And the goats are...

Fat. Not pregnant.

I would say we’re only very slightly disappointed. When I see videos of cute little goat kids I wish we had goat kids on the way. But when I think about the work involved in preparing another stall, building a milking stand, and purchasing milking equipment all within the next 3 weeks, I’m ok with a little disappointment. And when I read about other goat owners dealing with their does’ mastitis and goat kid diarrhea, and I’m relieved we won’t have to figure all that out this spring.

We’ll try again next year – I think I’ll have a better idea of the timing and how to get it done, and we’ll be better prepared overall.

Besides, I’ve found another goat project that will be just as exciting as goat kids. Pictures of these rock-climbing goats made their way into my FB feed the other day.


A rock-climbing wall probably isn’t practical, but a goat playground could be…

Goat kids or no goat kids?

Will we have baby goats in two months?

A few weeks after her day at the love chateau, Mabeline seemed to go into heat again, so I assumed she was not pregnant. But now I wonder: is her larger size winter weight or goat babies?

From this angle, she doesn't look pregnant:

But then she'll turn like this and I'm SURE there are babies in there:

The rumen, the largest of the four stomachs, is on the left and often sticks out when it is full of hay, so looking lopsided with a larger left side is normal. But here, Mabeline is looking rather round on the right. I think I read somewhere that goats carry more on the right. But I've also read that there are no visible signs of goat pregnancy during the first three months (Mabeline would be at 3.5 months), and some goats don't "show" at all at any point during pregnancy. Then again, I've seen pictures of pregnant goats with big bumps on both the left and right. Of course we should keep in mind that all of this information has come from goat blogs, so not sure any of it is reliable. 

But still, it's fun to speculate. Pregnant?

Or fat?

I think we'll have the vet come do an ultrasound so we know for sure (yes, they do goat ultrasounds!). It is an investment to prepare for kids (both time and money), and if there's no need to prepare then we'd rather not. But given our lack of experience, we don't want to wake up to kids one morning and not be prepared. So finding out for sure seems like a good idea.

Anyone want to place their bets?

Little Blue Phone

When I left for the Peace Corps in ’99, only a few people had cell phones. The handful of people I knew who had them kept them in their car for emergencies. Texting was not really a thing, and anywhere anytime availability wasn’t really either.

When I came back after my two years in Poland, I think just about everyone had a cell phone. They seemed extravagant to me after living in a dorm room in the school where I taught with a phone that only worked in evenings and on weekends if the school secretary remembered to forward her line up to mine before she left for the day. It was an inconvenience for my parents when they called and the phone would ring endlessly in the school office, but not in my room. They had no other way to reach me. I could make local calls from that phone, but had to walk to a payphone in town to make a call beyond my town limits. I certainly could have gotten a cell phone in Poland, I think they took off there before they did in the U.S., but I didn’t really feel the need for one, and didn’t want to pay for it either, preferring to save as much of my stipend as I could for travel.

But when I came back home, this little blue phone showed up at my door. My dad, who believes everyone should be properly equipped with technology that makes life more convenient, had gotten a family plan and put me on it.

For the first few years, I only used the phone after 7pm and on weekends, when I could call the other three people on the plan (my mom, my sister, and my dad) without using up my limited minutes.

But when David got his own cell, I started using my little blue phone to call him to coordinate meeting up after work or requesting a ride home from school after my evening classes. I also admitted it was handy to have in case of an emergency.

A few years later, I received my first text. I had given the number to a friend who then texted me. I didn’t even know my little blue phone had texting! I started sending the occasional text myself; it wasn’t very efficient because I had to push each button a few times to get to the letter I wanted, but in some cases it was more convenient than making a call.

Eventually, I memorized the little blue phone’s number and started giving it out instead of my landline. I took it with me wherever I went and checked my messages regularly. While others around me started switching to flip phones with cameras and even email, I stuck with my little blue phone. I was used to it and that convenience far outweighed the fancy features a new phone would offer. My dad offered upgrades several times over the years, but I had no need for a new phone. I was happy with my little blue phone, and even more so when just a few months ago, my sister showed me that I could set my phone for smart texting. Whoa. Now I could just type in the letters and the phone would figure out what word I meant. 

I started to notice that I could barely hear the person on the other end, but that was ok. I’m not much of a phone talker anyway. Beside, I got a lot of compliments on my phone with it being 15 years old. How many people can say they got their cell phone when their current college students were five? Not many.

Then, about two weeks ago, I realized I didn’t have any reception near the window in our house where I can usually get two bars. I didn’t get reception in town either, or on campus. Something was wrong. David’s best guess was that the antenna was broken, and that duct tape probably wouldn’t fix it.

Luckily, my dad had a spare phone. It is nearly as old as my little blue phone, but I’d call it an upgrade: it flips open, I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to hear better, it has a little keyboard, and it even has a camera. 

But still, I’ll miss you little blue phone. 

The Rathmore Chaos: An interview with Adam Holt

About a year ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend, Adam Holt, about his book, The Conspiracy Game. In just a few weeks, the second book in the Tully Harper trilogy, The Rathmore Chaos, will be available! Once again, I got to interview Adam and ask him some deep questions about Tully Harper, his journey to save his friend, and his exploration of outer space.  

If you'd like a signed first edition, check out Adam's Kickstarter. He is an independent author, and he uses the crowd-funding website for his pre-release. Learn more here!


The second book in the Tully Harper series, The Rathmore Chaos, comes out March 15. When we left Tully at the end of The Conspiracy Game, he had lost one of his best friends. Can you tell us a little about where The Rathmore Chaos picks up?

Sure. Tully returns to Earth with a lot on his mind. He feels responsible for losing his friend in space. He also feels like a “holstered gun,” in his words: the Ascendant are planning to conquer the Earth, but Tully doesn’t dare to use his powers. He might cause another natural disaster. Fortunately, Sunjay is there to help him deal with the temptation. The story picks up with those two. They’re in hiding, pouring over star maps and looking for Tabitha’s location. The boys don’t have long to find her though. The Ascendant are closing in on them. 

When you set out to write The Rathmore Chaos, did you have an idea of where it would take you, and is that where you have ended up?

Yes. The Ascendant inhabit a very real place in our solar system. Actually, it’s my favorite moon in the solar system, and I chose it from the outset. Its geography lends itself to exploration and action/adventure. I’m certainly not the first sci-fi writer to go there, but NASA has done fabulous research on it the last few years. I wish I could say its name, but that would be a massive spoiler for readers. Tully would never forgive me. 

The backstory of the Ascendant, however, surprised me. I plan to write some of those stories in the coming years. 

In The Conspiracy Game, Tully's relationship with his father and his friends were central in his decision to sneak onto his father's spaceship. Towards the end of the book, a new relationship was emerging: his relationship with the Harper Device. What role does the Harper Device play in The Rathmore chaos? How critical is this relationship to Tully's future?

A great mentor can do so much with precious little time. Professor Dumbledore influenced Harry Potter, but in some of those books, the two of them hardly interact. So it is with Tully and the Harper Device — aka the Sacred. Tully revisits its advice often, but the Harper Device does not try to guide his every step. It “trusts” Tully and lets him act on his own. I think Tully’s dad does that pretty well, too.  

As readers, we have only glimpsed the Device’s power. It has a long and shrouded history. Tully will uncover some of that in The Rathmore Chaos. However, the Device is asleep, and Tully’s powers are therefore unpredictable at best. 

In The Conspiracy Game, Tully and the Harper Device have what I would call a monumental conversation. In my first interview with you, I asked you how your faith influenced your book. Can you comment on how faith influenced this conversation between Tully and the Harper Device?

Good question. There is an undercurrent of mythology and theology in both of these books. So this conversation takes place in a garden. The setting is symbolic. Gardens are sacred places. I had in mind the Garden of Eden and also the Garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus went to pray and was betrayed). So in this sacred place the Harper Device helps Tully process his experience. Once again, he does not tell Tully what to do. He gives him larger, eternal principles to apply to the choices in his life. I really like the phrase “Fight, but do not hate” as a guidepost. The phrase guides Tully, and it comes from my faith experience as a Christian. Jesus called His follower to a radical sort of love. He said, “Bless those who curse you.” That isn’t easy. It’s the kind of love and forgiveness that brings peace out of turmoil, but it demands a real risk of failure. Will Tully take that path, and if so, is it the right one at this time? He puzzles over that quite a bit, as do some of the Ascendant. Not all of them are as evil as the Lord Ascendant, who is their dictator.  As the Device explained to Tully, “They are more like you than you know.” 

What has the Harper Device taught you, as the author, as you've written it into creation and explored its power and knowledge?

If you can’t surprise yourself, you’ll never surprise your reader. Tully was never supposed to touch the Harper Device. He didn’t in my original outline. Then I put the two of them in a room and the rest is history. That scene still surprises me, and it’s fun to read again because I remember thinking, “Tully, why did you do that? That screws up all my plans! Now what’s going to happen?” As an author, I watched my character risked everything for curiosity. I have to do the same thing. 

Can you tell us a little about your writing over the past year? How has writing The Rathmore Chaos compared to writing the Conspiracy Game? 

