Our Goslings

This year, we decided to add goslings to our menagerie. Unlike the ducks and chickens, the goslings will be meat birds instead of layers. Apparently geese aren’t very good layers, they only lay for a few weeks in the spring and a ‘good’ layer means 28 eggs a year. No wonder they’re impossible to find.

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These fluffy little goslings won our hearts the day they arrived. They were a greenish-yellow when they got hear and proceeded to follow Alpha all around the yard. Whenever they heard his voice, they would escape from their run and gather around him. At first, he was freaked out by his sudden status and tried to run away from him, which was useless because the goslings just ran behind him. I tried to explain the situation to him.

“Alpha, they think you’re the mama goose.”

“But I’m not a mom! I’m a boy! I’m not even grown up yet!”

“But they’re not very smart. They can’t tell you’re not grown up. They just think you’re their mom.”

After a while, he grew quite fond of the idea of being a goose mama and would head outside to check on his goslings. DH and I watched from as he headed to the run and knocked down one of the boards we put around it to keep them from squeezing through the wires. The goslings headed out to hang out with them, he lead them around the yard and then back to their pen and put them back in, one by one.

Then he started yelling at Beta whenever she would try and pick up a gosling. “No! You don’t get to do that! I’m the mama goose!” And she would calming reply, “Alpha, ei huutaa.” (no screaming)

That was when they were still small. Geese grow ridiculously fast and they are now about the size of our ducks. I can’t imagine how big they’ll be when we finally slaughter them in November. 20 lbs? I don’t know.

Here is a rough picture of what they look like now. If I could find my actual camera with a zoom, I would have a better picture of them but they’re very shy of humans and run away peeping loudly whenever we approach.

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I do know that we don’t have enough grass for them. I met a couple who also kept geese and they informed me that not only will geese eat grass, they will eat the grass until there is no grass left and they will eat every thing in your garden as well. We have 7 geese. Since most of our property is forested, there is a strong possibility we won’t be able to feed our geese entirely ourselves. Fortunately, we have weird friends who live nearby and don’t like mowing their lawn. They didn’t bat an eye when we asked if they would be interested in letting our geese graze on their lawn. We’ll probably give them a free goose or something.

But so far they’re doing a fairly good job of keeping our grass trimmed. They are almost as good as a lawn mower, except they don’t cut very evenly and leave a lot of less-choice weeds around. Oh, and they poop everywhere. Their poop, unlike duck and chicken poop, strongly resembles digested grass, which is what it is. I’ve asked my husband for another electric fence for my birthday so we can keep them penned up separately from the chickens and move them methodically around the yard, thus ensuring more even grass cutting and keeping the poop off places we like to walk.

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Is My Son Dyslexic?

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Alpha, writing his name

I’m beginning to suspect that Alpha may be dyslexic.

Since my husband is dyslexic, we’ve always been aware of the possibility of having children with dyslexia since it is genetic, but I’ve been wondering more and more since Alpha’s last parent teacher conference in April, when his teacher advised we get him evaluated for weak fine motor skills. The evaluator told us that he was behind, but not so severely that he needed therapy at this point and that the fine motor skills necessary for handwriting don’t develop until 6 or 7, anyway, so not to worry. These tend to develop in boys later than girls as a general rule. His teacher also showed me some of his handwriting books that he’s done, which in all honesty I don’t take too seriously and find it rather amusing they’re dedicating so much time teaching 4 year-olds to write when that is more of an elementary school thing. She showed me some pages, where he did pretty well, and other pages where the writing was very sloppy.

Then she brought out the binomial cube.  “This is is one of the harder works we have in the classroom. We have some Kindergarteners who can’t do it, but Alpha can do it perfectly, everytime.” She explained how they use cube. The teacher takes the cube, which has different colored sizes and dismantles it. She points to each similarly colored side to show the student that the similarly colored sides go together. Then the student is supposed to rebuild the cube. This is the sort of activity that would be easy for someone who can easily rotate objects around in their head would excel in. Rotating images in one’s head is a special talent dyslexics have.

A few other things gave me pause, as well. I’ve been going over the alphabet with Alpha since he was about 2. He knows some letters, but he seems to know them inconsistently. Sometimes he knows them, sometimes he tells me, “I can’t.” (He says this in English, with an English accent, which is hilarious). Other times, he tells me they’re different letters. He’s told me that E is M (which if you turn E on its side, isn’t unreasonable), that N is Z (again, if you turn it on its side, yes it is).

His speech problems, as it turns out are also a sign of dyslexia as dyslexics tend to have problems with blends and differentiating between sounds in the language.

