Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Powers That Be--Is This Really the Best We Can Do?

There is just so much more political will when it comes to oil drilling than renewable energy.
The massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Viewed as nothing compared with the "noise problems" of wind farms.
I remember being shocked beyond belief to find that several years after the Exxon Validiz oil spill, Exxon was still allowed to do business. Others laugh at my naivity. Money does rule, esp. the money of a select few elite; the Powers That Be.
We'd be livid to learn of a mass murderer simply slapped on the wrist and given a tiny fine. Isn't this much worse? The situation is unbelievable to me, but sadly true.

And we still let our RRSPs support this destruction. As long as they continue to grow, we're happy. Well, some of us are happy. I, for one, am not. But my voice is weak and easily drowned out amidst all the greed, and bad habits die hard.

And will BP be held responsible in any way? Likely not. Certainly not if past spills are any indication. Perhaps there will even be a government bailout to help BP recoup their associated losses. That's the way our society works.

We are slaves to "our economy", which IMO is an excuse that has been overused far too often by the POWERS THAT BE. Never mind that viable alternatives to an oil based economy exist. Never mind that regardless of your position, there will be a time when it has to come to an end in one way or other. We're just too cozy with out clothes dryers and gas-guzzling cars, our air conditioning (turned low enough that we need a jacket for comfort), our air travel when a video conference would have done as well, our reliance on cheap labour and subsidized oil to buy items that travel thousands of miles that we use once then throw away, our glossy flyers and ads printed on pulp from ancient forests, our gas-powered lawn mowers, our seemingly unlimited ability to create new ways to trash the planet.

The planet's systems are showing signs of failure, and we're celebrating it by throwing a party.

Have I mentioned that our solar panels are being held up by red tape? They are now in stock, sitting in a warehouse, while we wait for a sign-off.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Cool New Chemistry Site I Found

Just a quick post to share a new chemistry site I found:

I especially like the forensic section under "activities" that has instructions for flame tests and urine analysis. It seems aimed fairly young--I'd say grades 4-8 but does expect a full chem lab, so will be a little challenging for us as homeschoolers. I know you can get "portable" bunsen burners (with their own fuel cannister) and required chemicals but I've yet to find a local source.

When I get to it, I will add this link to my website as well.

Education, Philosophy and Religion--an Opinionated Post!

If you have been reading this blog, you will know by now that I am a strongly opinionated person, especially when it comes to the environment and education.

I feel strongly that one of the major goals of education, and parenting for that matter, is to raise children to do their own thinking. This means that they need to be taught how to research, to evaluate information, to detect potential biases based on the sources of the information (including parental biases, which we often talk about), and to draw their own, considered conclusions. It also means being open to reviewing those conclusions when new information becomes available.

Because of this, I am one of "those" people who strongly advocate against the recitation of prayers, pledges, etc. in schools. There is a great power in the spoken word, particularly when children are taught to memorize things (prayers, pledges of allegiance, etc.) before they are able to fully comprehend the meaning and ramifications of those words. Who are we to make such presumptions about the beliefs and values of our children, to force our own upon them without allowing them to participate actively in the discussion? Surely such an attitude undermines what education should be!

I am not against teaching religions in the classroom, but I am strongly against teaching religion. The difference here is in the presumption. If we teach that Christians believe x, Buddhists believe y, Hindi believe z, Atheists believe a, Muslims believe b, Zoroastrians believe c, Wiccans believe d, Jews believe e, etc. and attempt to explore the various interpretations of each, then it is educational. When we favour one over the other in our teaching, it becomes manipulative indoctrination. Presenting it such as, I am Buddhist, and I believe y and this is why and this is how it affects my life--this is transparency and this is educational. Presenting it as "but we all know...", "God says / wants" or even, "they believe" is manipulative. It is important to let students learn, reflect, evaluate, decide and revisit their own beliefs. Are the adults "in charge" really so afraid that their own beliefs and values will not hold up to scrutiny that they must exert this control on the next generation? Life is not worth a lot if you must live in constant fear of losing your convictions.

What prompted this was a recent trip to the library to research mythology. I noticed that in creation mythology there were myths from many groups, and they even included evolution as a myth, but good ole Adam and Eve were nowhere to be found. So I looked a little further. Although there were myths from some major religions, there was a conspicuous lacking. Other resources didn't mention evolution as a myth, but they were careful to skirt around modern religions as well. Are the Cosmic Egg, Turtle Island, or the Big Bang any more likely to be story than Adam and Eve? Can we not learn something of value from each of these perspectives?
It does not seem to me to be disrespectful to view Judaic stories as myths (at least not any more than Nordic, Greek or North American Aboriginal stories). According to the New Testament, Jesus taught with parables. A parable is a story; can we not call it a myth? Does the point made become weaker with the label? I would think it might even add some strength. I don't think that the majority of Christians and Jews see the bible as something to be taken completely literally, but perhaps I am making too many assumptions.
There are those who see "other" religions (esp. Islam and Wicca at the moment) as "evil" and "wrong", and a few who like to spread misconceptions about these. Some even call Harry Potter a handbook for Wicca, which is like calling "The Night Before Christmas" a handbook for Christianity IMO. Some aspects may be similar, but Harry Potter has as much to do with Christianity as it does with any religion. I suspect these reactions are born of fear of losing faith in their own beliefs as well as fear of those who are different than themselves.