It was harder in some ways. You will see why when you “descend upon the chaos,” as the Device says. It is one thing to launch a boy and his friends into space on a spacecraft. It is another to send them to an advanced civilization on a distant moon. I drew on mythology, space science, and physics to make it feel realistic and plausible. However, since it was my second novel, some things were easier. The Conspiracy Game was my “first, best effort,” but it drags in a few spots. Reader reviews helped me see that, so I knew how to pace this second book better. Their feedback also convinced me to write in more parts for Little Bacon. Everything is better with bacon, apparently. 

What’s next? 

The book tour. I’ll be doing readings, launch parties, and school visits in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Nashville. Then it’s off to my next project, which is yet to be announced. 


"Tabitha was kidnapped in the Florida Everglades. That's what we told the world, but it was a lie. Now I must find her real kidnappers - the Ascendant - before they return for us all. To do that, I'm going to need a lot of help. And another spaceship. This time it's not for me. It's for the girl that I left behind."

Tully Harper's second trip into space takes him farther than any human on record. Once there, he discovers an alien world full of surprises. He also uncovers the origins of his visions and powers, which he will need in the age to come. 

Face Blindness: Do I know you?

My essay on what it's like to live with Face Blindness is up on Vermoxie! Head on over to read it... then like it and share it, if you are so inclined:-)

Update: Vermoxie is no longer running... so I'm posting the essay here.

Face Blindness: Do I know you?

“Is that the same guy who was just in the last scene?” my dad asks my mom.

“No, dear. He’s the woman’s husband, the one who stole the car,” my mom says of the man on the screen, Colombo’s primary suspect on the hit murder mystery drama.

This was a typical conversation as my family sat on the couch watching 80s TV. Columbo, Dallas, Mash… my dad was always asking my mom to identify the characters for him from one scene to the next.

Now, as my husband and I watch TV, curled up on the couch, it is me who is asking David to confirm who is who.

“Wait, is that the same girl who was just in the restaurant?” I’ll ask.

“No hon,” David answers patiently, hitting pause so he can explain who is who, again. “That’s the journalist, the one threatening to publish the scandalous article.”

These exchanges have always been a part of my life – a normal and necessary component of watching TV. It never struck me as odd that it took the entire first season before I could tell “Vaughn” apart from “Will” in one of my all time favorite series, Alias. David often teased me about my poor facial recognition, but I never thought twice about it. I just chuckled at the similarity between our exchanges and those between my parents twenty years earlier.

But it turns out, my face recognition deficit is real and it has a name: Prosopagnosia. It is defined as a cognitive disorder where the ability to recognize faces is impaired. About two years ago, David sent me the link to an essay written by a man describing what it is like to live with Prosopagnosia. I identified with every aspect of that essay; he could have been describing my life. My dad and I both have prosopagnosia.

I certainly don’t think of it as a disorder, though; it is more of a social inconvenience. And the term face blindness doesn’t really describe what I experience, either. I see faces and I even see details of faces, but I have a very, very poor memory for those details. The threshold for getting a face to stick in my memory seems to be much higher than for the average person. It is possible, though, and there are a large number of people whose faces I can identify instantly, such as my children, husband, close friends, and co-workers I have gotten to know well. Once a face makes it into my memory, it is there for good. A few years ago I reconnected with a high school friend. I hadn’t seen her in nearly twenty years, but I recognized her the minute I saw her, and she looked exactly the same.

But most of the time, I rely heavily on other cues, such as context, hair color and style, accessories such as glasses, clothes, gait, and voice. Of course, everyone uses these cues, but I seem to use them exclusively rather than additionally.

For many years, I was unaware of the fact that I was using these other cues. I assumed I recognized faces, like everyone else. But since David pointed out that I definitely do not fall within normal range of the facial recognition spectrum (and it is a spectrum, just as most cognitive and sensory impairments are), I’ve started to notice that I don’t actually recognize people based on their facial features.

Once, midway through the school semester, a student I had never seen before walked into my class and sat down. I nearly told her she was in the wrong classroom. Luckily I didn’t, because it turns out she was my student, but had dyed her hair from blond to brown over the weekend. At my children’s school, a woman I greeted daily as I walked from my daughter’s classroom to the parking lot simply disappeared from my morning routine. For weeks I wondered why I never saw her anymore, until one day I heard another mom greet the woman I never saw anymore by name on the path to the parking lot. She hadn’t disappeared; she had just cut her very long hair into a bob. In both of these instances, I was astounded by how utterly unfamiliar these women’s faces were to me when their hairstyle changed. I still worry that I offended the woman at school by ignoring her for several weeks, and I wonder how many other people I have inadvertently offended.

