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Friday, May 31, 2019

Hard-boiled eggs done right

This should result in an egg that is fairly easy to peel, and that won't have a green rim around the yolk.
Take a thumb-tack or needle and poke a hole into the large end of the uncooked egg, all the way for a thumb-tack, about 1/4 inch for a needle.   Eggs have a tiny air bubble that expands when the egg is heated,and this is what causes the shell to crack.  Pierce the egg (gently, working the thumb-tack slowly in, rotating a bit as you go), and the air has a place to go so the shell won't crack.

Put your eggs in a pot of cold water (six ups of water for up to 4 eggs.  After that, add another cup for every egg you add).  Bring the water to a full boil, remove the pan from the heat and cover it.  Set the timer for 17 to 18 minutes.  At this time, plunge the eggs into cold water. You could have a boil of ice water waiting and move the eggs to that (using a spoon or ladle), or you can quickly drain the pot and run cold water over the eggs, adding ice if needed.

Peel immediately.  Leaving them to sit in warm water is what makes the yolks turn green.
Some people prefer to peel them by lightly tapping all around, so there is a spider web of cracks around the egg. Then you just gently slip the peel off.
I prefer to cut the egg in half, as though for deviled eggs, shell and all, and then use the tip of a spoon to gently work in between the shell and the egg until the half egg comes out of the shell.

If your eggs are very fresh and uncooperative about being peeled, drop 3 at a time back in boiling water for about ten seconds, then plunge into ice water and they should peel.


Monday, May 27, 2019

Opinions

The result was a coherence in family life which allowed all manner of speculations on the purpose of the universe without threatening the fabric of existence.

That's a quote from Unfinished Journey, Twenty Years Later, by world-famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin

I am not even going to pretend I  measure up to Yehudi's parents, but I was struck by that quote when I first came across it because it connected with something else that happened at home.  Back in 2009. I'd been asked to lead a small group discussion at a lady's retreat, and my topic was raising children in the faith (it was assigned to me, it was not by choice. My kids were not all raised yet). In preparation, I asked my four oldest girls if they could think of anything I had done that they found most valuable to them and worth passing on to other parents. Their answers varied, of course, but one thing every single one of them said, and it took me by surprise, was something along the lines that I taught them at fairly young ages that not everybody believed what we believed, that good and intelligent and wonderful people believed things that were antithetical to our cherished beliefs, and that I allowed them to investigate, question, and explore other ideas.

I cannot tell you I did that, because I didn't even realize that I did.  It particularly surprised me because nobody who knows me thinks I keep my opinions to myself (which is rather frightening, since apparently nobody who knows me realizes just how much and how often I *do*.)

But it made me think of this section from volume 3 of Miss Mason's six volume series:
Should form their own Opinions––We have only room to mention one more point in which all of us, who have the care of young people, would do well to practise a wise 'letting alone.' There are burning questions in the air, seething opinions in men's minds: as to religion, politics, science, literature, art, as regards every kind of social effort, we are all disposed to hold strenuous opinions. The person who has not kept himself in touch with the movement of the thought of the world in all these matters has little cause to pride himself. It is our duty to form opinions carefully, and to hold them tenaciously in so far as the original grounds of our conclusions remain unshaken. But what we have no right to do, is to pass these opinions on to our children. We all know that nothing is easier than to make vehement partisans of young people, in any cause heartily adopted by their elders. But a reaction comes, and the swinging of the pendulum is apt to carry them to a point of thought painfully remote from our own. The mother of the Newmans [Jemima Fourdrinier, mother of Cardinal John Henry Newman and atheist Charles Robert Newman] was a devoted Evangelical, and in their early years passed her opinions over to her sons, ready-made; believing, perhaps, that the line of thought they received from her was what they had come to by their own thinking. But when they are released from the domination of their mother's opinions, one seeks anchorage in the Church of Rome,
and another will have no restriction as to his freedom of thought and will, and chooses to shape for himself his own creed or negation of a creed. Perhaps this pious mother would have been saved some anguish if she had given her children the living principles of the Christian faith, which are not matters of opinion, and allowed them to accept her particular practice in their youth without requiring them to take their stand on Evangelical opinions as offering practically the one way of salvation.
In politics, again, let children be fired with patriotism and instructed in the duties of citizenship, but, if they can be kept out of the party strife of an election, well for them. Children are far more likely to embrace the views of their parents, when they are ripe to form opinions, if these have not been forced upon them in early youth when their lack of knowledge and experience makes it impossible for them to form opinions at first hand. Only by masterly inactivity,' 'wise passiveness,' able 'letting alone,' can a child be trained––
     "To reverence his conscience as his king.",