So we live in a world where Adam and Eve are to be taken as "non-myth", evolution is no longer a theory but a "modern myth", the "Big Bang" is a "scientific myth" and children are not permitted to question the wisdom of their elders in order to learn more. Scientists are to be mistrusted, politicians know best, and the media never lies. Thankfully, there are pockets of reason to be found in which critical thought and discussion is still valued and encouraged.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

How to Make Cheap Stencilled T-shirts

Today I am making dragon shirts for a birthday party. Kids will be randomly sorted into red and yellow teams, determined by the colour of the shirts they find in their paper mache dragon eggs.

To make the shirts, I found a dragon graphic I liked on the internet, then adapted it to a simpler design that would be easy to cut out. I reversed the image and flipped it so it would suit our purpose better, smoothed out some lines, make it taller etc. until I had what I wanted. Then I adjusted the image to the size needed right on the computer screen and traced it out onto printer paper (because my tracing paper has gone missing since our move). Then I put a sheet of clear plastic (binder cover, but a page protector or any other thin but somewhat rigid plastic would work) and traced out the image using a fine exacto knife (actually, my DH helped with this part).

Once the stencil was cut, I laid out the first shirt and slid a sheet of newspaper inside to keep the paint from soaking through to the back of the shirt. Then I put the stencil in position and used a small sponge to dab on black tempera paint. Once the paint has set and dried, the shirts will be ironed to make the paint permanent. For the first washing, they should be washed separately, but after that, regular washing will be sufficient.
Making shirts this way is inexpensive compared with using ink-jet transfer paper or fabric paint. It is also permanent once ironed and will not melt in a hot dryer or bleach away in the sun (at least, purple and black colours won't--I haven't yet tried red in the sun).

A word of warning though: never sell items that have a "borrowed" image from the internet. The shirts I am doing are for personal use only and I will not be making any money from them. Even though I have edited the image so that it is quite different from the original, it is still close enough that it would constitute unfair usage were I to profit from it. If you want to sell shirts made like this, you will need to make your own image or obtain permission from the owner of the image that you wish to use.

Click here for instructions on how to make the dragon's eggs.

Side note: I did pre-test the tempera paint stenciled t-shirts that I posted here on the blog earlier, but my most recent batch ran when I washed them. I suspect I did not use a hot enough iron this time, or it could be that I accidentally used washable tempera. If you try this one out, you may want to try out a piece of test fabric first.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Backpacking with the Kids

We just returned from a backpacking trip with the kids--the first one with our own kids. This reminded me of some earlier comments that I meant to post on the website but never did (will soon perhaps!).
- small kids may need to take 2-3 steps for every one step you take
- singing, storytelling and imaginative creations (trees that remind you of a dragon, moss that looks like a miniature forest--I wonder who lives in that forest? Counting "Excalibur" trees--trees whose roots grew around rocks, etc.) go a long way towards increasing everyone's enjoyment and taking their minds off of the work of walking
- kids are way stronger than adults, both physically and spiritually, or at least, these kids are way stronger than these adults!
- sometimes reading the map and figuring out where you are (using a compass or not) can be fun, unless you try and share that info with someone who is feeling particularly tired out at the time!
- kid loads should be about 20% of their body weight; even though these seems light, and they may beg to carry more at the outset, it is good to remember that their bodies are growing and the extra stresses can cause long-term problems for them
- a well-fitting, well-adjusted backpack is worth its weight in gold (although it also shouldn't weigh much at all when empty!)
- keeping easy to reach snacks available for the kids at all times, and topping up the water bottles regularly keeps everyone happy
- even the most cheerful backpacker is bound to get a little grumpy when their footwear gets waterlogged
- "one" should always fix any broken gear immediately after a trip and before "one" forgets that it has been damaged!

We bought "big squeeze" backpacks from MEC for the kids for Christmas and this was their maiden voyage. I have to say I am incredibly pleased with the design. The only thing I'd change is to put a water bottle carrier right on the hip belt rather than just the ones on the sides of the pack so that they are more easily accessed by the kids with small arms and hands. The packs were easy to adjust and re-adjust on the trail, held an impressive amount of gear (which is good, because the kids carried the light but bulky items), and the compression straps were incredibly useful. The vertical alignment made it easy for the kids to dig through and find things themselves quite easily.

Songs we sang this trip: The Happy Wanderer, Mud Mud Glorious Mud, I've Been Working on the Railroad, The 12 Days of Backpacking (the kids had to keep revising it as we saw more and different wildlife), Put One Foot in Front of the Other, Smoke on the Water, we hummed the Top Gun Anthem, and a few others I'm not thinking of at the moment. An eclectic list for an eclectic family!

For more tips on camping with kids (car camping, canoe tripping and backpacking), see my camping pages here: