent a few minutes explaining why Adam Lambert is a god.  Thanks, mister, for your opinion.  And, of course, Kris was the most boring and pathetic singer of all time because, 1) he is handsome, 2) he is not "threatening", and 3) he can sing well in a way that pleases many people.

When Kris won and Adam took 2nd place, this guy said that a friend texted him, saying, "Adam Lambert's defeat was the delayed red-state backlash against Barack Obama's victory."  The critic said, "He was kidding. But not really."  I turned off the radio at that point to note his exact words.

Let's set the angry-left irrationality aside.  Still, I think this windbag missed the point:  American Idol is a popularity contest, by definition.  And Adam Lambert, a guy who wears eyeliner and turns a Johnny Cash song into a freaky, dirty, middle-eastern song (my favorite performance), came in second, and will now become a huge star.  I never thought he'd make it as far as he did.  If anything, his success on Idol mirrors the Obama victory.

The critique reminded me of a time when I was a little girl, watching the Miss Universe pageant on TV.  When the winner was crowned, I said, "Wow!  We're looking at the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world!" and my dad said, "No.  She's just the winner of this contest.  There are surely many other women out there even more beautiful than she is."  I was disappointed because I thought it was amazing to see the absolute best of something, and I'm not sure I was ready for that lesson.  But a grown-up music critic has no excuse for making a child's mistake.

Maybe we shouldn't let children such as him watch TV at all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Objectivist Round Up

Ramen and Rand hosts this week's Objectivist Round Up.  The kids are in bed so you have no excuse not to get on over there now!


I recently commented on Rational Jenn's latest post about how she handles her children's screen time.  There's been a great discussion in the comments and Jenn asked me to clarify my own.  So since I do take requests, here's an expanded version of my view on the matter. 

In general, I don't think there is anything wrong with television, movies, and video games.  They all have their place and they are Good Things.  So let's get the extreme views out of the way.

It is quite obvious that sitting in front of a screen like a zombie for hours and hours a day is just a waste of precious time.  Movies and television shows are entertainment (and sometimes art), to be used for relaxation and as a break (and sometimes as spiritual fuel).  By definition, this should supplement your usual activities, not take them over.  The same goes for video games which are less passive, but still fundamentally recreation.  Let's all agree that watching too much TV is bad for kids and adults alike.  We'll get more specific later.

On the other hand, some people view all screen time as inherently bad, for all ages.  I can't even imagine a reason for this view, it is so absurd.  I think the only reason anybody even considers it is because of the horrible morality of renunciation called Christianity.  Christianity damns every conceivable human pleasure, including sex, eating for pleasure, using technology to ease physical burdens, and even dancing.  We now scoff at some of these sacrifices (see, Footloose) but even those of us who have explicitly rejected religion sometimes succumb to elements of the morality it has infused into our culture.  Altruism and sacrifice in general are seen as noble acts, and the mind-body dichotomy is everywhere in our culture.  We are suspicious of anything that appeals to our lowly physical needs, because it is the spiritual that we should be focused on.  Television is seen as a pleasure of the body, not the mind/spirit, and so it can't be good.  But, as always, the evil can't survive without the good.  Nobody can act consistently on false ideas, or they would die.  Without relaxation, humor, and physical pleasure, life would not be worth living.  So, many people start from this premise but moderate it by deciding that TV is ok in small doses, or that television shows are bad but movies are good, or that video games are allowable because they can be educational.  Although there are rational reasons for those views, what I'm saying is that much of the time, I suspect people are coming from the irrational premise and just happening to arrive at a reasonable place.  I think it is absolutely critical to reject the bad premise from the start and to state emphatically that, fundamentally, television, movies and video games are values.  Whew!  It felt good to write that because that kind of renunciation makes me very angry.

But just because something is good doesn't mean that it is good for everybody, all the time.  Enter: children and television.  We've already eliminated the extreme views.  Obviously we don't want our kids to be zombies and we don't want to deny them pleasure or teach them that pleasure is bad. 

I take the position that some kinds of TV and movies are inappropriate because they are not intelligible at the child's level of development.  But I must say that as long as the viewing time is limited, it makes no difference because the majority of the child's environment will be intelligible.  What we must avoid is too much sensory data that the child simply can't grasp, or he will start to develop a metaphysical world-view that he is not capable of understanding his environment.  In other words, for all you Objectivists out there, you don't want to give him a malevolent-universe-premise: the core belief that the world and/or people are unintelligible and he cannot use his mind and act to achieve values.

This is exactly the Montessori principle of giving the child a challenge, but making it something that is possible to succeed with.  You give a one-year-old blocks, but not Lego's.  You give a two-year-old a pegboard but not a shoelace to tie.  There is a hierarchy of knowledge, and for babies and toddlers who are learning to resolve the chaos into entities and to observe cause and effect, TV is simply inexplicable.  It's not that they can't understand how the CRT or the radio signal works.  It's not even that TV is "pretend" or displayed on a screen.  It's that they can't possibly understand the content of most children's shows.

I really think that it would take quite a bit of chaotic input to harm the child this way.  But it would take a whole lot less than 2 hours a day, which you might say is reasonable for an adult.   As a baby, it actually probably matters less.  Babies don't even perceive entities when they are first born.  They must learn to integrate the sensory data they observe into percepts and then entities.  While they are in this state, and even some time after, I think there are some great things they can watch on TV.  One video I liked to let Sam watch when she was little was a Baby Einstein DVD with classical music and images of movement and color in the form of toys spinning, water flowing, and lights dancing.  I wouldn't say that this type of video is going to make your child smarter, but I do think that the rhythmic, isolated movements were exactly what she was able to process.  Also, occasionally watching the nightly news with its discussions of violence, or even a wrestling match would be less of a concern for a baby than for an older child, since they couldn't make anything out of it anyway.

I think by 1 or 2 years old, the child can distinguish that there are characters acting on the screen and that it is "pretend" in some vague sense, and also, if they have been read to a lot, that there is a story.  I know they can't really understand "pretend," but they can understand that the things they are seeing are on a screen, not in the real environment around them, and that this has some different status.

But what are they showing on the typical shows for that age group?  I tried Dora the Explorer and there was a representation of a cursor on the screen moving around and pointing to things and making a clicking noise.  WHAT?  The things Dora was doing had no relationship to anything my child does.  She was traveling and solving mysteries or something.  I don't think watching that show occasionally will harm my child, but why bother?  I much preferred to let Sam watch another Baby Einstein DVD which had nice music and scenes of airplanes, boats, cars, and trains.  She had seen all of those things in real life and was just learning all of their names.  Again, I don't think it's "educational" so much as it is simply intelligible.

We also watch Little Bear which has talking animals.  That actually bothers me a little, but not enough for me to ban all shows and books with talking animals - there would hardly be anything left!  But Little Bear is a show about a child, in the form of a bear, who does things that children do.  Little Bear chases a dandelion fluff to make a wish.  Little Bear breaks a treasured item and tries to put it back together.  Little Bear gets sick and his friends can't come over so he is lonely.  Little Bear wants to stay up all night but eventually falls asleep.  Once a child can understand stories, I think this is a perfect kind of television show.  Also, importantly, each story is about 8 minutes long.  Movies, no matter how simple, are just too long for a 2-year-old.

There are probably plenty of other good shows.  I like The Backyardigans, but I only let Sam watch it occasionally because I think it's just a bit too advanced.  We watch Milo and Otis together sometimes, but she can't last long enough to watch the whole thing, and parts of it are scary.  We also watch videos on YouTube:  swing dancing, ballet, whales jumping out of the ocean, funny cats and dogs, funny babies, and Schoolhouse Rock (totally inappropriate cognitive content, but fun music and I just couldn't wait to show it to her, which is perfectly consistent with my view that a little bit of the unintelligible is just fine).

As for the computer, we now use it only for the videos, music, and typing.  I plan to teach Sam to read, write, and type, pretty much concurrently.  She is already interested in all three, so we often sit down at the keyboard and I'll help her use one finger to spell out words.  We do the same thing with pen and paper - I guide her hand in making letters and words.  We don't plan to introduce any other games for quite a while.  If Sam does start reading, we might try something like Starfall, which Rational Jenn recommends.  I think there is nothing wrong with using games like that as a supplement to other, real-world activities.  Again, the danger lies in the loss of experience in the real world.  I think the sandpaper letters are a more important tool than anything you can find on a computer.