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Beyond a Single Story

Chimamanda Adichie warns against limiting our understanding of the world and its people by allowing a single story to frame our view of other peoples, places, and cultures.  Her Ted talk on this is recommended by AO for all parents, and for AO students in year 12 (although they could certainly benefit from hearing it sooner).  This resonated with me.

As a child I was born in the south, and later started school in Canada, and then moved to a city 12 miles from the Mexican border (my highschool was just over 20% white), and then further west, and then went to school on the west coast.  As an adult, my husband joined the military and we traveled a lot.  I began homeschooling in Japan and then continued in Alaska, the Midwest, and graduated my seventh and last student in the Philippines.  My older girls slept on Japanese sleeping mats and consider udon soup their comfort food rather than chicken noodle soup. My son fondly remembers pick up neighbourhood basketball games with barefoot players in the Philippines (he was often the only white player). My godsons are black. We have hosted summer visitors from Japan, and orphan-hosted boys from Ukraine.  When people ask me where I am from, I do not know what state to claim.

My passport country is America, but I have never lost some residual Canadian spellings and pronunciations. I am not fluent in any language but English, yet I have been known to forget the English word I want and use a Visaya or Korean word instead.  I am not truly a third culture kid, but I have honestly never felt more at home anywhere we've lived than we did in the Philippines. I feel like a visitor in Indiana and we've been here 12 years or so (the longest I ever lived in one place, and that was true when we'd been here six years- and I was nearly 50).  I love to visit other countries and places, to learn about cultural differences, to meet with people from other cultures, and, barring that, to read about them - or watch their movies and television.  I am an unrepentant K-drama addict.=)

I'll share some of those reads about other cultures and countries than my own here from time to time.  Below are the most recent:


High school and up, autobiography of Black American sports figure:
I Never Had it Made, by Jackie Robinson
This is partly an autobiography of a man,and largely a biography of the Civil Rights progress (or lack) during his lifetime, along with his political views. Not an easy read at times, as he is unflinchingly honest and hard hitting in his opinions on the shortcomings of White America when it comes to treatment of Black America. 

Alfred Duckett, his ghost writer also helped write Martin Luther King Jr's Why We Can't Wait and the I Have a Dream Speech (according to Jackie, and, I suppose, the ghostwriter, since the claim is in the book.=)  That made the book even more interesting to me, because I've read Why We Can't Wait, and of course, everybody has heard I Have a Dream, the most iconic speech of the 20th century.  It was interesting even though it was at times hard to read about the things he had to endure. 

Grade School,
COFA biography of Jackie Robinson


These are both decently written, but not breath-takingly so, nothing like the level of Twelves Years a Slave, Frederick Douglas, or Patricia McKissack.  But they are good reads and shed some first person light on civil rights in America in the 20th century.

Incidentally, there's a Canadian connection there- Jackie played for a Montreal team first and he talks at length in his autobiography about how much he loved the Montreal fans and how welcoming they were.

Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in American baseball professional sports. His brother won the silver medal in track at the same Olympics where Jesse Owens showed up Hitler's race theories.  
 The COFA biographer wrote a good story, but he also made some odd calls on what to include and what to leave out.  I also  feel like the story has a big potential to engender bitterness in young readers, but the story is what it is, and it's not fair.  Even after breaking the colour barrier in professional baseball, Jackie had to endure racism and push his way through multiple other barriers in his life.  He did this for himself and his people, and it was not pleasant or just, so bitterness is not a unreasonable response. 

 I sensed the same thing in his own autobiography, although to be honest, it did not require much insight on my part, as he's quite outspoken (this is not a criticism, it's just information for parents choosing books).   


About the COFA bio: 


I don't think it's as well written as the older COFA books, but I think it's a lot more careful about accuracy and conveying a clear sense of the time than the older books, and the writing is still good.

There is a sense of bitterness and resentment in parts of the book, for absolutely understandable, even obvious reasons. That frustration is also a legitimate part of Jackie Robinson's story. It's a story we all should know. Jackie was an amazing, remarkable person, the right man in the right place at the right time, but he had to fight hard for that. That fight probably shortened his life, and America is a better place because of his work.

In comparing the COFA volume to  I Never Had It Made I am a bit disappointed in three things in the COFA book.

1. - there's a rock throwing incident between Jackie and the father of a neighbourhood girl who called Jackie a name and ran in to tattle when Jackie calls her another name right back (both are racist). When Jackie tells the story, he says he does not remember who threw the first rock. The COFA author says it was the white adult. It's odd to make an authoritative claim about who threw first when Jackie says he doesn't remember. It would not have stood out so starkly if the author had qualified his statement, perhaps saying something like, "Jackie later said he didn't remember who threw the first stone, but it seems to make more sense that the neighbour started it, since he didn't call the police as he threatened." But this author just makes a claim contradictory to Robinson's own, and he states it as a fact.

2. There's a strange incident in the COFA book where Jackie is running down the street and a white neighbour sitting on the porch comments to his wife that Jackie sure can run fast, and his white wife says something about how he's probably running so fast because he's fleeing from committing a crime. There is plenty of real, factual material available about the prejudices that Jackie and other black Americans faced at the time. There is absolutely no lack for that kind of material that is also true. It makes no sense to me to just make up an incident in a biography for young children, and it kind of sticks out like a sore thumb since it's unlikely a third party would know what a couple of private citizens said to each other on their front porch 70 years ago.

3. In his autobiography, Jackie talks often and at length about how much church- and one pastor in particular -really helped him during his youth, and he credits that pastor with being a strong influence for good in his life, for getting him interested in Bible stories, for his all around excellent counsel and support. The COFA book mentions his church connections once, in a list of reasons why Jackie was really busy during a period in his life when he was playing two sports, working, and teaching a Sunday School class. That's it, and that changes the real story for something less than it was.  That was disappointing.

There are a couple other areas where the COFA book says something different than Jackie's own version, but those are the three I thought most significant.

I would still have the COFA  book in my home library (and I do), and assign it for reading or at least make it available for young readers, but I'd also read Jackie's autobiography to flesh out some of the details and correct a couple of the areas where Jackie's account is different. Both are good reads.

Inland China.  grades 3-7
Desert Pilgrim (in the UK) by Phyllis Thompson- about Mildred Cable, Eva and Francesca French, British missionaries with China Inland Mission who served in central Asia for 36 years. 

There are many books by and about Cable and the French sisters.  I have been reading through parts of another book by Cable and I am impressed by her writing. Thompson has also written a lot of other missionary bios, and I would keep my eyes open for those.

  This one deals with the traveling part of their mission.  For many years they had a base and ran a school.  Then they handed the work over to the Chinese converts and traveled the Gobi Desert areas, reaching out to people who had not been visited by Christians since the sixth century. 

This one is slightly dated, but the three women are bold and intrepid travellers who love the people around them and their Lord, and that alone makes it a worthwhile read.  There are geographical and cultural references that are deeply interesting, well told, and just what I want to find in a book to add some cultural diversity to the books kids are reading.  Muslim families probably won't like it (it is, after all, a Christian missionary book)  And even though somewhat dated at times, it's still pertinent today.  

Here's one sample event: They adopt a little deaf/mute child they have been trying to care for.  Initially they thought she lived with her mother, and even though the mother is abusive, they cannot do much for the child beyond feeding her and cleaning her wounds and loving her whenever she runs away from the beatings and she comes to visit them.  There is no social services to protect her, nobody interested in helping this throw away child.

