Post Roundup

Photo from theaquaponicsource.com

This looks weird, but it’s awesome. Photo from theaquaponicsource.com.

Hello people who occasionally read my blog. I’ve had several ideas floating around in my head for the last few weeks, but none of them really seemed like they’d work for a full length post. So I’m just going to go ahead and do a little roundup of things that I’ve wanted to post.

Suggestions from readers

Several people have sent me suggestions based on previous posts. Two of my favorites have been a book called Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett (excellent last name) and a poem called “Mysteries, Yes” by Mary Oliver. The book is hilarious, and the kids even laughed at it when I read it. But it’s also a little trippy. I still don’t totally know what happened at the end, but I liked it. The poem is sort of an ode to the things that we don’t understand. In particular I loved the line “Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have all the answers.” The funny thing is that I think I probably used to be one of those people to be avoided. Every year I seem to get a little less sure about a lot of things.

Stories from the kids

L asked to give a talk in primary a couple weeks ago, right after Bonnie passed away. I didn’t know about this until someone in the primary presidency talked to me about it the week before. L dictated her talk to me, and then I wrote it down, so here is her primary talk:

My mom died a couple weeks ago. She was a great mom. I know that I’ll see her again because of the temple and because she will be resurrected. And I know families can be together forever.

L was very excited to give this talk because she thought that it might help some other people who don’t know about this and how important it is.

R is also very awesome, though he tends to just say funny things. The other night he said, “Why does everyone have arms that are shorter than God’s arms?” I assume that he heard something like “God’s arm is lengthened” in the scriptures or something, because otherwise I have no idea where that came from. L was of course very confused by his questions, so she spent a while asking me how we knew that God had really long arms.

I also started potty training R today. It’s a little later than I would have liked to start with him, but I’ve had a little bit going on in the last year. What I’ve learned so far is that I need to trust myself. Four times today I’ve looked at him and thought, “I should probably  get him to the bathroom.” Four times I’ve ignored that idea, and four times I’ve found myself scrubbing the carpet. Pray for my soul.

Other Random Things

If you know me very well, you know that I make a lot of plans to do strange/cool things in the future. Occasionally I even do some of them, but that’s definitely the exception to the rule. In the last few weeks, the wheels in my head have been turning.(a dangerous past-time..) I got this super cool book from the library called Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together. Basically the idea is that you circulate water between the fish tank and the grow beds for your plants. The fish fertilize the water, and the plants act as a natural bio-filter for the fish. The major input that you need in the system is fish food, which is relatively cheap. If you do it right, you can grow fresh, organic vegetables and farm-raised fish at the same time. I love the efficiency and the elegance of the system. There are plans to be made…

Punishment genie

"LLW Aladdin genie" by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United Kingdom - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LLW_Aladdin_genie.jpg#/media/File:LLW_Aladdin_genie.jpg

“LLW Aladdin genie” by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United Kingdom – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There’s this idea in society that the punishment should fit the crime. It’s at least as old as Dante’s inferno, though I would guess that it goes back much further than that. This idea frequently shows up in parenting. It feels to me like parents are generally expected to come up with suitable punishments for the things that their kids do. Suitable meaning that the punishement has some relationship to the thing they did wrong. Supposedly this type of punishment helps kids in some way? I can’t remember ever reading anything on the subject, but I feel like it’s the sort of wisdom that lots of people just believe.

I think it works to a point. If a child isn’t playing nice with the other kids, then they get a time out so they can’t play for a bit. Or if a child refuses to pick up their toys, then the gunny sack comes and takes their toys away.

Here’s the problem. What do you do when your child behaves badly in a weird or unexpected way? For example, sometimes my kids get out a bunch of food and mix it all together (when I’ve told them not to do that many times), wasting a lot of food and making a big mess? What’s the punishment that fits the crime for that? I can’t deny them food for an extended period of time. I can’t make them pay for the waste with their own money because they don’t have any. I can’t make them cook dinner for the family for the next few days because they’re too young. So I make them clean up and then I put them in time out. What does that have to do with making a mess and wasting food? Nothing. But it’s easier, simpler, and more immediate.

Trying to come up with creative punishments that fit the crimes makes me feel a little like one of those jerk-face genies who grant wishes but always in stupid ways. Like you say “I wish money would always come to me” and you spend the rest of your life being pelted with small change. It like you have to ask yourself “how can I twist what they have done to make the punishment something related but really unpleasant?”

Another example. My kids turned on the hose (strike one) left it running and wandered off (strike two) and had the end sticking into the garage (strike three). I luckily got there and turned it off before there was much damage done, but there are definitely things in the garage that shouldn’t be sitting in water. So what’s the punishment for that? This is complicated by the fact that they were trying to clean the car to surprise me. Good intentions have to count for something, right?

So the solution that I, as the sadistic punishment genie, have come up with is that they have to clean up the whole family room (which is quite a mess). I’m typing this as they’re (more or less) working on that. The rationale is that they did something destructive to the house, so they now have to do something constructive to the house. Thus the cosmic scale will be balanced. I have no idea if this is a good punishment or not, but at least we’ll get a clean family room out of the deal. So there’s always that. Take the small victories where you can get them I guess. If anyone else has a better way of handling these things, I’d love to hear it. In the meantime I’ll just head back to my lamp.

A short conversation at bedtime

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R: Why is it called a dresser?

Me: I don’t know.

R: If it is called a dresser, it should have dresses. *starts laughing*

Me. Yup.

R: And if it has shirts it should be a shirter, and if it has pants it should be a panter, and if it has socks it should be a socker…

Me: *changing diaper* Mm-hmm.

R: …and if it has shoes it should be a shoer, and if it has sweaters it should be a sweaterer, and if it has swimsuits it should be a swimsuiter…

Children are nothing if not creative.

I started cooking again today

I really enjoy cooking, but I haven’t really done any of it for the past month or two. Tonight I decided to give it a go. I’m pleased with how well it turned out, so now I get to go on the internet and brag a little bit. I apologize for the poor quality pictures though. I know that there are at least one or two people who read this and also know something about photography, so my junky cell phone pics might be a bit painful. Just avert your eyes if you have to.

I decided to roast a chicken for the main part of the meal. If you’ve never done it, it’s really sim…I mean it’s hard. Very, very hard. You should all be impressed. I used a recipe by Marcella Hazan–“roast chicken with two lemons.” (As a side note, if you don’t have her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, you really should pick it up. There are tons of easy recipes that taste amazing.)

So for the first two junky pictures, here’s what the finished product looked like, even after some minor screw-ups:

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Yes, R is wearing a life jacket. No, I don’t know why.

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Here is a shot of just the chicken. One of the lemons popped out, so it kind of looks like it laid an egg.

I made some mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and I set out some plums to go with everything. It was a nice meal. For dessert I made a banana pudding. It’s actually a pretty good dessert to make with kids, because you have to layer the Vanilla Wafers and bananas, which kids can totally do.

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It’s a little hard to see, but it’s topped with meringue, not like marshmallows or some other disgusting thing.

I’m also happy about the fact that I have a medium sized container of leftover chicken in the fridge which I can use for another meal (Mexican, fried rice, chicken salad sandwiches, etc.) In addition to that, I have a pot boiling down the bones and some vegetables to make a stock for a soup or something later in the week.

I know that I’m being super vain, which is probably annoying. Sorry. I feel like I only recently discovered that this was a thing that you could actually do, and I’m super excited about getting at least three meals from one chicken. I think it’s one of those skills that has somewhat died out with modern convenience food, but it’s seriously not that difficult. You should all try it out. If you do, let me know how it goes.

O were my love yon Lilac fair…

Bonnie and Me Lilacs

Bonnie and me looking younger and thinner…

By now I assume that anyone reading this already knows that Bonnie passed away ten days ago. We had the funeral Wednesday, and I still feel like I’m trying to process everything. I expect that feeling will persist for months or even years. I had a long time to plan and prepare for this, but it’s still totally devastating and life-altering.