Rational Jenn made a point about how there are a million and one things that are unintelligible to a child, and that the whole point is that they need to learn to sort it all out.  What is different about TV?  Nothing, in small doses.  But if a child sits and watches an hour or two of TV every day, it will be one of the biggest parts of his life.  What else does a child do for this long of a time period?  There is something in the idea that TV sucks you in, even when you are not engaged, and that is the only thing that I would call a "danger."

And so this is where the parenting comes in.  Rational Jenn's post was all about how she lets her children monitor their own screen time, and she steps in only if she sees that it is going too far.  She also has only a limited selection of programs for them to watch.  I'll have to take back the comment I made on her blog that I disagree with her, but only a little.  I agree with her in principle, especially after seeing how much she does monitor the content.  Sam is too young to turn on a show for herself, but she already walks away sometimes before I want her to, if she gets bored.  Our neighbors, who are excellent parents, set a time limit for their 8-year-old, but he sets the timer and uses it to remind himself to stop.  I think the amount of screen time a child has does not have to be a huge battle or a big deal, if the rest of the parenting is going well.  I don't think most kids would want to sit in front of a TV all day if they hadn't already been trained into it when they were much too young, and if there are enough opportunities made available to them for more interesting pursuits.  Based on Jenn's post, I'll be less likely to step in and set a limit on Sam before she has a chance to regulate herself.

There's one other issue that is nagging at me now:  the issue of appropriate content in books.  We've always read Sam anything and everything, but I'm wondering if that isn't the same mistake as letting a child watch any kind of TV show.  We'll have to rethink that next time around.

Yes, next time.  We hope.


Samantha is in the "mine" stage. 


We love her awareness of this concept, and we actually encourage her to identify the things that truly are hers.  Of course, she tries to claim everything in the universe as hers.  This morning she was holding a magnet with the letter "O" on it, and saying, OH, OH.  I said, "Isn't it interesting that when you make the sound of the letter 'O' your mouth makes the shape of it?"  Then I demonstrated a few times: "Oh."  And then Adam started saying it too: "Oh."


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Little Thing

My 2-year-old knows how to eat an artichoke.

And Even More Tears

Samantha and I got in a big fight yesterday.  She's been on this anti-mommy kick for the past week and it's really getting to me.  She hits me and screams her head off and she's happy to cooperate with anybody but me.  I know this is something children do with the person they are most attached to, and I've been telling myself that I won't take it personally, but still, at some level, I do.  My patience is wearing thin and I'm getting angry with her much more quickly, which, of course, makes things worse. 

Yesterday was not the worst of it, but it seems that it was the final straw for me.  At some point in her tirade, Sam came around.  I sat on the floor in front of her and I told her, "You've got to stop hitting me.  I don't like it.  Hitting hurts.  It really hurts my feelings, too."  And then I started crying.  Bawling, actually.  I realized that this was exactly what she needed to hear and see - that she was really hurting me with her actions.  And she responded.  She was contrite and probably a bit frightened.  She said, HIT MOMMY. HURT. HURT MOMMY. CRY. MOMMY CRY. GET MOMMY TISSUE.  And she ran upstairs and came back down with a tissue.  One tissue.  For me.  It was almost worth all the pain of the past week just for that one moment.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And More Tears...

...because I just watched Marley and Me.  Loved it.

Blogroll Updates

Here are some blogs I've been reading and have just added to my blogroll:

AisA Academy:  Another Objectivist homeschooler - yea!

biotic spark and revolving rock:  Doug's blogs about "flora, fauna, and amateur naturalism," and astronomy. Yes, another Objectivist.  Not updated often, but I need some diversity in my reading.

The Harry Binswanger List:  Also known as HBL, this Objectivist e-mail list is one of only two discussion lists which I actually read and I highly recommend it, if only for Dr. Binswanger's excellent posts.  He recently added an "Excerpt of the Day" RSS feed, although I don't think it's working for me.  Need to check that out.

Heroes of Capitalism:  I love this blog, dedicated to honoring a new hero every day.  The descriptions are brief enough to be read simply for pleasure, and who couldn't use a little inspiration like this every day?

One Reality:  One of my new favorites.  Stephen writes on music, art, food, sports, and techie stuff.  I'm looking forward to reading his Dennis Prager "rebuttal"but I'm saving it until it is complete.  Dennis Prager is one of my favorite religious thinkers, if there is such a thing. 

Voices for Reason:  The official blog of The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.  I'm really glad they got this going.  Good stuff.

Hey! You Stole My Blog Post!

I was just about to write a tribute to Interjections when LB stole my thunder.  But here it is anyway.



Schoolhouse Rock is one of those things that I love so much that I used to dream of sharing it with my child someday, even before I knew if I really wanted to have a child.  And now she is here, and she's old enough, and we watch it together.  And sometimes, out of the blue, she'll say to me, "Darn, that's the end," and it makes me cry.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jack Sprat

Rational Jenn's latest post about how she handles food issues in her family reminded me of my family's new dinnertime rhyme:

Adam and Amy could eat no fat
Samantha could eat no lean
And so between the three of them
They licked the platter clean

I'm so glad I've been liberated from my fear of fat, or Sam would never have known this love of hers.  The dog, on the other hand, is not so happy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Holy crap, I'm so busy and so tired.  I have a long list of things to blog about, a few of them quite interesting, so I hope you'll stick with me until I have more than a moment to spend writing.  In the meantime, here's Samantha's idea of how to apply makeup.  She wore it all day.

[caption id="attachment_1271" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Makeup"]Makeup[/caption]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Our Mutt

Adam just said this to our sweet dog, who is supposed to be a Labrador Retreiver, but since we got him from a rescue, we don't know for sure:

Toby, you may not have gotten the Lab's love of water.  You may not have gotten the Lab's love of retreiving.  But you got the Lab's Love.

A Little Thing

Samantha learned how to open doors this week.  She's finally tall enough to get enough of a grip on the round doorknobs in our house to turn them and pull.  This means two things:  1) She might come out of her room at night at any time.  It hasn't happened yet and I have no idea how in the world we'll handle it when it does.  Maybe we'll use the Supernanny method.  But on the bright side, 2) she can now come out of her room in the morning on her own so we're one step closer to sleeping in again someday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Objectivist Round Up #97

Welcome to the May 21, 2009 edition of the Objectivist Round Up. This week presents insight and analyses written by authors who are animated by Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. According to Ayn Rand:
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

"About the Author," Atlas Shrugged, Appendix.

So without any further delay (and in no particular order), here's this week's round-up:


Burgess Laughlin presents What is exaltation? posted at Making Progress, saying, "This article considers the importance, nature, and prerequisites of a particular emotion, exaltation."

Gus Van Horn presents First, "Access." Now, "Excess" posted at Gus Van Horn, saying, "In less than a year, advocates of socialized medicine have gone from complaining that everyone can't have medical care to saying that some people have too much of it!"

Exalted presents "Atlas Shrugged", "The Objectivist Ethics", And Exalted Moments posted at Exalted Moments, saying, "The sales rate of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is triple the rate of 2008. Given the attention of the novel, it is important to understand Miss Rand's point in writing it. Many think it was "prophecy". Many think it was to organize a strike ("Going Galt").

Many would be surprised to hear Miss Rand's answer: "Exalted moments.""

Rajesh Dhawan presents Is rationality a virtue worth emulating? posted at Objective extrospection, saying, "Discussing Gina Gorlen's article in TOS about the Reason-Emotion Split as Manifested in House, M.D. the TV series. Popularity of the lead character Dr. House who is a medical genius suggests that people’s admiration for the virtue of reason is still alive and kicking."

Paul McKeever presents The Interest Myth Exploded posted at Paul McKeever, saying, "advocates of capitalism should familiarize themselves with this myth, and with why/how it is a myth, because it is a such a virulent, anti-Capitalist myth and serves as the basis of many a pro-collectivist conspiracy theory."

Ari Armstrong presents The Nobility of Capitalism posted at, saying, "I quickly reply to a letter attacking capitalism."