Then they discover that she is not the woman's child.  The woman bought her from somebody else when she was a baby and began abusing her when she realized the child was deaf. They want to buy the girl's freedom but are advised not to do this directly or the price will be astronomical.  So they make arrangements to have a third part purchase the child, and then they adopt her. This part was so interesting, and I was curious about what happened to the child.   This additional information is not in the book, but in looking up her life I found that she had been purchased for ten cents, they kept her with them always, even when they returned to England, and when the three women died, they left her forty thousand dollars to support her (which was enough for a lifetime when they died). 
If you can find it, you want to read this book.


 Black American dad, Brazilian mom, Football, Autism:
The Warner Boys: Our Family's Story of Love and Hope:  

Not easily pigeon-holed.  Mrs. Warner is from Brazil and came to America as an adult.  Mr. Warner is black, from a coal-mining family in West Virginia. The story is about raising boys with autism, though, and not really about race or cultural issues, though it was really quite something to read about how Curtis Warner grew up in a coal-mining town.

As a book, I give 3 stars, which for me is a solid read. It is a stellar story but not 5 star literature. I would love to hear the Warner's tell their story; I imagine that would be an incredibly encouraging experience. I see this is on audible for 1.99, and that format might be better than a Kindle read.

I appreciate that they do not sugar coat the challenges and setbacks, the dreams deferred, the hard, hard work of raising kids on the ivery autistic side of the spectrum. I would recommend this book to anybody with kids on the spectrum or who knows somebody with kids on the spectrum or who deals in any way with some other disability making for difficult communication or behaviours.

This family have such a story to tell, and they just tell it, without self-pity, without undue pathos, without sugar-coating or phony cheery chirpy-bird stuff. But with lots of love and hope. 

I don't follow football, so I didn't know who they were.  Maybe you are already aware that Mr. Warner was a highly successful, professional football player who grew up in a W.Virginia coal town.  His grandparents adopted him and raised him, Grandpa/Dad was a coal-miner. Curt was a football player, went to college on a scholarship and played professionally for  the Seattle Seahawks. He married a girl from Brazil, who was not a big fan of football or football players. They have endured a stillbirth, miscarriages, and then their second pregnancy to full term was the twins who are on the spectrum and will always need to be cared for. When the boys were 12 they adopted an 18 month old girl.

This is not a book about miracle cures, or about sugar coating the hard stuff and the sacrifices made.  They did not get a diagnosis until the boys were 5, so they lost precious time and wonder what might have been (but not for long). They essentially went into lockdown mode for something like 20 years because they really could not take the twins many places or have people over much (one of them escaped once as friends were walking in the door and they found him happily playing in a pond). But they don't wallow in misery, either. They are believers, and their faith is part of their lives, but they don't hit readers over the head with it.
I am not sure most kids would enjoy reading this, unless they have a sibling on the spectrum.  If you ever have the chance to hear them tell their story, jump on it.



Soviet Russian prison camp to Soviet Russian single parent home- life under Stalin.  Grade school.  Talk about getting another point of view, another experience, life in different culture!  This is fantastic:
Arkady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin (UK Amazon/ Canada Amazon)
Five stars out of five.  Ten out five, even.  Loved this.
This is a great boy's book. It's a great read aloud story for any family looking for stories of other times and cultures.
Arcady is a kid in a Soviet prison camp because his parents allegedly were enemies of the state. He has no future outside of prison camp. Except...
No spoilers.
Really well done, gently addressing trauma kids, life in a communist regime, and soccer.  Yelchim includes a short chapter talking about growing up in Soviet Russia and the long term effects of Stalin's regime, and it's so moving.  He tells the story of finding himself in a New York cab driven by another Russian expat, who tells him that his own grandfather was taken away by Stalin's red guard, and nobody knew why or what happened.  Chillingly, even though it's something like 70 years later, in another country where it is perfectly safe, the cab-driver starts whispering when he tells the story, and Yelchim didn't even notice at first, because that's so natural to him, too.   When you talk about Stalin and theRed Guard, you whisper.  It's dangerous.   That's how deep the fear went.  Three generations and a totally different culture have not been enough to erase the fear. People still keep secrets and whisper when they say Stalin's name.  Actually, in many former Soviet countries, people still keep secrets and whisper about many things that aren't really that important, but that's how deep the conditioning is.
I will be looking for other books by this author.  You should, too.