Sometimes, my lack of face recognition can be more problematic than simply offending an acquaintance. Once, a man I had never seen before was in our driveway when I returned home from running errands. He greeted me and began talking to my children with a familiarity that made me uncomfortable considering I had no idea who he was. It even seemed he was planning to come inside with me as I unloaded groceries. I grasped for clues as to who he was, rationalizing that I probably did know him. Did I recognize his car? Had he said anything that could at least reveal where we had met?  Finally, he mentioned David’s name and referenced the town he lived in… it was David’s uncle whom we had visited only the week before. He was passing through town and had stopped by our house to say hi. Relieved, I invited him inside.

I have many conversations with people who seem to know me, but whom I have no memory of talking to before. I have learned how to stay in a conversation until some cue in the content of our conversation triggers recognition. Other strategies help hide my lack of face recognition as well. I rarely greet anyone by his or her name. I’ll respond to a “Hi, Karen!” with a simple, “Hi!” because I’m rarely confident enough that I have correctly recognized the person within the first few seconds of an encounter.

I have learned to nod in greeting people who appear to know me as we pass on the street, even if I feel I have never seen them before. I have perfected this nod to pass as either a “Hey, I know you but don’t have time to stop and talk” nod, or a “Hey, I don’t know you, but I’m being friendly” nod, just to cover the bases and avoid offending someone I do know, without coming across as odd to someone I don’t know.

I have learned to accept that I won’t always know who someone is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a nice chat. If I’m lucky, I’ll figure out who it was after the fact, and eventually, the person’s face will cross the threshold of exposure I need in order for it to enter my memory.

Despite the social awkwardness face blindness can cause, it does have its advantages. I excel at out-of-sight and long-distance recognition. From my desk at work, I can identify who is walking down the hall based on the rhythm of their footsteps or the jingle of their keys. When out and about with my husband or children, I am likely to point out a person walking down the street two blocks away, “Hey! There’s so and so!” and I am almost always right, even if it is the middle of winter and the person is bundled up. I can identify people’s voices quickly and accurately based on only a short snippet of a conversation, even if it is someone I barely know. I am also strangely adept at telling apart identical twins; I suppose it is one case in which non-facial features are more useful than facial features.

Most of the time, I don’t think twice about my face blindness. It is simply a part of my life and I have instinctively adapted to minimize the impact it has on my day-to-day. Besides, unless someone gets a drastic haircut or purchases a new winter coat, my recognition strategies are very effective.

I often wonder if any of my daughters inherited this deficit. Over the summer, when my seven-year-old called out in excitement at the Fourth of July race, “Hey! There’s Jacob! I can tell it’s him by his shoes!” I wondered if it was a sign of prosopagnosia, or if she is simply a typical, observant kid who is tuned into the trendy brand of shoes her classmates wear.

Considering I didn’t even know I had a deficit until my mid thirties, it won’t bother me if my children have prosopagnosia as well. I’m sure they’ll adapt, as my father and I have, and if nothing else, those in the family who don’t have it will enjoy a few laughs at our inability to recognize even our most favorite TV characters... or in some cases, our relatives.

Overcoming an obstacle

My biggest obstacle in any fitness program is finding time to do it, but when I dig beneath the typical “I have no time” excuse, I realize I probably do have time, but not for the kind of workout I want to do. What I find most satisfying about physical exercise is the meditative, solitary state I achieve from a long, methodical workout. Bouts of 20 minutes here and there are much less satisfying than a 60-minute run during which I can really sink into my thoughts and get into a rhythm. So while I can surely carve out 20 minutes each day, I’m not so inclined to dedicate that time to exercise, knowing it will hardly be satisfying compared to a good, long run.

But I’m at the point where I have to acknowledge that I’m not willing to give up some of the other stuff I do so that I can go on good, long runs. So, 20-minute workouts it is, starting with Jessie Lucas' Fitness Accountability program.

Jessie is sending me workout plans that focus on the “short burst” technique – shorter duration and higher intensity. When I received her first workout email last Saturday, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to begin this week because I was pretty sure I had done something horrible to my left arm while lifting a 60lb goat into the back of the minivan. (Mabeline did NOT want to leave her true love after their blissful day together at our neighbor’s love chateau, and getting a doe to leave a buck is not easy if the doe does not want to go and the buck does not want her to leave. And have you ever tried to lift a stubborn goat into a minivan? Let’s hope their love was enough to get us baby goats this spring…) So, I sat down to read through Jessie’s workout email, unable to lift my left arm higher than my waist.

But Jessie had outlined several options for the opening 10-minute cardio workout, and I chose one that did not require me to lift my arms. I slightly modified the strength exercises, and then, finally warm for the first time that day, enjoyed a good five minutes of stretching. That was it! 20 minutes of exercise done while my children had their quiet time.

It sure felt good to get in 20 minutes, even if it was only 20 minutes. Doing it three times a week is even better. Then, yesterday I went out for a good hour long, meditative, cross-country ski. I’m pretty sure the long ski felt better having exercised throughout the week, and knowing I’d exercise again this coming week makes the wait until my next long ski much more tolerable.

Want to join me in Jessie’s FREE course, “Make Exercise No Sweat 2015”? It’s not too late – it starts January 22: 


In keeping with my word for the year, fit, I am determined to fit in exercise. It is always the first thing I let go when I am busy, even though it is probably one of the most important things I should be doing at my age.

A few weeks ago, a fellow VTmommies author, Jessie Lucas, emailed asking if I wanted to participate in her Fitness Accountability Program, a new phase of her business, Vivacious Mama. She offers to help people discover what uniquely works for their personal health needs, preferences, and goals.

Well, I know how to exercise, after all, I was a competitive athlete for many years, and I know what my preferences and goals are. My big problem is that I don’t have (or make) time for fitness these days. So I replied to Jessie telling her it sounded interesting, but I had my doubts. I included a long list of excuses, including a detailed daily schedule, as to why it is nearly impossible for me to work out regularly.

Jessie was unfazed and quickly responded that it is her mission to help people figure out how to fit it in. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I started to think maybe she could actually help me…So I’m in. I’ll be posting about it as I go through her course.

Anyone want to join me in her FREE course called “Make Exercise No Sweat 2015”?

Here are the specifics:

If you are ready for an entirely new take on exercise, and you want results inside and out, check out Jessie Lucas's *FREE* course, "Make Exercise No Sweat 2015".  In her business, Vivacious Mama, Jessie is on a mission to help women change their relationship with exercise and develop their inner and outer strength.

In this course she is teaching you how to get and stay motivated, how to find your specific and unique exercise plan to meet your goals, desires, and preferences, and she will help you start your lifestyle transformation with an exercise makeover.

The course starts January 22, go register and start making 2015 your healthiest and happiest year yet!  


Stopping by

Lately, my writing inspiration has been hitting around 10am, right around the time second coffee kicks in. The sentences form in my head as I wash dishes and fold laundry, and I look ahead at my day and think, surely, I will have time this afternoon to put these creative, well-crafted sentences down on paper.

But as the day unfolds, my prospective writing time slips away, most often replaced by distractions around the house. Distractions that are 2, 5 and 8 years old. Ah well, I think, tonight I will write! But then night comes and I'm tired and all those well-crafted sentences elude me. So instead, I doze off with the two-year-old in her bed to keep her quiet so that the five-year-old can fall asleep. When Dave drags me out of bed so I can actually go to bed, I'm no longer motivated or inspired.

But I didn't get to crawl into bed with Alexandra this evening because I have work to do; an online workshop I am participating in has reading and homework assignments, and I'd better get started on them.

So as long as I'm sitting down at my computer, I figured I'd stop in here to write something. Nothing inspired, well-crafted, or even interesting to anyone other than perhaps my mother, but hey, I'm here! I'm fitting it in!

What is interesting is that we are expecting -20 degrees with a windchill of -30, possibly -40, tomorrow morning. Will school be delayed? Canceled? Will the water pump rotors freeze again? Will the car start? Will the goats still choose to sleep right by the barn door as they always do on clear nights?

We shall see.


Last year my word for the year was pace. I’m not sure it actually helped me pace myself in terms of not taking on too much, but the word echoed in my mind when I did feel overwhelmed, and it helped me to pace myself in that moment. I also realized that pacing myself might not be the best strategy. No matter how much I whine and complain about how much I have to do, I like existing in that state of slightly overwhelmed. So this year I’m embracing it, and my word is fit. As in, I’m going to fit it all in.

One thing I’d like to find more time for is this space. I let it go over the past year as I devoted my writing time to other spaces that better met my needs, but I miss it and want to work it back in. The focus may change a bit – there may be more, shorter posts about this and that, and fewer posts in which I try to process the various challenges of parenting. But we’ll see. 

To start off, a few pictures from one of our favorite holiday traditions: Gingerbread Houses! We always save this project for the week after Christmas; it gives us something to look forward to and enjoy after the thrill of Christmas itself is over. 

The girls are hoping to eat a few gingerbread house cookies before the little night mice (named Karen and David) nibble away at them.

Happy 2015!



The semester is wrapping up, which sounds all nice and tidy, as though the work is coming to an end, but really it means that writing and grading final exams for one semester collides with the (somewhat frantic) prep for the next semester.