Monica presents A Reader Weighs in on the Nature of the NAIS Listening Sessions posted at FA-RM, saying, "The USDA wants to institute a National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a massive program to track all animal movements in the United States with RFID chips. This week a reader of mine reported on her experience at the recent NAIS listening sessions. You won't want to miss it."

Paul Hsieh presents Simpson on Licensing posted at We Stand FIRM, saying, "Steve Simpson explains why we should oppose medical licensing."

Amy Mossoff presents Should Students Use the Internet for Research? posted at The Little Things, saying, "Some thoughts on why children should be encouraged to use the Internet for research - with plenty of guidance!"

Amy Mossoff presents Tantrums and Principles posted at The Little Things, saying, "A rant about my toddler's latest tantrums containing just a hint of self-pity, but a lesson learned in the end."

Stella presents An open letter to President Obama posted at ReasonPharm, saying, "The President's proposed health care reforms cannot possibly work -- because they are immoral."

Roberto Sarrionandia presents Tito's Blog: Obama outlaws reality posted at Tito's Blog, saying, "Obama's absurd claims over the minds in the auto industry."

Greg Perkins presents Standing Up for Truly Free Speech posted at NoodleFood, saying, ""So there I was, sitting among a couple hundred conservative folks, trying to figure out how I could point out hypocrisy and inspire a genuine stand for liberty without being booed out of the room.""

The Editors present FDA Keeps Smokers At Risk posted at The Undercurrent, saying, "Although there is evidence that electronic cigarettes are less harmful than the traditional variety, the FDA is still actively interfering with the sale and importation of these products. Where does the government acquire the moral authority to do this?"

John Drake presents Auto economics - the future of Chrysler, GM, and other auto manufacturers posted at Try Reason!, saying, "Summary of a presentation by an economist specializing in the auto industry. In spite of the presenter's flawed philosophy, there were many interesting facts and trends."

Ryan Krause presents Published posted at The Money Speech, saying, "As my study shows, Obama's attempt to regulate for "long-term" compensation makes no sense, technically or ethically."

Daniel presents The Potentially Alive posted at The Nearby Pen, saying, "This is the first part of a short story about the end of the world--or its beginning."

Rational Jenn presents Keeping Kids Safe posted at Rational Jenn, saying, "Teaching kids how to be safe doesn't necessarily need to frighten them if you keep a focus on the factors that are inside their control--and if you teach them to talk to the right kinds of strangers."

Kathryn presents Movie Review: Vitus posted at The Pursuit, saying, "Kathryn from 'The Pursuit' reviews Vitus, a Romantic film about a young piano prodigy who uses his remarkable intelligence in order to find the freedom he needs to pursue his values."

Michael Labeit presents On Recession and Price Deflation posted at Philosophical Mortician, saying, "In defense of price deflation."

C. August presents Miracle at Philadelphia: QOTD 3 posted at Titanic Deck Chairs, saying, "The third in a series of posts pulling quotes from an excellent history book about the men who hashed out the Constitution in 1787. The author noted that then, there was "no quarrel between human rights and property rights" as there is today. I look at what that really means."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Objectivist Round Up using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dueling Cell Phones

No, this isn't a link to a cute YouTube video, but links to two contrasting opinions about whether or not to let your children have cell phones. 

Kim takes the affirmative.

Michelle takes the negative.

I found both arguments interesting, but I tend to agree with Kim, for many of the same reasons that came up in my last post about Internet research.  You can't blame the tool when it is misused.

Should Students Use the Internet for Research?

Stephen Bourque at One Reality wrote recently about his love-hate relationship with the Internet.  In the "hate" post, he brings up an interesting point about students using the Internet for research, saying that teachers should discourage use of the Internet for research until college.  As a future homeschooler, I gave some thought to what he said. (I'll count on you to read Stephen's post now to get the full context for the rest of mine.)

I agree that a "report" pulled from one source without any digestion of ideas is pointless.  But use of the Internet is not the cause of this problem.  Students do the same thing with books all the time.  The student can learn what resource to use for what purpose by the guidance and feedback he gets from his teacher.  Maybe we're all becoming inured to incompetent teachers who can't tell the difference, but I've graded many essays and I think the difference between a regurgitation-essay and an essay that involved critical thinking is usually quite clear, barring clever plagiarism.  If a reasonable teacher can't tell the difference, then the whole assignment may have been misguided.  If you want the student to learn to do the research and use his mind, you must find a way to judge that effort.  That might mean skipping the report and doing something completely different, but I suspect that is usually not necessary.

You can usually (but not always) get in-depth information and can "follow your nose" on the web - you just have to want to do the work.  The student who took the lazy way using the Internet in Stephen's example would probably not do the work he describes with the books anyway.  I see no difference here between books and the web - it's a matter of motivation. 

In regard to the "flat" information of the Internet, I partially agree with Stephen.  When I Googled "first scene of wagner's ring" the first hit was a Wikipedia entry that described the four-part opera and included the facts Stephen presented.  Links were included that would probably lead to the same kind of information you would find in books.  However, there is no table of contents or easy way to know what is relevant - the student would have to click around until he figures out the hierarchy of the information on his own.  This method of organizing, in my own mind, the "flat" information presented to me on the web is a difficult process and sometimes I actually fail.  I had this exact problem when trying to research the Paleo diet and "diseases of civilization."  Finally, I had to turn to a book, which gave me a clearer, but still imperfect understanding of these ideas.  Shouldn't a student, with a lot of guidance, be given the opportunity to learn to use his judgment in the same way?

The second hit brought me to a page that looked like a blog entry with a title "Wagner's Ring: A Guide For The Willing But Perplexed - Part III" and a subtitle of "First Day: Das Rheingold - Prelude and Scene 1."  I started reading and had no idea what was going on.  My first thought was, "I need to go back to Parts 1 and 2 if I want to understand the context of this."  And I could easily have done this by using links. Then I would have had to decide if the information was relevant and reliable.  Shouldn't a properly educated 12-year-old be able to do the same thing?

Regarding reliability, students using the Internet must understand that not all information they find will necessarily be true, so they need to judge the source.  However, this is no different with books.  Students too young to use this judgment need guidance from an adult.  With books, that guidance might be, "Use the encyclopedia," and an explanation.  With the Internet, it might be, "Check for multiple sources."  Or, you might start compiling a list of resources with the child, categorizing them into groups such as "reliable," "semi-reliable," "unknown," and "not reliable."  You can explain how you make that determination for each one, which would give the child a good inductive way of learning how to make the judgments on his own.  Then you can help the child develop a process to verify unreliable information. (I put Wikipedia into "semi-reliable," and would check other sources if I had no prior knowledge of the subject.)  This is not an easy process and it requires a huge mental database of knowledge about sources and what makes them credible.  The only way to build that database is to start working with sources - to gain firsthand experience of the process.

This whole process is what critical thinking in research is all about.    I think, at the right age and with the right guidance, the Internet is a 100% positive thing.  It opens up whole new worlds of information to the child, and removes much of the drudgery of looking up mundane facts.  The possible misuse of the Internet does not taint it as a tool.  Stephen's final paragraph expresses this same thought, so maybe we don't disagree on anything but the age-appropriateness of the Internet.  He says wait until college.  I suspect a child can start using the Internet with guidance somewhere around 8-10 years old. 

Since I have no real experience with this subject, I'd love get some comments, especially from teachers.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tantrums and Principles

Samantha had two massive tantrums today.  There were also at least two other minor meltdowns.  Something is up, and I think I know what it is.

The first one happened at day care.  I was picking her up and I smelled "production," as we've come to call poop sometimes around here.  (I mean, when they are babies, that's the only thing they really produce, right?)  I took her to a changing station and she was resisting a bit, but I talked her into letting me put her up on the table.  The diaper had leaked (AGAIN) and I was going to have to change her pants, so I took off one of her shoes.  That's what started it.  NO SHOES OFF. NO SHOES OFF.  The next 45 minutes were hell.  The poop was everywhere and she screamed for 20 minutes straight, waking up all the babies in the room next door, and was completely inconsolable.  I could not allow her to get down because the poop went halfway down to her knees, but she insisted on squirming off the table over and over.  I just had to catch her and put her back up every time, both of us getting covered in shit in the process.  She constantly tried to hit me and I had to hold her arms.  I could not understand anything she might have tried to say, except once she said she wanted to have the diaper changed on the floor (not possible with that much mess) and once she said she wanted the teacher to do it (that might have ended it, but I was feeling stubborn).  Finally, something broke and she let me hug her and start consoling her.  She was still too upset to do anything but cry for another 15 minutes or so, and then we finally got the diaper changed and made it home. 