Singapore, the 1930s or so, a mystery for teens and adults.
The Frangipani Tree Mystery (Crown Colony #1) by Ovidia Yu

I read the Kindle version.  Set in 1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore  The main character is a Chinese girl, just 16 years old (although in one glitch in the story she seems to say she is older than a 17 year old character) who comes from a well to do and influential Chinese family.  However, her parents are dead, and she is slightly crippled because of polio as a young child.  Orphans and handicaps are bad luck so her grandmother sends her to a British girls' school for an education. She has just graduated and wants to find work as a secretary. Her British school's headmistress thinks she should  work as a nanny, her teachers think she could become a teacher, and her family want her to get married. She finds herself temporarily working as a nanny/governess for the 17 y.o. daughter of an important British family (relatives of her Headmistress). The girl is developmentally about 7, due to an illness when she was young. The previous nanny died in mysterious circumstances and an investigation by Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy follows, in which the main character, Su Lin, gets involved because of her own incessant curiosity.

This was a fun read, somewhat the feel of an English cozy mystery. The author includes a lot of information on Chinese culture in Singapore at the time, as well the English treatment of Chinese There are some additional adult themes (beyond murder), but they are not spelled out in florid detail. A single woman is pregnant and there is speculation about the father and possible adultery. There are rumours the dead nanny took nude pictures of herself. There's a gay character.  I'd let an older, mature teen read this.  Su Lin is awfully clever and independent for a 16 y.o. Chinese girl before the war, but the anachronism is an area I was willing to suspend disbelief, largely because I enjoyed Su Lin so much.  I don't think I'd recommend this to that mature teen unless they had a special interest in British colonial Singapore and murder mysteries.

India, environmentalism, poverty, the importance of studying:
  Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins- (AmazonUK/ AmazonCanada)  very good read.

Grades 4 and up might enjoy this story of life on the Sunderban islands in West Bengal, India. The main character, Neel, must decide if he wants to study hard enough to win a scholarship that will take him away from his beloved island home for a few years. In the meantime, there is a tiger cub to save from poachers who want to kill it, and money worries in his family. A graceful, respectful depiction of every day life, customs and culture, along with larger issues of conservation and stewardship.  I will also be looking for others by this author.

Black American, biography, how the west was won... middle school and up:
The Legend of Bass Reeves, by Gary Paulsen (UK Amazon/ Canada Amazon)
Bass Reeves grew up on a small cattle holding on the edge of Indian Territory before the Civil war. He was a slave, and his life was hard. However, he did have advantages other slaves did not- because of the isolation where they lived and the danger from possible Indian attacks (Commanches had killed several white families in the area), he was allowed to carry a gun and ride a horse out into the wilderness looking for cattle.  The only people living on the ranch were himself, his mother, one other slave, and the white owner.  At 17, Bass had to flee because of an unavoidable fight with the drunken owner.  He lived alone in Indian territory for a couple years. He lived with Creek Indians for many years. He learned several of the Indian languages.  He married and brought up a family.  After the Civil war he was made a U.S. Marshall, and he brought in thousands of felons and was widely respected for his sense of justice and his courage.  He brought in his own son when the son caught his wife with another man and shot her.  He started writing his memoirs but died in his 1880s before he'd finished. They were not published until the 1970s.
I mostly loved this.  HOwever, in the introduction, the author begins by debunking all the other western heroes you might have heard of.  I question that choice, since the effect it had on me was to make me cynical and suspicious of the Bass Reeves story, too. You don't need to know or care about them to appreciate Reeves.  Beyond that, there are a couple of expletives, and there is a reference to the Comanches brutally torturing women and girls before they are killed. kIt isn't graphic, but it's still hard to read.   Recommended for maybe grade 7 and up.  Well told, fascinating character, and Paulsen's books are nearly always popular with boys.