In the meantime, winter is definitely here. Six below last night and blinding white, crunchy snow. The town is decorated for Christmas and my children are finally starting to respond to the little elves who are watching for good behavior. Alexandra, who has taken to wrapping all the toys in paper, is asking if she'll get more scotch tape "from Hanukkah". 

We have an EIGHT year old now! Katherine's birthday gift this year was her own room. She has organized her shelves and drawers jus the way she likes them. She happily reads herself to sleep now (instead of the putting up with the annoying, loud chatter of her little sisters). She has her own alarm clock, although because of the horrible, shrill bell that startles everyone in the house when it goes off, we have reached an agreement: She does not have to set the alarm as long as she gets out of bed the first time I ask her to in the morning. So far so good.

We're getting ready to take the goats to the "love chateau" across town, where they will get to spend the day with the bucks we have chosen to sire their kids. I expect the big date will happen around the 20th, though I'm a bit skeptical of the whole process. I'm not sure I have actually figured out the does' cycles and I don't really know how long the window of opportunity is. I guess we'll either have goat kids in the spring or we won't! I hope we do.

A few pictures from the past few weeks, including a final picture of the girls' room before Katherine moved out… it was awfully cute when they were all three snug in their beds!

iPads for Kindergarteners: For the Birds?

(A version of this essay appeared in Holistic Parenting, Nov 2014)

I recently went to visit an elementary school. The school was wonderful - bright, open classrooms with large windows, outdoor playgrounds nestled up in the woods behind the school, healthy homemade lunches, foreign language starting in kindergarten, music and art, and an outdoor eco program. I was very impressed.

And then the principal told me that every kindergartener is given an iPad.

On some level, I can understand the allure of computer technology in the classroom: it offers an abundance of activities on a wide range of topics -- activities that engage and entertain students, are easily incorporated into classroom lessons, and, in some cases, can be tailored to individual levels. Even the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) claims that integrating technology in an interactive manner can improve classroom instruction (1). In addition, cutting edge technology is appealing to the parent community who no doubt wants their children to receive a cutting edge education. So when funding is made available for each child to have his or her own iPad, it would be hard for a school to resist.

But cutting edge technology does not equal cutting edge education. In fact, many disadvantages are often associated with screen time, including passivity, lack of social interaction, inhibition of deep processing and reflection, decrease in physical fitness, attentional difficulties, and sleep disturbances (2). One might argue that these findings are based primarily on studies examining the effects of television and video games, not age-appropriate, interactive technology that is integrated into classroom activities under the watchful eye of a dedicated teacher.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder, what can a five-year-old possibly learn better from a screen than from the world itself? When I voiced my concern, the principal reassured me that the iPads are used age-appropriately to enhance learning. For example, during a unit on birds the kindergarteners take their iPads outside to record birdsongs. When they come back inside, they listen to the songs and look at pictures in order to identify the birds.

Using the iPad as a recording device seems harmless. It’s not as though the children are simply sitting at a desk looking at birds on a screen, nor are they being drilled with factual knowledge at the expense of engaging in physical movement and outdoor exploration, both of which would arguably be inappropriate uses of technology (3). The children are using iPads to record birdsongs in nature. At first glance, this scenario appears to characterize an appropriate use of technology in a kindergarten class.

I have to ask, though, what are the children not getting because they are using computer technology? What would the alternative look like?

What if the children were asked to go outside, sit quietly for a period of time (a lost art in and of itself), and really listen to the birdsongs? In small groups they could take turns trying to replicate the song they heard, getting feedback from their peers and teacher on how close they were to the real thing. Instead of focusing on their screens in order to manipulate the recording app, they could observe the birds and make note of their physical characteristics, or draw them on sketchpads. Then, back in the classroom, they could talk about the songs, compare what they recall to a recording the teacher had made, and use their own drawings to identify the birds.

Even though the two activities (with technology and without) are similar in terms of content learned (names, songs, physical appearance of birds), there are fundamental differences in the skills that are required and, thus, developed.

In the lesson with technology, the children are asked to listen for the birdsong and then use the iPad to record it. Back in the classroom, the children use the iPad to replay the birdsong. Although the children do go outside to record the songs, they are relatively passive in the process and there is minimal cooperative interaction.

In the lesson without technology, the children are asked to listen to the birdsong. They have to pay close attention in order to notice the musical detail of the song and the physical appearance of the bird. Furthermore, they have to work together to accomplish the task. Back in the classroom, the children have to rely on their observations in order to identify the bird and its song. In this scenario, the children are active participants throughout the lesson.