She pooped in the potty last night right before bed (first one in a long time), so tonight I asked her if she wanted to try again.  She eagerly said YESCH.  After a minute or so of trying, she started asking for fruit candy.  We've offered her this little treat as a reward for making something in the potty.  I actually tried to stop the reward thing a while back, but she just won't forget that she is entitled to a fruit candy, so I decided that, for this one thing, a reward is ok.

Anyway, I told her she could only have a fruit candy if she made a pee or poo, and at some point, the tantrum began.  It was so intense that she threw up from all the screaming.  She did a much better job restraining herself from hitting me this time, so I didn't do much except try to stay out of her way and occasionally try to elicit some words.  But the intensity of her emotion was just too much.  I could see she was trying to say words to communicate with me, but they were buried in the screaming.  Since we were home and she wasn't hitting me, I was able to really stay calm and just wait it out, and finally, I heard these words:  TRY POOP POTTY. CAN'T DO IT.

I just about died with remorse.  The poor girl wanted to make a poop so badly that she was having a total meltdown when one wasn't forthcoming.  The damn reward thing was a total mistake.  Once I understood the problem, I could talk to her about it a little bit, but again, it took her a long time to recover.  I explained that sometimes there is poop in your body and it is ready to come out and sometimes there is just no poop, so you can't do it any time you want to.  I told her the best thing to do was to keep trying every day.  I told her that we were no longer going to give her fruit candy for making something on the potty, but we would give her some on occasion just for fun.  I'm not sure how much got through to her.  I'm pretty sure her earlier tantrum had something to do with this issue, since the same dark matter was involved. 

I've tried to keep the potty training issue casual and to make sure that Sam feels like it is a fun and good thing to do, but only when she is ready. But I blew that all away with the fruit candy.  I've now made the same mistake twice.  I've allowed one particular situation to be an "exception" to my usual parenting methods.  With Sam's hitting, I decided that time-outs were necessary instead of more natural consequences.  With the potty, I decided that rewards just might work, when I normally don't use them at all.  Both "exceptions" have been failures.

It's a good lesson in thinking in and acting on principle.  Sure, as a parent, you have to be flexible and open to lots of different methods, depending on your child's temperament, age, and the situation at hand.  But certain fundamentals will hold true no matter what the situation.  Next time I start thinking of something as an "exception," a red flag will pop up in my mind and, hopefully, I'll think it through more carefully.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Little Thing

Adam:  She's so sensitive.

Amy:  Like the Princess and the Pea.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Oral Fixation

Samantha has never had too much of a need to chew and suck on things.  She never really used a pacifier and wasn't too excited about teething rings.  At some point, though, she started chewing on her own arm.  Her right wrist was always red and puckered.  One time, she hurt herself by biting too hard, so she moved on to chewing on her sleeve.  Recently, she gave that up too, after getting annoyed that her shirt was wet.  (I had to explain to her that it was wet because she chewed on it, but once I told her that, she stopped immediately.  It's strange that she didn't figure that out on her own.) 

Luckily, I got a video of her sleeve chewing just before she stopped it.  It's one of those Little Things that I'm sure I'd completely forget in about 6 months if I didn't record it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mexico, Part 4

Here is the fourth and final update in the Mexico series from my parents.  (Sorry about the formatting but I just can't seem to paste from Word without strange problems.)

RVing is a great way to travel off the beaten path and really learn something about the culture of the place you visit.  My parents almost never take the big highways, which helps.  They also have the luxury of not having to plan ahead much.  If they like a place, they just stay a bit longer.  If they're bored, they move on.   Their RV is huge and luxurious - it really is a nice home.  Modern technology also helps them in this lifestyle; maps are still useful, but GPS helps greatly with navigation, there is no need for land lines now that you get cell phone reception most anywhere, and many campgrounds have WiFi, just like hotels.  It's a pretty great way to spend retirement traveling.  Now they just need to find a way to ship the RV to Europe for a while! 


April 7, 2009

Hola, Everyone!

We are now back in the U.S. spending a few days in a little town, Donna, in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.


Pyramid of the Sun, near Mexico city
Pyramid of the Sun, near Mexico city

Our last days in Mexico went fast. Raphael, our favorite and only taxi driver, took us to Teotihuacan to see the Pyramid of the Sun, the world’s third largest pyramid (number one and two being in Egypt). It is touted as the number-one tourist draw in Mexico; but it did not rate that high with us. None of us had the energy or desire to climb to the top of the pyramid or walk the whole route to the Pyramid of the Moon. The most impressive part of our visit was the large scale-model of the greatest city in ancient Mexico under a transparent walkway in the museum, from where we could still see today, the Sun pyramid through a wall-sized window. The tour book was correct when it said it would be exhausting to fend off all the indefatigable hawkers. One hawker won the battle and sold us 10 clay turtle whistles.




Our plan was to take Mex 85, the old Pan American Highway north to Texas over the backbone of the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains. We would have to look for a Pemex for our first night as we knew we would not be able to reach the first campgrounds listed on this route. We made better time than we thought as the short cut we took turned out to be a much better road than expected. After lunch the mountains became MOUNTAINS big-time! They rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell like a continuous row of letter Ms. The road would run along one side of a canyon till the end, then run back on the opposite side. The scenery was spectacular. Little towns could be seen perched on neighboring mountainsides or in the deep valleys below us. Cows, burros, pigs, and chickens roamed at will along the roadside.


At one place a group of school girls began waving at us very energetically and then a woman waved and yelled something which sounded like, No Passable!, No Passable! We got off the road to find that the road ahead was blocked by a car and grass fire. We watched as people from the nearby houses took barrels of water, hoes, and rakes in the back of pickups up to the fire. In a short while we were able to proceed due to the work of these people. Later we saw the police and ambulance coming the other way from the not-so-near town with these services. These are self-reliant people, accustomed to taking care of the unexpected. Road construction is signaled by the waving of red shirts or blocking off where autos shouldn’t go by placing rocks in the way.


At 3:30 we came upon a Pemex , but thinking it was a little tight, we elected to go on as there were some towns ahead. But, in each of them, we saw nothing on the narrow main road and no space to park to explore the side streets for an overnight parking spot. In the mountains, flat space is valuable and it was already being used. No empty lots. At 5:30 we finely found a flat space on the side of the road leaving the town of Tamazunchal in front of a couple of residences, a muffler shop and beer bar.

[caption id="attachment_1219" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Muffler shop"]Muffler shop[/caption]

A gentleman on his way to the bar took Mike & Richard to the police station to check out parking and later explained our situation to the nearby residents. Even though no English was spoken, we were able to communicate with each other. Everybody agreed that we were welcome to stay the night. We later joined our new friends in the bar for cervezas and music. There was electricity in the bar but no electricity or water in the shacks that were near the RV’s. The water was brought in buckets from a communal well down the road. We were told we only had 40 miles of the slow-going steep roads ahead. Whew!


[caption id="attachment_1220" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Behind the muffler shop, no electricity"]Behind the muffler shop, no electricity[/caption]


We left at daybreak, as promised, so we wouldn’t be blocking access to the muffler shop and what also might have been a local bus stop.

[caption id="attachment_1221" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Rain forest near east coast of Mexico"]Rain forest near east coast of Mexico[/caption]

We were descending and driving through part of the northernmost tropical rain forest in North America known as the Huasteca. This area offers waterfalls, swimming holes, whitewater galore, caves, and miles of unexplored back roads. We were satisfied with viewing the tropical vegetation and the many fruit and flower stalls along the road. Later, there were very big and prosperous looking ranchos. As we approached Ciudad Victoria, we had traversed many barren mesas. There seemed little to offer us here, other than electricity and a night in a RV park.