Bass Reeves, Tales of the Talented Tenth, volume 1, Joel Christian Gill (UK Amazon, Canada)
This is a graphic novel, which is not my personal favourite format, but it is the favoured format of several young men I know.  This is a bit grittier and darker in places than the Paulsen bio.  There's a caricature of a black person used in the speech bubbles every time somebody might be assumed to be using the N word, which is kind of a lot.  It's well done, and there are some details about Reeves not in the Paulsen book (and vice versa).  Probably high school, in my opinion.

Native American boys, Omaha tribe- The Middle Five, free online at Google books.  First person narrative, true story of five boys in the Omaha tribe and their lives at an American boarding school.  They didn't want to be there, but their parents thought they could help their people by learning here. Written around 1900, the boys were at a mission school probably in the 1870s.   Amazon description: "The Middle Five, first published in 1900, is an account of Francis La Flesche's life as a student in a Presbyterian mission school in northeastern Nebraska about the time of the Civil War. It is a simple, affecting tale of young Indian boys midway between two cultures, reluctant to abandon the ways of their fathers, and puzzled and uncomfortable in their new roles of "make-believe white men." The ambition of the Indian parents for their children, the struggle of the teachers to acquaint their charges with a new world of learning, and especially the problems met by both parents and teachers in controlling and directing schoolboy exuberance contribute to the authenticity of this portrait of the "Universal Boy," to whom La Flesche dedicated his book. Regarded by anthropologists as a classic of Native American literature, it is one of those rare books that are valued by the specialist as authentic sources of information about Indian culture and yet can be recommended wholeheartedly to the general reader, especially to young people in high school and the upper grades, as a useful corrective to the often distorted picture of Indian life seen in movies, comics, and television."  This would be an enjoyable family read aloud, or a free read for students about fifth grade and up.  Recommended.

Black America, Slavery, upper elementary to middle school:

 Stealing Freedom by Elisa Carbone  (Amazon UK, Amazon Canada)
Publishers' Weekly Review: "This dramatic, often poignant historical novel on the life of Ann Maria Weems, a Maryland slave who, disguised as a boy, escaped to Canada at the age of 13. When the story opens in 1853, the 11-year-old, her mother and siblings are the property of Charles Price; her father is legally free, yet he, too, works "from first light to last light." Though Papa assures Ann Maria that Price would never break up a family, "Master Charles" hits on hard times and sells off the three Weems sons and later insists that Ann Maria remain his slave when Mr. Bigelow, an abolitionist, buys her mother and sister. In one of the tale's most wrenching scenes, the girl watches her parents and sister ride off to their new life and realizes that "the fabric of her family had been ripped again, and she was the piece that was being torn off." Ann Maria's harrowing escape, masterminded by Bigelow, gives youngsters an immediate, at times thrilling account of the workings of the Underground Railroad; the view of the Weemses' family life provides some idea of the incredible determination and ingenuity of slaves aspiring to freedom. Imaginatively and sensitively adapted from historical records, this portrait will evoke admiration for the courage of both those who resisted slavery and those who endured it. Ages 10-up. "


Very enjoyable read.  For very conservative parents, you probably want to know that there is one scene where Ann Maria's mother uses her daughter's rags (used for monthly menstrual cycles) to hide her pregnancy from Mrs. Price, and another scene where Ann Maria is indignant that she is valued at less than her mother or sister, and her sister explains it is because Ann Maria isn't yet of childbearing age, and they are worth more because they can have babies who will also be enslaved.   This would be a good book for free reading.

Sierre Leone, child soldiers, amputees.  Probably high school.

The Bite of the Mango, Mariatu Kamara, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

This is Mariatu's firsthand account of growing up in a small village in Sierre Leone, coming under attack by rebel soldiers (child soldiers, many of them), and having her hands brutally amputated.  She was 12.  She struggles to find her way to safety, and eventually finds her way, with some help, to a makeshift hospital.  She spends a few more years in a refugee camp, and then is sponsored for schooling in Canada. She is still in college when she narrates this story, which is both harrowing and uplifting. She has an incredibly positive attitude and she loves her people and has hope for the future.  There is a child rape and subsequent pregnancy in the story, and also a brief discussion of AIDS (she finds healing in working with a drama troupe, and one of their performances is to educate people about AIDS prevention and treatment),  so probably not for young readers.