A lesson on birds is perfectly appropriate for 4-6 year olds.  Furthermore, children these ages are capable of paying attention to and remembering details of birds’ songs and physical appearance. Giving children the opportunity to practice and develop these skills is what learning is all about, perhaps even more so than the actual content of the lesson. So why would an educator design a lesson that promotes a more passive role for the students? In other words, why would you give a child an iPad to record the song instead of requiring the child to engage in the cognitive exercise of recording it mentally?

In discussions with other parents and educators, it often comes up that even if computer technology does not enhance the learning process for young children, it is a fact of society. Therefore, it is important to incorporate technology into the classroom from an early age; not doing so may have the downside of making it more difficult for children to become proficient with technology later in life.

However, with technology changing so quickly, today’s computers won’t even resemble the technology that will exist when our five-year-olds are teenagers, let alone young adults entering the workforce. It is unlikely that the skill of navigating an iPad in 2014 will be relevant to the computer skills needed in 2025. Besides, new technology is increasingly intuitive and user-friendly; if it is not, it is heavily criticized in the market.

Furthermore, I have seen two-year-olds figure out how to work their parents’ “screens” in a matter of minutes, which begs the question, what “computer skills” are children learning if it is something a two-year-old can master in a few minutes? The skills that are really necessary for success with computer technology (and in life in general) are logic, troubleshooting, and perseverance, none of which are typically required in children’s computer programs and apps that operate on a point, drag, and click basis.

Finally, to the best of my knowledge, there is currently no empirical evidence of a critical period for learning technological skills. That is, there is no age after which a person is no longer capable of learning how to use a computer. It is possible that a 40-year-old encountering a computer for the first time would face a steep learning curve (as my own, highly computer-literate father experienced), but a twelve-year-old is just as capable of figuring out a computer as a five-year-old. Case in point, many of us middle-aged folk didn’t have any computer technology in our elementary school classrooms, and we have proven capable of mastering a wide range of new technology, including our iPads. 

Regardless, the national trend is to integrate technology into classrooms as early as possible, with technology standards that begin in pre-school. Currently, the NAEYC offers several recommendations for successful integration of technology into the classroom. Generally, they state that, “technology and media should be recognized as tools that are valuable when used intentionally with children to extend and support active, hands-on, creative and authentic engagement with those around them and with their world” (1).

However, their guidelines do not address what I consider to be the detrimental components of technology in early education. For example, while the use of iPads in the bird unit described above falls in line with the NAEYC guidelines, it greatly changes the nature of the activity, and, in my opinion, deprives the children of important skill development.

Therefore, instead of embracing technology as a valuable tool for young learners, I propose evaluating its use based on the following questions:

  1. Does the technology provide the opportunity for children to develop skills or is the technology performing those skills instead of the child?
  2. Does the technology enhance or inhibit the children’s use of their own sensory or physical skills?
  3. How does the technology affect the children’s active participation in the lesson?
  4. What would the same lesson look like if the technology were not used? What is gained and/or lost?

I believe the answers will shift as children get older in that the benefits of technology run along a continuum, increasing as children get older. A computer is unlikely to enhance a lesson on birds for a five-year-old; however, a computer may be extremely beneficial to a fifteen-year-old learning about the human respiratory system in a biology class. Therefore, it seems a reasonable approach would be to gradually – and thoughtfully – integrate technology into the curriculum over a period of several years after the children have had a chance to develop the set of skills the technology will likely replace.

Technology has a useful and important role in society and in education, but technology is also most beneficial when it extends or facilitates human capability, not when it replaces it. If children are not given the opportunity to use and develop a range of skills, then as adults, they will be far less capable, and their use of technology will be far less effective.


(2) Sigman, A. (2012). The impact of screen media on children: A Eurovision for parliament. Improving the Quality of Childhood in Europe 2012, Volume 3.

(3) Wardle, F. (2002) The role of technology in early childhood programs. Retrieved August 5, 2014 from


November Post

Yes, I am very aware that I rarely come to this space anymore… and that even on Fridays, I don't always manage to post my “This moment”.

I have a tendency to overcommit; generally, I like to exist in that slightly overwhelmed realm of life. The organizational challenge of taking on a little too much is quite satisfying. But sometimes the balance tips from slightly overwhelmed to completely overwhelmed, and that is where I am right now. I’ve been here before and getting myself out of it is always a tricky because I can’t choose what to let go.

Kids. Most days I am home with three kids, give or take two depending on school, play dates, sick days, and the carpool schedule. They are lovely little creatures, but they suck the energy right out of me. Actually, it’s dressing them, wiping the littlest’s butt, feeding all of them three meals plus snacks, and bathing them often enough that the butts don’t start to stink that sucks the energy out of me. Oh, and the laundry. Keeping up with laundry for five is in and of itself a substantial time commitment. Those two days a week when I am at work (and don’t feed the kids or wipe their butts) are a wonderful break, but it also means I have to prepare extra meals the night before and do extra laundry the night after.