The next day like trail horses on their way back to the barn, sensing the border was within range, we drove straight to the Los Indios border crossing with only a stop at a Pemex to get rid of all our remaining pesos. It took us about 1½ hours to turn in our Mexican vehicle permits and visas and go through US border security. Pat and Richard elected to go to Pharr, TX as they wished to attend mass at the San Juan Basilica the next morning. We elected to stay closer to Progresso, Mexico as we wanted to visit the dentist there. By 7:00PM on April 4, 2009 we were watching our first TV news show in 2 months. What was the top news---recent shootings in New York and Pennsylvania and a review of all the shootings so far in March. The US must be a dangerous place to travel.


Los Vemos,

Mike & Donna

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mr. Fixit

My dad designed and built his own house, so he knows a thing or two about home maintenance and repair.  Every time he visits, we hit him up for a project or two, so of course, with our huge task list here at the new house we figured he could help with a few things.  I think he ended up cutting a year off of that 10-year-plan.  Here is what he did in the 12 days he was here:

  • Replaced the flappers on two toilets, and the valve mechanism on a third.  We now have four properly working toilets instead of just one!

  • Adjusted two bifold closet doors so they close properly.

  • Diagnosed a big problem we have with our upstairs windows, giving us a solution that we can do ourselves instead of replacing the windows completely.  (Do you know about weep holes?  Make sure you have some.)

  • Manufactured two supports for my desk shelf out of PVC pipe and rubber feet.  It was a really cool, creative solution.

  • Fixed two kitchen drawers that were out of alignment and not operating smoothly, and taught me how to fix them in the future.

  • Adjusted a few of our drain stoppers in the sinks, which were not working at all.

  • Reversed the postion of the light and fan switches in our master bath. (Don't you hate it when somebody puts the fan switch closest to the door when everybody knows that the light switch goes there?)

  • Reversed the direction of a dimmer switch in a bedroom which had been installed upside-down, so that you had to push it down to turn on the light. (What kind of idiot makes a mistake like that and then just leaves it that way?)

  • Fixed a recessed light fixture in the basement.  It was just loose, but we probably would have hired an electrician.

  • Installed a screen over one of our gutters, not to keep out the leaves, but to stop the rain from dripping from the roof directly onto the metal in one particular spot right outside of our bedroom, which had woken me up countless times.  We're supposed to get some rain soon so I can find out if that solved the problem.  This was another really creative solution to a small but annoying problem.

  • Gave us a guess as to what might be wrong with our water heater, which doesn't seem to work well.  (He says it might be calcium deposits and we could try to drain it.)

  • Re-installed the damper in our ductwork that allows us to close off the flow to the top floor.  The handle had broken off of it and he had to open up the ductwork and manufacture a handle and another part to fix it.

  • Fixed a leak in our basement laundry sink.

I think there might have been a couple of other things that came up along the way, but that was what I noted on my list.  He also bought all the parts for us as our housewarming gift.  Awesome!

Adam and I didn't do too badly these last two weeks either.  I installed a paper towel holder, completed the grout-cleaning project, and fixed the garbage disposal when some kind of metal got wedged in it.  Adam installed the new chandelier in our "dining room" which is really the eat-in kitchen.  The old ceiling fan was literally falling apart.  One light was hanging by the wires, and one of the glass shades just fell off onto the table one day.  Besides, it was ugly as hell.  We bought the new fixture to match the kitchen we plan to create, not the one we have now, so it's a bit out of place.  (We're going for the Art Deco look.)  We also gave up the ceiling fan for the sake of style.  Still, it's quite an improvement.  Here are the before and after photos:

[caption id="attachment_1211" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Dining Room Light Before"]Dining Room Light Before[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_1212" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Dining Room Light After"]Dining Room Light After[/caption]

Objectivist Round Up

Here is this week's Round Up, found at John Drake's Try Reason, another lovely blog that I need to add to my blogroll.

I'm hosting next week's edition, so start submitting those entries, folks.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hair Cuts

We finally broke down and got Sam a $12 professional hair cut, and it was worth every penny. 

The selfish parent gets her child's hair cut nicely because she likes to look at the child and so wants to make him or her as beautiful as possible, and because it keeps the hair out of the child's face, which makes life more pleasant for both of them.

The selfless parent might get the child's hair cut out of a duty to groom the child, or to impress other people, but she will never allow herself a motivation that is selfish.

Selfishness does not always manifest itself in radically unusual actions, but there is always a difference in motivation and resulting satisfaction when one is selfish instead of altruistic.

My Job Keeps Me Busy

My parents left town today.  Happily, they are going to swing back for a few days in June after a quick trip up the east coast.

We had quite a nice and busy time while they were here.  We went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles, where they have an SR-71, a Concorde, and the Enterprise space shuttle, the one that was never used.  They also had a few of Burt Rutan's early designs, which I loved to see.  Adam knows so much about aircraft that he was able to give us a better tour than the tour guide.  Sam enjoyed it too, and we got her a poster of the Lunar Rover and a Richard Scarry book, A Day at the Airport.

We went to a local zoo, which is always a great toddler activity.  Sam fell in love with one particular goat, and named him Daddy Goat.  They also had kangaroos, zebras, African bulls, and a boa constrictor which we got to touch.

Adam and I took advantage of the free babysitting and saw the new Star Trek movie, which was really good, but which I've mostly forgotten.  It's just a really enjoyable, fun ride.

Yesterday, we went to Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington.  Adam had to work, so he missed it, which is fine with me because it means we need to go back again soon.  Mt. Vernon is right on the Potomac and the setting is just beautiful.  The home itself is not nearly as interesting as Jefferson's Monticello, but the grounds are lovely, everything is well-maintained, and the museum and educational centers are incredible.  You can even take a cruise up the Potomac on a nice yacht, but we didn't have time for that.  We did go through the house, where there were tour guides stationed in each room to tell you about that part of the house.  We told Sam that they were telling us stories about the house, and eventually she started to fuss, saying NO MORE STORIES, NO MORE STORIES.  But really, she did a great job through the parts that must have been boring for her.

We also had a few dinners at our house and at my parents' RV, and we even had a little campfire one evening.  My mom brought us some neat gifts from Mexico and my dad did a bunch of house projects for us, all of which I'll write up in a later post. 

Today, Sam and I are laying low, recuperating.  That means that she watched an hour of TV in the morning while Adam and I slept in, and later she did sidewalk chalk while I wrote up the first part of this post sitting on the front porch in the incredible sunny-and-68 degree weather.  Now she is napping while I sit on the back deck with the dog, again enjoying the beautiful sunshine.

All of that good stuff is my job.  Taking Sam to new places, helping her build a relationship with her grandparents, and getting outside when the weather is nice - these are my duties.  What a life!

More Mexico Pictures

Here are more pictures from the first part of my parents' trip to Mexico.

This first picture (taken before they crossed the border) is an example of what my parents do when they meet up with the Boondockers group, the RVers who like to dry camp, without electricity, water, or sewer hookups.  My dad says some of them like to compete to see who can go the longest on their 100 gallon tank of water.  They shower by getting wet with one cup of water, soaping up, then rinsing with just one cup more.  And that's supposed to be fun?  But the bonfires they have each night look like fun.

[caption id="attachment_1178" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ajo, AZ Bonfire"]Ajo, AZ Bonfire[/caption]

Here are examples of the color and food presentation that I mentioned in an earlier post.

[caption id="attachment_1179" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Library mural"]Library mural[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1183" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Market at Lake Chapala"]Market at Lake Chapala[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1182" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The Malecon (seawalk), Jacotapec, Lake Chapala"]The Malecon (seawalk), Jacotapec, Lake Chapala[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1181" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Market in Old Mazatlan"]Market in Old Mazatlan[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1185" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Restaurant in marketplace, Guadalajara"]Restaurant in marketplace, Guadalajara[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1186" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Parade, Carnival"]Parade, Carnival[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1187" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Juice stand, Guadalajara"]Juice stand, Guadalajara[/caption]

And finally, here is the Lady of Guadalupe, an image my parents saw everywhere in their travels through Mexico.  She seems to be the symbol of Mexican Catholicism.