It’s what I imagine losing a limb would be like. You keep expecting it to be there. If you’re not thinking about it you sometimes forget that it’s gone. I’ve heard of people having a phantom pain in a missing limb, and I think they might have some idea what it’s like to wake up and look over to Bonnie’s side of the bed and remember that she’s not there anymore–that she won’t be there ever again. A part of me is gone, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel completely whole again.

I do believe in the resurrection. Life would be too pointless and cruel without it. However, that belief doesn’t seem to mean that I’m spared from the pain of loss. As with most things in my life, art and music seem to be the most readily available sources of comfort. I’ve been thinking a lot about this poem by Robert Burns, so I thought I’d share it:

O were my love yon Lilac fair,
Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring,
And I, a bird to shelter there,
When wearied on my little wing!
How I wad mourn when it was torn
By Autumn wild, and Winter rude!
But I wad sing on wanton wing,
When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

That’s only the first stanza, but it’s the one I like the best. I don’t actually know if Robert Burns was religious or not, but if my excessive time in academia has taught me anything, it’s that any one thing can mean any other thing if you want it to. So for me this makes me think of the resurrection. I love the imagery of separation and reunion in the poem. I can identify with the bird being cut off from its shelter through the rude winter, and, like the bird, singing will be high up on my list when I see my fair lilac once again.

Library Trip Winners and Losers, 4/23/2015

I recently returned a bunch of books to the library, and I thought I’d give a brief rundown of some of the winners and losers. I let the kids pick basically whatever they want, so they usually run to the closest shelf and grab something without looking at it. I tell you this by way of explanation for the losers list. There are some really terrible children’s books.

Winners:

Clumsy Duck, by Britta Teckentrup

I will admit that the story felt a little disjointed (in one spot I had to check to see if there was a page missing or stuck together. No luck.), but it’s big, fun to look at, the author’s name is fun to say, and it’s short enough that I don’t want to kill myself when the kids pick it up at night (I’m looking at you “Ollie the Elephant”)

The Cat With Seven Names, by Tony Johnston

I thought this was a really fun book. Maybe the theme of loneliness resonated with me a lot, but both Bonnie and I felt like this was charming and definitely worth a read. The kids seemed to really like it too, even if some of it went over their heads.

Losers (No pictures or links for the losers):

Nobody Here but Me, by Judith Viorst

Viorst. children’s. book. ever. (I know, name jokes aren’t funny, but seriously it was right there.) There may actually be a worse one somewhere in the world, but if someone came to me and said, “What’s a really terrible idea for a children’s book?” I could see describing the plot of this one. A little boy gets ignored (almost to the point of neglect) by his whole family. He’s super destructive. Then he gets himself ready for bed, gets in bed, and pretends to be asleep. Everyone comes and finds him and stands around smiling, while he continues to pretend to be asleep. Seriously, it is horrible. My kids weren’t even that entertained by it. It was awful in every way.

Stick Man, by Julia Donaldson

This book started out kind of cute, and I enjoyed the first part of it, but it gave me a major case of Fridge Horror. There’s a stick family and the stick dad gets carried further and further away from his family. Then Santa brings him back. Here’s the thing, the stick Dad is gone for months and months. He just walks out the door one day, never comes back, and then magically reappears on Christmas. Seriously, did the author not think at all about how messed up that scenario is, how close it is to some people’s actual lives, and how potentially damaging that idea could be to a kid? Don’t read this. It’s garbage in a nice package. It looks pretty, but something smells wrong.

Minor Rant About Scripture Mastery

On a whim I started having the kids memorize a scripture. I think it happened because we were trying to do a faster version of bedtime one night, which sometimes involves reciting a scripture rather than reading. The kids seemed to like it, so we started saying it every night to practice. Most of my best parenting ideas have their origin in laziness.