Black America, fiction, upper grades to middle school.
The Young Landlords by Walter Dean Myers  Amazon UK  Amazon Canada
I really enjoyed this story.  It was written and set in 1989.  Kids who protest a local slum-lord and demand he clean up his building (which only has about 8 rooms for rent) end up saddled with the building themselves.  They find that it is not as easy as they thought it would be to improve the building, keep the city codes, and deal with all of the tenants.  There is some teenage romance and kissing. 


 I think it would be terrific to pair this reading with The Year Money Grew On Trees, which has a similar, but rural story- kids get an adult property and have to take on some adult responsibilities to make it work. Along the way they learn some things about the adult world they hadn't realized, respect some of the adults they know more than they did before- or at least, understand them.  Both stories are really well written, fun to read, and would be interesting to compare and contrast.  Mary Emma and Company, by Ralph Moody has a similar theme but set in an older time.

South Africa
Nelson Mandela's Favourite African Folk Tales  My second daughter tells me she read this with her five kids and it was a big hit, and very well done.   UK Amazon  Canadian Amazon



Japan, picture book

The Smiling Dragon by Helen Peck- set in an older Japan, the story of a Kite-day celebration, two friends, a little sister, the making of the kite, kite fighting.  Illustrations and text subtly reveal Japanese culture and traditions.  One of the friends is sick, too sick to fly a kite himself, so his friend flies his own dragon kite on behalf of the sick boy.  The little sister helps by flying another kite for her brother.
Amazon UK, Canada UK

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did, and please share any other books you have that expand our view into other stories.  Unfortunately, I am told that somebody tried to leave a comment but couldn't.  I don't know what the problem there is, so if you have other books to tell me about, feel free to email, to follow me at goodreads (WendiWanders) or instagram (WEndiWanders) and tell me there.

Why Picture Study, Nature Study, and Drawing are not 'Extra'

A few years back I gave a talk at an AO conference about the riches. I told a story about my grand-daughter Lizzie and a trip her family took to their local art museum.  Lizzie was only five at the time and so most of the advanced preparations her mother made were focused on her older brother, who was school aged.  But Lizzie met a painting called The Grief of the Pasha, and Lizzie fell in love.  Those were her mother's words in an email she sent about the visit, and they are quite apt. (for the full story, you'd need to listen to the recording of the talk, information below)

Falling in love is an important key to learning.  Picture study takes perhaps five or ten minutes every other week, but it can be the beginning of a life long love affair, and the door to learning other things as well.  Picture study also will help your students improve their moods and sharpen their thinking for other studies during the day as well.

Subjects undergoing an MRI while looking at artworks they considered most beautiful showed increased blood flow in a certain part of the brain by as much as 10 per cent – the same brain area and same increase in blood flow as when gazing at a loved one.The Power of Art

Viewing art triggers higher-order mental processing The human brain is designed to enjoy art

A study from the University of Westminster found that participants' stress levels decreased after a lunchtime visit to an art gallery. Participants who came in w/ high levels, had lower concentrations of cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, 30 min. later. And the effect was most marked for those who were most stressed. Think about what this means for improving the atmosphere while doing lessons! Spend a few minutes looking at your art for the week right after a stressful lesson- art isn’t an extra, it’s a basic necessity for school.
 Normalisation of salivary cortisol levels and self-report stress by a brief lunchtime visit to an art gallery by London City workers, Clow & Fredhoi



After analyzing 15 studies that had people looking at art for different reasons, neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian explained in a Q&A that "areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and those that activate our pleasure and reward systems are also being engaged." Essentially, parts of the brain that are associated with contemplation are automatically sparked when viewing art, even if they aren't thinking about it critically
The fantastic effect of art on mind and body