[caption id="attachment_1188" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Lady of Guadalupe, San Carlos"]Lady of Guadalupe, San Carlos[/caption]

Mexico, Part 3

I now have pictures from my parents' trip!  Here is part 3 of the 4 part series chronicling their Mexican adventure:

APRIL 1, 2009

Hola Everyone,

[caption id="attachment_1157" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Goodbye, Hello"]Goodbye, Hello[/caption]

Our last update left us at the Roca Azul RV park on Lake Chapala. We left there on March 22 and drove the scenic road south of the lake to the charming town of Patzcuaro. On one stretch we went through several towns one after another so that you could see the Feliz Viaje (Good Bye) sign for one town and the Bienvenidos (Welcome) sign at the same time. We passed a large new building with a heliport outside with the name Driscoll's. It is a name of the distributor of the raspberries and now the strawberries grown here. Patzcuaro had narrow cobblestone roads lined with buildings of white-washed stucco with brownish red at the bottoms. It gave the jumble of different buildings a cohesive and placid look. We did our usual touring routine of visiting the town plazas, cathedrals, shopping and lunch in a Mexican restaurant.

[caption id="attachment_1160" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Chapel on Jinitziu"]Chapel on Jinitziu[/caption]

We also visited the "Casa de los Once Patios" (house of 11 patios) where you can watch craftsmen work and buy their handiwork. Patzcuaro is nestled on a hillside next to a large lake where we took a half hour boat ride to the Isla Janitzio.

[caption id="attachment_1158" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Janitzio, island near Patzcuaro"]Janitzio, island near Patzcuaro[/caption]

This island is like the top 4 or 5 hundred feet of a mountain sticking out of the water. There is no flat land, no roads and no vehicles but it is covered withhomes, shops, restaurants and bars. Only paths and steps lead you uphill where you have to continuously pass shops and restaurants to get to the top. There you are rewarded with the statue of Morelos. If you have any energy left, given the 7000 feet elevation, you can climb the 162 steps inside the statue to the top. Richard and Pat made it to the top but we gave up about half way.

[caption id="attachment_1159" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Fishing "show""]Fishing "show"[/caption]

At our arrival at the island we were treated to a group of fishing boats who did what could be called a dance as they formed a circle and then gracefully put their huge butterfly nets in and out of the water as they recreated how they once fished here.

After a few days in Patzcuaro we drove about an hour to Morelia, a city of about 600,000. Morelia does not have any RV parks so we pulled into a Wal- Mart and got permission to spend the night in their parking lot. We spent the rest of the day exploring this colonial city by car, on foot and a tour bus (unfortunately the guide only spoke Spanish). We were impressed by the central square and the cathedral as well as the no longer used aqueduct which crosses part of the city supported by 253 arches.

The next morning we headed for Pepe's Hotel & RV Park in Tepotzotlan. We haven't talked much about our experiences while driving but we had an incident en route that is worthy of mention. As you can probably imagine, driving a 40 foot motor home towing a car on these narrow roads is one thing but going through the small towns with narrowstreets can be an adventure. We entered one town which appeared on the map and GPS to be a straight through drive. What we didn't know was that the road through town split into two opposing one-way streets and we wound up going the wrong way. Most small towns use traffic cops (they're cheaper than signals) and this was no exception. These cops saw our dilemma, knew that we couldn't turn the tight corners and started diverting traffic so that we could continue through town. We were then committed to driving the entire way through town going the wrong way on a one-way street. The on-coming traffic just moved to the side like this was no big deal. We made itwith no problems and note this as an example of how helpful the people and the police are. We later arrived at Pepe's which is our base for exploring Mexico City about 30 miles south. We were advised not to try to drive into the city because of heavy traffic and crazy drivers (as we later observed, it is no worse than Los Angeles), so we decided to take a taxi into the city, stay in a downtown hotel for 2 nights and then a taxi back. Pepe's is a very nice, modern and secure facility, so we were not concerned about leaving our RV's there. The staff also made our hotel reservations for us.


What image do you have of Mexico City? We had an image; all the bad things we heard about. It is probably the largest city in the world with an estimated population of 20 million (nobody knows for sure) and including the towns that make up the urban sprawl an estimated 32 million. With that many people, Mexico City must have everything bad that can exist in a city. After spending 3 full days exploring the city we have a new image. Mexico City may be the most beautiful city that we have ever seen.

[caption id="attachment_1161" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mexico City"]Mexico City[/caption]

Even at 8000 feet elevation the city is surrounded by mountains. The downtown and central district has many large parks and plazas with beautiful landscaping and big old trees everywhere. The main boulevard is the Paseo de los Reformawhich has 10 or 12 lanes and three widetree lined dividers. It must be about a full block to cross it. There are many other wide boulevards and Grande TrafficCircles with statues, monuments and/or fountains in the centers. Architecture is a mixture of the colonial buildings over 300 years old and modern office buildings and skyscrapers, however the old buildings and cathedrals dominate the scene.

[caption id="attachment_1164" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Mexico city fountain"]Mexico city fountain[/caption]

We expected wall to wall people but it was really not that crowded. We expected it to be dirty but it was unbelievably clean. We expected to see poverty but saw very little of it. We maintained an awareness of possible crime but never felt we were in any danger. And topping it all off are the people.

[caption id="attachment_1163" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="University students who interviewed my mom"]University students who interviewed my mom[/caption]

They are so friendly and helpful. If you ask directions they don't just point the way, they lead you there. The exception is when they drive they become very aggressive. Being a pedestrian is the most dangerous thing in Mexico City.

We took our taxi into the city early Saturday morning, went directly to the hotel and were checked in by about 9AM. We decided to take the double deck (open seating on top) tour bus which had headphones for English narration. The bus followed a big circle of the attractions with about 20 stops where you can get off and catch a later bus. We got off at the museum of anthropology where we spent a few hours but spent the rest of the day making the circuit on the bus to get a feel for the city.

The next morning (Sunday) Richard and Pat planned to go to the Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. We wanted to do some other things so we decided to split up for the day. With the help and encouragement of a friendly man in the hotel lobby, we bravely set out on our own to explore Mexico City using the subway and light train system. Even though we had maps and train routes, it was a bit intimidating. In fact we got on the wrong train the first time and had to come back but we soon mastered the system. The subway system needs some comments here. We don't know if this is new or renovated but everything looks new and modern. The trains and stations are absolutely spotless and clean - no graffiti. The train cars are guided by rails but ride on rubber tires. The ride is smooth and quiet. The cars are connected by rubber bellows that allow people to walk through from car to car. There are a few seats for the disabled but mostly it's standing room only. They can be crowded in the central district but it thins out in the outskirts. It's not uncommon to have vendors and musicians coming through looking for sales or handouts. The cost to ride is 2 pesos (about 14 cents). As someone said "For 2 pesos you get transportation, entertainment and a massage".

Our day started with a visit to the Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitucion) second in size only to Red Square in Moscow. We visited the Palacio Nacional whose front fills the entire east side of the Zocalo. This is the office of the President of Mexico and various other government offices. The walls of the second floor around the courtyard are adorned with dramatic murals by Diego Rivera depicting the history of Mexico City from ancient times. We also saw the chamber where parliament meets. Next on the north side of the plaza we visited the main cathedral which is most notable for its massiveness. We saw Aztec dancers on the square next to the Templo Mayor where it is thought to be the exact spot where the Aztecs considered the center of the universe. A line of people with offerings of herbs and flowers awaited the blessing of smoke and incantations of a healer or priest in Aztec garb. We were having lunch on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Zocalo when the bells of the cathedral began ringing. We could actually see the bell ringers pulling the ropes on the many bells situated on several levels of the towers. This, along with the sound system being tested at the huge stage erected in the plaza, gave a cacophony of sound for 15 minutes until noon when the bells tolled the hour. Sunday was the last day of a month-long Festival de Mexico and el Centro Historico. Some streets were shut down on Saturday for special events and concerts. We had our picture taken in front of a replica of Le Angel whichwill travel around the world to herald the 2010 celebration of Mexican Independence.

After visiting the Palace of Fine Arts and viewing the city from the 44th floor of the Torre Latino Americana, we went to Xochimilco. This network of canals flanked by gardens is a reminder of the city's pre-Hispanic history when a great lake became a city from piled-up vegetation and mud.

[caption id="attachment_1166" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Floating gardens, Mexico city"]Floating gardens, Mexico city[/caption]

We were poled along the tranquil but yet very festive waterways, jammed with other gaily decorated trajineras(gondolas) with families and friends or just romantic couples. Mariachis, marimbas, and vendors offering beer, roasted corn, toys among other stuff hovered along side adding to the party atmosphere.