The scripture that we’ve been working on is John 3:16. At this point they’ve actually got it down pretty well, so we’re working on verse seventeen too. I picked the verse because it was the first one I thought of. On further reflection, though,  I think it’s a very appropriate verse for first one that the kids learn. It encompasses the central idea of Christian belief. If you only know one scripture, that’s not a bad choice.

Since this little habit has been going well for us, I’ve decided to continue it and have been looking for a nice list of scriptures which I could use to get good ideas for memorizing. Naturally, having participated in the seminary program, I thought of the scripture mastery verses. I looked them up, all ready to cross off our first one.

Unfortunately, John 3:16 is not a scripture mastery verse.

I’m sure there are reasons that this verse was omitted, but I found it extra strange because there is another verse in John 3 that did make the cut:

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

It’s a fine scripture, but it seems like it was included because it’s a scripture in the Bible that can be understood as saying that baptism is necessary. Not even everyone will read it that way (quick story, on my mission I brought up this scripture with a guy and he viewed it as meaning that your actual birth was being born of water, and your acceptance of Jesus was being born of the Spirit. Based solely on the text, that’s not an unreasonable interpretation.) Here’s the thing, there are much clearer scriptures about the necessity of baptism. How about this one:

2 Nephi 31:17 – Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

This one is not a scripture mastery (though to be fair, nineteen and twenty, which talk about enduring to the end, are). It’s obviously a lot more clear than the one in John.

If that’s a little long for you though, here’s another:

Doctrine and Covenants 33:11 – Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

Short, to the point, and almost unmistakable in what it is saying.

It seems like the only reason to include John 3:5 is so that missionaries know a scripture in the bible that more or less says the same thing, so they have something to point at when dealing with other Christians.

This might be (probably is) me projecting my own issues onto everyone else, but I feel like I would have been a much better missionary and person if I had thought a little more about John 3:16-17 (like the part about not being sent to condemn the world, for instance) and a little less about John 3:5 and convincing people that their understanding of the Bible was flawed. If you can convince them to read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony of it (admittedly that’s a really, really big if), then it doesn’t matter where the scripture that you’re using comes from.

In the grand scheme of things, the inclusion or exclusion of specific verses in the scripture mastery list is not really a big deal, but this seems like a microcosm for a problem I see in the way that we sometimes approach members of other religions. We’re too quick to look for doctrinal difference, and too slow to look for shared ground.

Well, as for me and my kids, we’re going to stick with John 3:16-17 for a while. Don’t hold your breath for John 3:5 to come up.

It’s the Little Things That Make a Difference


A few months ago, Bonnie had a bit of a rough day. Admittedly, that description doesn’t really narrow things down much, but I don’t remember the exact circumstances. She was probably frustrated or feeling overwhelmed. As we were sitting in bed, I was messing around on the computer, and she was looking at her phone (don’t judge. You can’t have a deep conversation every night). Anyway, I came across some youtube videos that had us both laughing our heads off. The only one I can remember specifically is the one at the top.

In the grand scheme of things, there’s probably not a lot of value in the massive number of ridiculous, mindless videos on the internet, but a good laugh was something we both needed. I think there’s a kind of beauty to the idea that even something silly and small can be just what someone needs.

This sort of thing translates very well into a good approach when we’re trying to offer comfort to those who are struggling. People often ask Bonnie and me what they can do, looking for some big (or small) way that they can change our lives for the better. While there have been a few instances where we needed a big thing (moving comes to mind), the truth is that there usually isn’t anything they can do to actually change our situation. Most of the time that will be the case. Instead, the things that I remember and the things that mean a lot to me are usually the small things:

– People saying hi to me – not the “pity-eyes” sort of greeting, but a real friendly hello.

– People who talk about things other than cancer, college and kids. (I considered spelling all three of those with a “k” so they would underscore the alliteration, but that would make an unfortunate acronym).

– Basically anyone who acts like I’m still a normal person and not a project.