If my husband, Dave, reads this, he will surely smirk. He is often the one who does the laundry and makes lunches and dinners for all of us. But there is a good chance he won’t read this since he is swamped in his own realm of overwhelmed. So let’s just say, regardless of how often Dave takes on the cooking and laundry, I feel like it is a big part of my day.

Work. I love linguistics and I love teaching, but the amount of childcare we can afford (in order to end up with even a slight financial gain from my working) only covers the time it takes me to drive to campus, teach, hold office hours, and come home. It does not cover time spent on planning, grading, professional development and service activities, or other logistical components of the job. There is nothing we can do about this. You can read more about adjunct salaries here. So after a long day at home with the kids, I settle in at my desk around 8pm to work.

Garden. We planted a huge garden this year. Our goal was to grow enough food to last through the winter. I think we succeeded – our chest freezer is filled with frozen vegetables, soups, lasagnas, and breads. But there is a lot that isn’t getting done. Dozens of cherry tomatoes went to waste because I couldn’t find time to turn them into sauce. Chard and kale have toughened and gone to seed in the hoop house. I barely got the garlic planted, we still have to put the garden to bed, and I have not yet finished planting the tulip bulbs that my mom generously sent to us. As I write this it is snowing. Is it too late?

Farm. This summer we remedied our empty barn problem by getting goats with the plan to breed them this spring. We’re very excited about goat kids and fresh milk… but first we need to figure out which of our neighbor’s bucks are good genetic matches for our does, learn our does' cycles, and prepare for potential pregnancies and babies. I’m not sure what all that means yet, so add in researching goat breeding. I’m really hoping nature just takes its course on this one.

Writing. I love writing. It helps me process my world. I have several writing commitments, including a monthly writer’s workshop, a monthly post at VTmommies, and various other submissions here and there – including this blog. I admit that my writing is a selfish endeavor in that it doesn’t contribute financially, it takes a lot of time, and I am really the only one who benefits from it. It would be much more convenient for our family life if cooking were my preferred extracurricular outlet.

Exercise. This is always the first activity to get cut when time is tight, and not surprisingly, I feel the negative effect on my mental and physical health when I don’t make time for a run or brisk walk. I also know that a 30-minute run would boost the productivity of my late night work sessions, making it well worth the time investment. So, just last week we got an elliptical machine off our neighborhood forum. I am now committed to working out three times a week.

Miscellaneous. There are always extra activities and projects. This category tends to be seasonal. The rotting door and window frames on our very old house need to be repaired and painted before winter. Snow pants need mending (soon!). We have an 8-year-old birthday to celebrate, the impending arrival of a new cousin, Thanksgiving, and the start of the holiday season in general. I’d really like to put thought and care into celebrating these events. I want to savor them; I don’t want to feel rushed or harried.

Down Time. It would be deceiving not to include this. I love curling up with Dave at 10pm to watch an hour of entertaining T.V. We try to limit this luxury to weekends, but occasionally we give in to a Netflix binge and watch during the week… and stay up way too late doing so. But we love it.

I love all of these things that make up my life right now (except having to repair a rotting house and mending snow pants). I don’t want to give any of them up. Of the things I could give up, I wouldn’t even know how to choose if I had to. They all contribute to what we want our life to be… But I also know it is more than I can handle.

Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to be just a writer. I’d wake up, go for a run to get my mind going, then settle in at my desk with a cup of tea and write for hours and hours. Or, I wonder what it would be like if I had devoted myself to my career instead of splitting it with stay-home motherhood. If I am really honest, I sometimes wonder (not wish, just wonder) what my life would look like if I had chosen not to get married and have children.

But I know myself: if I created more space, I’d just fill it up again. I’m not sure yet how to work my way out of my current state of overwhelmedness (if any students are reading this, can you tell me what morphological process I used to create the word “overwhelmedness”?), but it usually ends up sorting itself out… eventually.

And, because it is Friday, here is this week’s “This Moment”. Fire, a vampire, and a puppy named Bodhie, who looks more like a cow than a dog.


Not sure this qualifies as a "This moment", but the early morning light on our pumpkins, squash, and indian corn was beautiful this morning. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays (and not just because the Halloween Fairy collects candy from our little Trick or Treaters). I love when the pumpkins start appearing on every porch, indian corn is hung on doors, and kids start imagining their costumes. This year we'll have hot lava, a vampire, and a puppy named Bodie.

Happy October!