Altogether we rode about 50 miles on the subway, about 30 miles on light trains and a couple of miles each by bicycle taxi and on foot. A pretty grueling day but we got a lot done. Monday we returned to Pepe's by taxi and rested up the rest of the day. We plan to leave Pepe's on Thursday and start heading north to Texas. Until next time - Mike & Donna


A few of our "Update" readers have replied to our last update expressing a concern for our safety. We have not heard or seen any news since we left Arizona but apparently there must be some bad news going on about Mexico. Whatever it is must be overblown as it is not apparent to us. We feel as safe or maybe even safer than in the US. Also there were questions about how we find our way around. We have a Mexico map book which has highway and city maps and we also use a Garmin GPS with a Mexico update. We would also not be without Mike & Terri Church's book "Camping in Mexico". This book is the "bible" for anyone RVing in Mexico as it describes almost every campground in great detail. Also many WalMarts and Pemex Stations allow free overnight RV parking.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Little Thing

Samantha currently enjoys giving compliments on people's clothing.  She doesn't do it for everyone, but if you're lucky, you'll get something like:  NICE SHIRT. NICE GREEN SHIRT. I LOOOOOVE IT.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Link Fest

More lazy blogging in the form of links:

The Objectivist Round Up lives at Titanic Deck Chairs this week.

Adam has posted 5 more installments in his Sewing Machine thread on Volokh.  The entire series can be found here.

Live Kitten Cam.  It's amazing how much time I can spend watching cats on my screen while my real live cat is playing in the room right next to me. (HT: BAW)

Mexico, Part 2

Here is the second installment from my parents from their recent trip to Mexico.  I wish I had digital copies of the photographs they brought back, to post here on the blog.  The thing that struck me most in the photos was how colorful everything is.  The decorative art, the displays at the shops, and the clothing in Mexico are all brightly colored, creating a feeling of lighthearted fun.  They also took pictures of the food, which was always served in a beautiful way, not just slopped on a plate.  My parents told us that they were amazed at how, in Mexico, labor is never in short supply.  The time spent on creating beautiful things, sometimes with inexpensive materials, is a contrast to the way we do things in the U.S.  I'm not clear on exactly what in the Mexican culture is responsible for this, but you could see it in the pictures and I thought it was interesting.
March 21,2008

Hola, Everyone!

We are about to venture into unknown territory to reach Mexico City and then to the Texas border. Much time has been spent getting advice as to which routes to take or NOT to take. Throughout our travels most of the people we have met and seen in the campgrounds and the towns have been Canadians from British Columbia, but some have been from Ontario and even Nova Scotia. The only Americans we've encountered have been those who we met at the rally in Guaymas, then at Celestino Gasca and now at Jocotepec. No matter where one wants to go, the discussion usually gets around to the question, "Use the LIBRE or the CUOTA?". There are good arguments for each. The toll roads (Cuotas or Maxipistas) can be quite expensive especially if there is a free road (Libre) nearby. The Cuotas are like our Interstates as they are more direct and bypass little towns or pueblas on the way. Many RVers do not like to slow down and subject their rigs to the speed bumps (topes or vibradores) which always are found at the entradas and salidas of towns. There is also much more traffic on the Libres as the locals take them. One is sure at some point to have to follow a slow truck or two or three inching along the narrow and curvy roads with no easy or safe way to pass. So, it takes much more time to get places on the Libre. It took us over 6 hours to go about 200 miles; but we were going from sea level from Teacapan to about 4,000 feet elevation near Tequila on roads that had so many switch backs that it reminded us of the drive along Big Sur in CA! On the Cuota we would never had seen a man sitting under a tree talking on his cell phone while his horse grazed on the grass, the portraits of the Lady of Guadalupe painted on rock outcroppings, vendors selling goodness knows what by the inevitable tope, black lava rocks spewed from the volcanoes in the distance, and trucks piled high with sugar cane.

From the flat coastal roads with fields of wheat, corn and chilies we moved to vistas of blue agave and yellow sugar cane as we neared Tequila and Amititlan. A later visit, took us to the Mundo Cuervo distillery complex (producer of the Jose Cuervo brand of tequila) across from the Centro Plaza in Tequila. Because it was Sunday there was a big crowd at the plaza with vendors with balloons, wands with bubble mix, and plastic pull -toys for all the muchachos. A mariachi band played for a motley group of dancers who wended their way around the arched walkways. Because it was Sunday we did not see any production of tequila, but we were taught the ceremony to appreciate the drink, much like the procedures used for wine or bourbon tasting and got a margarita at the end of our tour. Tossing down a shot is not the Mexican way of drinking tequila. The rested or aged tequila, which has an amber color and is to be sipped from small glasses, is quite different from the clear tequila which is used for mixed drinks. We were also introduced to agave nectar or honey. It is touted as being very healthful as even diabetics can partake of it. A vendor was looking for a US distributor. Anyone interested?

We have stayed the past 2 weeks at Roca Azul, a campground on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake which is about 40 miles south of Guadalajara. We now understand why our travel companions, Pat and Richard Belanger, loved their stay here two years ago. The lake is surrounded by mountains, some of which slope dramatically down to the shore. Yellow and orange flowering trees and purple jacaranda are everywhere along with the fuchsia of the bougainvilleas. Three pools, one filled with water from the hot springs found hereabouts, tennis and basketball courts, and a shaded walkway along the lake can keep one occupied in the campground. But there are the towns of Jocotepec, San Juan Cosala, Ajijic, and Chapala, all of which have different personalities and attractions, to explore. Ajijic( (ah-hee-heek ) has a great gringo influence with its many boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. We enjoyed walking along the malecons catching the afternoon breeze in Jocotepec and Chapala, shopping at the local market days, and eating great food at great prices. We have bought pails of raspberries from the fields that surround the campground. Imagine a gallon of raspberries for under $2!

On our arrival to Roca Azul we were invited along with 18 others to come to a farewell dinner for one of the Canadians at a restaurant in San Juan Cosala (noted for its thermal spas). The fish tacos and the many ways we enjoyed shrimp (camarones) along the west coast are not as popular here. We thus began to try the different regional dishes offered in the western central highlands:

Chile en Nogada - mild green chilies stuffed with meat and fruit, served with a cream sauce, ground walnuts and cheese.

Birria de Chivo - steamed goat served in ceramic casseroles with chopped avacado, onions, cilantro, salsa and warm tortillas on the side.

Tortas Ahogadas - a baguette filled with chunks of pork then smothered with a searing chili sauce.

Mole - a complex sauce made with nuts, different chilies, spices, and sometimes chocolate to be served over chicken, turkey or pork.

We have gotten more confident about eating in the market places and stands and we are more at ease driving in the bigger cities as in old town Mazatlan and Centro Guadalajara. This may be because we have had more time to try these things than our last time in Mexico. Also, because we have been using our GPS which can tell us where to turn by watching the route on the screen. In Mexico the street names are hard to locate and read quickly if they exist at all.

We went into Guadalajara twice. We rode like sardines packed in with the locals on a high speed bus we boarded across from the Walmart where we parked our car. We ate and shopped at the huge three storied Mercado Libertad. Then we proceeded to view the Orozco murals at Instituto Cultural de Cabanas. The 57 murals painted in 1938-1939 warn of institutions (church and government) that subjugate humanity to cultivate power with images of fire, broken chains, blood and haunting "Star Wars" looking images. We walked up the bustling Plaza Tapatia with stands representing the tequila industry, to the Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, and the Palacio de Gobierno. Inside we came upon a volunteer who explains the history of Guadalajara and the Orozco mural of Miguel Hidalgo. Hildago's Groto de Independencia launched the 1810 independence movement. (In 2010 Mexico will be commemorating the events of the 1810 and 1910 revolutions ). Since we didn't have time to hear the history, etc.; he instead told us, in quite colorful language, his opinion of the current governor whose office was across the hall (he hates him). After walking through the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, we had an exciting and rapid taxi ride back to the Walmart. On our second trip we drove to the same Walmart but through a different section of the city than we went previously. (GPS does not know how many one-way streets there are in Mexico). We walked to nearby Parque Agua Azul where we saw parrots, an iguana, butterflies, orchids and The Casa de las Artesanias de Jalisco. It was a museum-like store that sold high quality Jalisco handicrafts. From there we drove to another section of the city to have a meal with a Mexican couple Pat and Richard had met at Roca Azul last year. It was nice to have a conversation with them as they spoke English quite well. The husband, Nick, has a company with 42 employees that sets up computer compatible environments for businesses. We learned that by law after 30 days of work, the employer is responsible to keep paying an employee even after he is no longer needed or is fired. He is grooming his 2 sons to run the business as they are preparing to leave the big city and have a farm with a few cattle to sell for income.

