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!