I’ve also noticed he doesn’t understand rhymes. We have a German book called, “Wir Entdecken die Buchstaben” (We discover the letters) and one of the pages has activities involving rhyming. You have to find the words that rhyme together. So it will have have Topf, Zopf, Kopf mixed in with Haus and Maus. You have to know that Topf, Zopf, and Kopf rhyme and so do Haus and Maus but Topf and Haus do not. He doesn’t get it. I explained to him that these are words that have the same sound at the end. tOPF, zOPF, kOPF, but he doesn’t get it. How do you explain rhyming? Don’t people just GET rhyming? My husband told me he didn’t understand how rhyming worked until he finally figured it out when he was 16. His lack of understanding contributed to his long-standing hatred of poetry. We did another worksheet from a German book that involved drawing lines to connect rhyming objects. On the top row were:

MAUS   KNOPF    TISCH   HASE

On the bottom row were:

TOPF   NASE   HAUS  FISCH

Now, if even without knowing German, can you figure out which of those words would rhyme? He pointed to each object and said what they were and then I pointed to mouse. “What rhymes with mouse?” I asked him. “Ummmmmmm….” he looked at the paper and then pointed at nose. “Nope,” I said. He tried again, each time looking at me to see if it was the right answer. He did get ‘Hase’ and ‘Nase’ right, mainly because by the time he got to the rabbit, nose was the only thing on the bottom row that hadn’t been crossed off.

He also mixes up he/she/it a lot when he speaks. I thought this was my fault because I make a lot of gender mistakes in German, but my husband does this all the time, too. He will often tell me things like “My sister got his apartment today.”or “His husband….” He tried blaming this on Finnish, which does not differentiate between he and she, but I pointed out that he learned Swedish at the same time and Swedish does, so that doesn’t explain why he does it all the time in English. Apparently dyslexics do that a lot, too.

Here is a full list of dyslexic symptoms Alpha presents that we’ve noticed so far:

  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Difficulty with before/after, left/right, and so on (he often tells me in German, “Ich gehe auf die Küche” (I’m going on the Kitchen) when he means “Ich gehe in die Küche”)
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes or songs
  • Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems (we notice this when DH reads to him at night and asks him what things are in Finnish, which he knows, but he just can’t find the word  and during the speech evaluations and vocabulary tests he did. There were many words, like finger, I knew he knew but he couldn’t find them during the evaluation)
  • Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)
  • Difficulty hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  • Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters (phonics)–he tells me ah-ah-Musik. What? There’s no a in that word!
  • Difficulty in remembering names and shapes of letters (he’s still very young for this, but he spent all last year in Kindergarten working on writing his name and hasn’t come as far as many of his classmates)
  • Inconsistent schoolwork
  • Relatives may have similar problems
  • Poor or slow handwriting (not too applicable for him since he’s so young, but again, compared to other kids in his preschool, his handwriting is very bad)
  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Difficulty remembering the kinesthetic movements to form letters correctly
  • Difficulty coordinating facial muscles to produce sounds
  • Overwhelmed by too much input

These are only the ones from the list that are relevant now, to a preschooler. My husband and I have discussed this a lot in the last few days and I’m reading a few books on dyslexia, including the one that helped my husband stop feeling like he was an idiot all the time (The Gift of Dyslexia), in order to learn more about it.

Once he starts his speech therapy in August, I will discuss our suspicions with his speech therapist and see what she thinks and then find out where we go to have The Full Battery of Tests done.

In the meantime, we’re changing the way we educate him. We’re not going to be sending him back to preschool in the fall (I still need to call his school and de-enroll him). This is for numerous reasons. First off, he needs to spend a lot of time working on strengthening his fine motor skills and apparently MORE writing practice is not the way to go about this. Instead, we will be doing zero writing whatsoever and concentrating on cutting activities, pinching activities, playing with playdo and coloring with crayons. These build the motor skills necessary to write without frustrating him. Secondly, I don’t want him to start thinking that reading and writing are things that other people can do but he can’t because he’s too stupid, which is a feeling my husband basically internalized from being in school. Finally, no preschool will free up more of our time and funds for intensive speech therapy, which will probably be more helpful for his speech at this point than preschool.

I’m working on putting together a Kindergarten homeschooling plan. Although I’m not required to officially do any schooling as a homeschooler until a child turns 6 where I live, I figure a year of getting into the habit of doing it without any pressure will be good for me.

We’re starting off with doing basic phonics, which will be easier once he can pronounce more letters accurately. But since we’ll be starting with A and working our way through the vowels, we have plenty of time for his speech therapy to take effect before we get to the consonant sounds. We’ll spend as much time as necessary with each letter as it takes for him to be able to automatically say what letter it is and what sound it makes in German, English and Finnish. We will also be doing more hands-on letter making activities. I will hopefully come up with more ideas as I continue to read and learn about it.

I know some of you are probably wondering if we should really continue with the other languages? Aren’t dyslexics supposed to be really bad at learning foreign languages? They are. My husband has always stated that he is really bad at languages and he speaks English, Finnish, and Swedish fluently with good working knowledge of German, Norwegian and Danish. Also, it’s important to note the difference between foreign languages and languages you’re born speaking. Since Alpha has had English, German and Finnish in his life since he was born, none of these languages are foreign to him, they’re all native languages. In some ways, this might help him if he is dyslexic because while English has one of the most opaque orthographies in the world (which means it’s very difficult for dyslexics to learn to read and write English), Finnish is one of the most transparent while German falls somewhere in between. Multilingualism also helps strengthen executive control, something dyslexics may have trouble with, and the ability to zero in on important details.

However, I am concerned that the fact he is trilingual will alternately mask some symptoms while making others appear worse. I’m worried that people will (again) tell us its because he’s trilingual and we should drop a language or two because it’s too much. Or that it’s just because he’s trilingual and we should wait a while until he is stronger in all languages and see if the problems persist. However, we’ve already found out that he’s performing normally in all three languages. So this is irrelevant.

As far as making symptoms appear worse, I found a whole paper about bilinguals and dyslexia online. I’m currently reading it and it does outline some difficulties in evaluating and teaching bilingual children in Britain, but it appears to concentrate mainly on sequential bilingualism.

Grains or No Grains

I stopped being primal.

I lost some weight going back on it strictly again, but not very much–2 lbs after two months of being as strict as I was capable of being and joining a gym.

I began to consider that maybe my husband was right—maybe primal wasn’t for me. I started to consider my specific situation. I had been pregnant or nursing for over 5 years at that point, but by Feburary my daughter was only nursing a couple of times a day for a few minutes. I doubted I was actually making much milk anymore. Everyone tells you that breastfeeding burns more calories than being pregnant–you need to take in an extra 500 a day to not lose weight. My problem was I’d been taking in more calories to make up for being pregnant and nursing that I no longer had any clue how much a person of my height, age, metabolism, weight, situation in life  needed to eat in order to maintain weight, much less gain it.

Plus, low carbbing was giving me a serious complex regarding carbs. I should know by now that whenever anyone–even myself–says I can’t have something, I want it even more and when I get it I will eat twice as much of it (or all of it) just to prove that HAH! I can have it. Obviously not the best way to go about things.

In order to discover how much I need to eat to reach body weight equilibrium, I’ve moved away from low-carb back to the No S Diet, which I first discovered in 2006, along with shovelgloving. My husband and I both went on it in Spring 2009, when my oldest wasn’t quite a year old and I needed an extra push to lose the last 10 pounds of pregnancy weight. It worked like a charm and I was back to 150lbs in no time. Then we went off it over Christmas, never got back on it, I got pregnant again, my husband got diabetes, and so on and so forth.

I’m back on it now and have decided I’m not getting back off. I like the fact that I can eat whatever I want on the weekends as long as I only eat my 3 meals during the week. I like having the set meals. I keep it mostly low carb during the week because that’s how I’m used to eating, but I haven’t made it an official No S Modification that I’m doing because 1) I need to work on establishing 3 meals a day as a habit, first 2) I don’t need to set myself up for failure. This is good because with my sprained ankle, at the moment we’re doing a lot of convenience foods. So I can eat the pizza as long as it fits on my one plate and I have no cause to feel bad about it. I can have cake and candy on the weekends and it’s completely kosher.

Plus, this is how normal people in most countries that aren’t the US eat. Whenever I visit my host family in Germany, I always lose a kilo during my visit simply because I’m not snacking all the time and I’m walking more (except this last visit, where adding grains and carbs back into my diet made me extremely bloated). This is with eating cake nearly every day, too. But it’s German cake and has less sugar. I mentioned the no S diet to one of my friends, who generally is very slim, and her response was, “That sounds like a normal way of eating.” She lived in Austria until she was 7, so her opinion may be skewed.

However, since I started seriously no s ing again at the beginning of June and eating grains, I’ve noticed I’m a lot moodier over all. I’m more irritable. I’m yelling at my family more. I hear my kids telling each other, “STOP IT!” more. I’m beginning to seriously think that eating grains affects my mood. My big debate now is whether or not I give up grains with my no s. I’m keeping the sugar. I’m not even considering giving that up again because I know that’s never going to happen; no s gives me a good structure to enjoy sugar without getting meth head. But I’m loathe to give up grains again because it’s so much easier to eat them and so many yummy things have them in them. I’ve made coconut flour cookies and they just don’t hold a candle to chocolate chip cookies containing real flour. I can’t even call them the same thing.