In essence, I’m finding that small gestures make a difference. As I was writing this, I remembered a story that President Eyring told in the Oct. 2010 general conference:

Once I was at the hospital bedside of my father as he seemed near death. I heard a commotion among the nurses in the hallway. Suddenly, President Spencer W. Kimball walked into the room and sat in a chair on the opposite side of the bed from me. I thought to myself, “Now here is my chance to watch and listen to a master at going to those in pain and suffering.”

President Kimball said a few words of greeting, asked my father if he had received a priesthood blessing, and then, when Dad said that he had, the prophet sat back in his chair.

I waited for a demonstration of the comforting skills I felt I lacked and so much needed. After perhaps five minutes of watching the two of them simply smiling silently at each other, I saw President Kimball rise and say, “Henry, I think I’ll go before we tire you.”

“I thought I had missed the lesson, but it came later. In a quiet moment with Dad after he recovered enough to go home, our conversation turned to the visit by President Kimball. Dad said quietly, “Of all the visits I had, that visit I had from him lifted my spirits the most.”

I think I finally get this story. President Kimball didn’t come in trying to say the right thing. He wasn’t there with some idea about the perfect thing to say to buoy up Henry’s spirit and faith. He also didn’t make him give detailed explanations of his diagnosis and condition. He just came as a friend to see someone that he cared about.

Update on L and her reading

I’ve written here and here about trying to teach L to read. We’ve been on again off again with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but we picked it up again about a month ago and have been really consistent since. I think things are clicking. I’ve included a little recording of her sounding out the story from the end of lessons 31 (or maybe it was 32) in the book. Here is the text:

A man sat in the sand. A little ant can see the man. The ant is mad.

I’m super excited about this whole thing. She’s doing great with reading, and now that she’s got a feel for how the lessons go, we can get them done quickly and easily. I’m betting that she’ll be able to read a short book to herself in the next month or two. (It will be even better when she can read a short book to her brother).

At this point I am solidly in favor of the book. I think it’s been helpful and effective at teaching L to read. The major things I’ve seen are that you can’t push your kid into something before they’re ready. Consistency is important, but sometimes there is virtue in quitting something and coming back later. Also, the book is very scripted, which is useful initially, but once your kid knows what to do with an exercise, just get out of the way and let them do it.

P.S. You might notice that I use L’s full name in the recording, while I don’t on the blog. In truth I’m not that concerned with privacy/stalkers/whatever. I actually just use L and R for the kids as a courtesy for when they get older. At some point, someone will google them, and I’d hate for the top results to be pictures and stories of them from their Dad’s blog. That would look great for a future employer.

Update on Bonnie

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I feel you, George Michael.

It’s been a long, stressful day. Bonnie wasn’t feeling very good last night, so she was up a lot. That translated into oversleeping for her doctor’s appointment. It’s always nice to start the day out right.

More importantly, it’s looking like her current course of treatment just isn’t managing the symptoms the way that we would like. Bonnie has been falling down a lot and her balance is really impaired, so we’re going to be switching to something more aggressive. At this point, Bonnie’s condition makes her such an outlier that there’s not really a proscribed course of treatment, so it feels a little bit like both we and our doctor are shooting in the dark.

We’re going to try a really high dose of the medicine that she’s on, which will involve some pretty serious time in the hospital. So that’s not going to be fun for anyone.

We also had a visit to the physical therapist, who basically said that there’s not much that he can do to fix things (not really surprising), but he gave us some strengthening exercises for Bonnie to do.

When I write it all down, it doesn’t sound like that much, but I just feel totally mentally spent. It’s the cancer anxiety. You just sit around waiting constantly for something to go wrong. It’s like your brain is stretched out too thin, or you’ve got this constant feeling of falling but you never hit the ground. Then when you get more bad news you just don’t have the energy to process it because of all the energy you spend keeping it together on a normal day.

That’s probably enough whining from me. I still have a great little family, and I’m sitting here watching a little show with L and R while I type this, so the day is not all bad. Even when things go poorly, it’s always nice to get a chance to sit around with the kids at the end of the day. But if you see my lying on the floor, you’ll know why.