The best conversations we have had were because the other party knew English and we could easily talk back and forth. The owner of the Viva Mexico restaurant in San Juan Cosala told us about the myths of earlier times at Lake Chapala and how he was able after 25 years to have such a good business. He said he learned English from speaking to his customers. A couple from Mexico City, who shared a table with us at the Cuervo margarita bar, gave us more insight on the lack of economic progress in Mexico. We thus have learned much about Mexican life and history. Regrettably, we still are not able to put enough Spanish words together to have a little conversation with many smiling people we encounter on the streets. The young children look at us so intently as they recognize we are different from themselves. On a visit to a local orphanage, it would have been more fun to engage with the children in their games and soothe them if a mishap occurred on the climbing apparatus, other playground equipment, and the many wheeled vehicles and bicycles that were in enthusiastic use. This orphanage is run by three nuns and have about 30 children under their competent charge. Pat and I visited and played while Richard repaired and refitted seats and handle bars on the bicycles and tightened screws on the tables and benches.

We are healthy, happy, tanned and sometimes well rested. Until next time, adios Familia y Amigos.

Mike and Donna

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Sam Update - Thirty Two Months Old

Pretty girl dressWe have a real, live kid in our house now.  I suppose Samantha is still a toddler, but she seems to have crossed some kind of divide in the past month or so.  I had to look this up to be sure, but the next stage of childhood is called being a "pre-schooler," and it includes 3-5 year-olds.  What a horrible designation: pre-schooler.  It's like saying, "You're not anything in particular, and the most fundamental thing we can think to say about you is that you'll spend 2-3 years preparing for school, which will prepare you for life, which will come later."  I suspect this term would not exist if it weren't for the fact that we have a public school system, with its rigid definitions and timelines for each child.  I'm tempted to make up my own term for this age, but it's pretty hard to make up a new term for something you've never experienced before!

Smell is the sense of the moment.  Samantha must smell everything.  And she almost always says, "Mmmmmm," after a good sniff.  So we get to hear things like, Mmmmm, PICKLE.  Mmmmm, TOBY PAW.  Mmmmm, COFFEE.  Mmmmm, WINE.  I like to take out the spices and let her smell them all.  Mmmmm, CLOVE.

PwaygwoundI think Sam has caught up with her peers, developmentally.  As I mentioned last month, she recently came through a huge gross motor skills development cycle, where she learned to crawl (yes, she was unable to crawl until a couple of months ago!) and dramatically improved her skill at jumping, climbing, walking while bent over, and other such things.  She has also improved her skills at pouring, carrying objects, pulling and pushing, and lifting.  This spurt of growth, and the daily physical Beauty and the bruiseinjuries that came with it, seems to have passed, which is a relief.  (Check out the bruise in this photo...ouch!)  Now I just get to enjoy the results.  Tonight, Sam spent a good few minutes just walking a circut through the kitchen, dining room, and playroom, carrying one of her plastic chairs.  Outside, whenever there is a slight incline, she likes to run up and down it a few times just to make sure gravity still works.  She can also do a cute little skipping run and she is fast.  Sometimes she holds hands with the the two kids who live next door and the three of them "gallop" down the sidewalk.

Writing mommy a noteSam's verbal skills continue to improve.  She uses words like both, another, before, after, later, want, mine, like, and (my favorite) love.  It is not unusual for her to say something like, I WANT GO PWAYGWOUND MAYBE AFFER NAP...MAYBE?  MAYBE LATER?  I LIKE PWAYGWOUND.  She can almost always express herself now, and incidents of frustration are fewer.  However, when she does get frustrated, the intensity of the emotion is higher than ever.  It can be almost frightening to see her get so mad and wild.  But Positive Discipline continues to work well for us and I feel much less conflicted about how I'm handling these issues.

Both sets of grandparents get to see Samantha this month, which is so wonderful.  I love to "share" her with them.  I obviously love to share her with the entire world, as evidenced by this blog, but there is something so meaningful to me, just to know that they are seeing her grow up.  I know that they see her in a way that is just a little bit like how I see her and I'm just desparate to show somebody:  LOOK!  DO YOU SEE?  DO YOU SEE THE MIRACLE? DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE JOY?  I'm reminded that they went through all of this with me and with Adam, and that they see us in that way too.  Before Sam, I never could have imagined these feelings in my wildest dreams, and I'm still not totally convinced that I'm not the only one who has them.  Because if every parent feels this way, what keeps the world from exploding with happiness?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

More from Adam

I can't keep up with Adam's posts on The Volokh Conspiracy!  Here are the latest installments in his Sewing Machine Saga:

The Incremental Invention of the Sewing Machine (Part 2 of 2)

The Sewing Machine War -- Howe v. Singer (Part 1 of 2)

The Sewing Machine War -- Howe v. Singer (Part 2 of 2)

The Sewing Machine War -- The First American Patent Thicket


My parents are in town, which is a good thing.  They're retired and live in their motorhome full-time, traveling around almost constantly.  They seem to love this lifestyle, and when they visit, they can stay in our area for a couple of weeks without having to stay in our house with us, which is a great arrangement!

Since I'm more interested in spending time with them than in blogging, I'm going to re-publish a few of the e-mail updates they sent to friends and family during their recent trip to Mexico. (No, they didn't get swine flu.)  They really love Mexico and, because of they way they travel, they've experienced the country in a way that most people never do.  I found their updates fascinating.

Hola Everybody,

Here we are in Mexico again. We crossed the border from Arizona into Mexico for our second major adventure here on 2-18-09. It's been two years since our first trip where we entered from south Texas, drove through central Mexico to Guanajuato, then west to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, up the west coast and back into Arizona. That trip was about six weeks. This time we are going the opposite direction. We're traveling south along the west coast, crossing through Mexico City, and back up the east coast into Texas. We plan on about eight weeks for this trip. As usual we don't have any reservations nor a fixed itinerary but plan each day as we go.

We spent 2 days in Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona just before crossing. Organ Pipe is on the southern border between Yuma and Tucson. It is full of cactus plants most of which are Saguaros and Organ Pipes. This is a very unique park and well worth a visit even though it is remotely located. We toured the park by car and took lots of pictures of some unique shapes.

Our first couple of days in Mexico were uneventful in that we were just traveling to our first destination in Guaymas. This was the destination of an Escapee Club Rally of 50 RV's that included many people that we know. We had pre-planned meeting our friends there, Richard and Pat, who will be our traveling companions for this trip. We spent a week in Guaymas with the Rally sightseeing and watching the celebration of their Mardi Gras which runs the weekend before Lent through Fat Tuesday. They had parades every day with music and lots of color. One day we went to a mini Sea World and watched sea lions and dolphins perform. Pat even got to swim with the dolphins which made her day.

On Thursday, Feb. 26, our caravan of two motor homes headed south to the beach town of Huatabampito where we spent the night. It would have been nice except that it was very windy there. We did walk the beach and did a walk around town but decided to leave the next day. We went to another beach town further south called Las Glorias and spent a couple of days there as the weather was much better. This is a big shrimp fishing area so we've been eating a lot of shrimp. We bought 3 kilos (about 6 pounds) of jumbo shrimp which are in our freezer. Yesterday we moved south again to another beach RV resort at Celestino Gasca which is about 45 miles north of Mazatlan. We met 2 other couples here who were at the Rally. We're planning to join them tonight and build a fire on the beach.

We are finding as we did before that the Mexican people are friendly and helpful. We have seen police activity on the highway, usually truck inspections, but we have not been hassled at all. One major change that we have noticed was the inspection station for trucks headed north to the US border are thoroughly checking every truck. This has caused a backup of about 5 miles of trucks lined up waiting. There is a new inspection station being built to speed up the process and it looks almost ready to open.

Until the next update - Adios Familia y Amigos - Mike & Donna