Unfortunately, due to the placebo effect, I can’t even 100% say that eating grains affects my mood. It would be very difficult to even fool me into thinking I’m not eating grains while feeding me grains or vice versa. I’m not entirely sure such a study has ever even been done. The only thing I can really do is take grains out of my diet, add them back in and see, if over time, I become a bitchier person. Seems to be the case so far, but it could also be the heat (and humidity) or the fact that I sprained my ankle and have been spending most of my time sitting on my butt instead of working out, which of course releases happiness inducing endorphins and reduces stress. Instead I just sit here, noticing how messy my house is and how damn difficult it is for me to clean it at the moment.

But until I decide whether or not to cut grains out again, I will continue with my vanilla No-S so that I can find out exactly how much I need to be eating to lose weight. Once I get that in gear, I will take a closer look at the grains.

Finnish Schools vs American Schools: Conclusion

I wanted to write this post more about how American schools concentrate more on competition whereas Finnish schools are more cooperative, but I realized there wasn’t a whole lot I could say about that. And really because I think the issue is more that Americans are a lot more ambitious than Finns are overall, so it makes sense that we want to go to the BEST schools so we can have the BEST jobs. If you’re told from day one that the sky is the limit (and Americans are), then you’ll probably be pretty ambitious. What are Finns told from day one? I don’t know, my husband isn’t here so I can’t ask him. But I get the feeling it’s probably similar to what everyone who enters a system is told: if you do well enough here, you will be successful. Go to school, get good grades, do extra curricular activities, go to a good university and you’ll get a good job and be set for life.

The reality is less straight forward than that. In the US, our school system does poorly enough in following through on its promises that we’re looking all over the world to try and find a better way of doing thing. We’re not the only country doing this, either. When Germany did badly on the PISA study in 2002, I was in Germany and got a front seat view of their descent into Angst. They also concentrated primarily on Finland’s school system. “Why don’t you look at Japan or South Korea?” I asked my host sister. “Because they’re Asian and not European,” she answered, the implication being that their culture is so different from the western culture that the conclusions wouldn’t be relevant and that’s entirely plausible. I don’t know enough about those countries systems to offer any other opinion. But I do wonder whether or not it’s entirely beneficial to want to model everything on Finland.

Is Finland’s educational system even living up its promises? Is it providing people with the key to success in life? A relative of my husband’s has worked in it for 30 years and she’s been a strong critic of our decision to homeschool, to say the least. But recently she was talking to him and confessed that he might be on to something. “These young people, I don’t know how to advise them. The world is changing so rapidly, I don’t know if I can really tell them how they should do things or what the right decision for them to make is so that they can have a good career.” This reminds me of the saying ‘you’re always prepared to fight the last war.’ In our education systems, we’re always preparing people to live in the world of today, at best. Not in the world of tomorrow. How can we promise people that if they go to school for 12 years, they will be ready to meet whatever challenges they face when we have no idea what those challenges are?

How can we know if our school systems are actually doing their jobs if the way we evaluate that is based on tests? Or do we really see the purpose of our schools as only to teach them ‘the three r’s (that’s reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, if you’re not familar with the term). Then again, if our schools aren’t even doing that basic task well, we can’t very well expect them to prepare anyone for a career, can we?

A friend recommended Penelope Trunk’s homeschooling blog to me. While a lot of her posts come across as ego soothing (‘it’s okay for my kids to play video games all day while I work, really’) she has a lot of interesting arguments in favor homeschooling. I think they can be boiled down to this: in the future our institutions are going to be constantly in flux and the people who will do best in this situation will be people who are extremely flexible self-starters and self-learners. School does not create these kinds of people and hobbles those who are naturally like that. My husband went to school in Finland and did so badly, he almost didn’t qualify to go to college. While he has been extremely successful since, he still deals with low self-esteem from failing to do the things every other kid in his school could do easily. He can’t alphabetize anything, even though he knows the alphabet. He has horrible handwriting and writes most letters backwards, even though he had remedial handwriting classes in school. If he had taken the PISA test in school, it’s fair to say he would have bombed it in spite of being very smart and being successful in real life.

As he mentioned in his original commentary, what we need to ask ourselves is whether or not school is the best way to educate children. Are tests the best way to measure out income? How many successful people put their success in life down to their schooling? How much is inner drive.

I do think that American schools could benefit in changes based on the Finnish school system (particuarly less classroom time), but I question whether or not even Finnish schools are preparing their students for tomorrow’s economy. Which country to see having a more dynamic economy? Finland, the USA, or Singapore? Or none?

I think the US spends so much time obsessing over its educational system not only because it’s so horrible, so many other systems are just as bad. We watch so much what other countries are doing because we’re so competitive. We take our kids out of school and homeschool them more than any other country on earth because we’re risk takers. We’re also statistical outliers. The reality is that we can’t learn how to create the Best Educational System from other countries, we have to find that answer on our own. And even then we’ll probably be wrong.