Drawing is another part of the curriculum often skipped, but drawing helps with learning and memory as well. I would suggest you try this at home with reluctant artists/narratorsm but don't tell them ahead of time what you are doing.  Just during the day tell them two different stories, similar in length and interest. Have them sketch what they recall of one, just move on through your day without drawing the other. Later in the day, ask for a short narration of each and see what happens. Drawing helps you remember, how well you drew is irrelevant, Science Daily: If you need to remember something, draw it., even if you only have 4 seconds; Drawing helps memory, even if you only draw for four seconds. TechTimes

Nature Journals (and nature studies) are, regrettably, frequently skipped until people can get their schedules under control, but this is a beautiful thing in its own right, and it also, happily, well help your other subjects go more smoothly:

Karen Matsumoto wrote a beautiful article on nature journaling, published on John Hopkins’ School of Education website.  She says: “In my experience working with children, I have found that the act of drawing and writing helps students to see and know nature through attention to and expression of their feelings. Feelings are a part of learning; it is now known that feelings are essential to deep understanding and sound decision making. Because attitudinal, emotional, and aesthetic considerations are important for growth and development, journals can be a good vehicle for "starting where children are." Rachel Carson, naturalist and writer, suggested that feelings help start the process of children wanting to know (1956). "Once the emotions have been aroused - a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love - then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found it has lasting meaning."." Nature Journaling by Matsumoto

And the same day I found that article, I read this comment in one of our groups, by Rusty Parker, enthusiastic over all the new thing she was seeing in her own backyard- “It's amazing what I'm seeing now that I care!” This gives new depth and meaning to Mason's comments on what matters most at the end of our school days is not what we know, but how much do we care, and about how many things do we care, doesn't it? 

Go outside and look at the natural world.  Find things that make you all share a collective sense of amazement, of awe, things that make you go, "Ahhh!"

"...awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities." The importance of shared awe
 "we tested the hypothesis that awe can result in a diminishment of the individual self and its concerns, and increase prosocial behavior. In a representative national sample (Study 1), dispositional tendencies to experience awe predicted greater generosity in an economic game above and beyond other prosocial emotions (e.g., compassion). In follow-up experiments, inductions of awe (relative to various control states) increased ethical decision-making (Study 2), generosity (Study 3), and prosocial values (Study 4). Finally, a naturalistic induction of awe in which participants stood in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement compared to participants in a control condition (Study 5)." (Shared experiences of awe increase social cooperation and decrease self-centeredness)

Narration and discussion, saying things out loud, also helps with memory: John Muir Laws on saying aloud: Prompts for deeper nature observation: Saying aloud helps you remember later

Many will find the materials here to be helpful: http://beetlesproject.org/

A few days after their visit to the art museum, a friend shared a poem about the Pasha's grief w/ Lizzie's mama. It is a long poem, written by Victor Hugo in 1827, and I would not think most 5 year olds would have cared for it or understood it. Lizzie's mama read her the poem anyway (linked here: https://www.joslyn.org/Post/sections/375...lation.pdf) and reports that in conclusion, Lizzie was running around the house hollering "I was right! I was right! He was sad because his tiger died!"

The riches are not extra.  They will nourish your souls and bind your hearts together, give your studies energy, life, and vitality.  Do not skip them.


You can buy the recording of this talk here.  The recording has a lot of additional material.  It is not a duplicate of this post.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Seven kids, their friends, my friends, and a field trip

Several years ago there was a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit in a museum in Canada. It was the last time these works would be seen anywhere on the North American Continent for many years, perhaps ever. We planned a field trip with two other homeschooling mothers and some of their kids.  I took all seven of mine, which included a nursing baby, a potty training toddler, and a potty training 11 year old with multiple severe disabilities. Yes, I am insane. But my husband was active duty military, we never lived near any family and if I didn't do stuff like this on my own, we just wouldn't have gone anywhere.  Which, in retrospect, might have been the saner choice, but we have established that sanity is not in my skillset.

 We planned it and looked forward to it for months. I gloated to all my friends, both real and virtual, about the cultural treat in store of us. About a week after the event, I wrote my friends about our experiences. Here it is:
I would love to regale you all with a fine narration of the deeply meaningful experience I had visiting the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit in Victoria, B.C. last Monday. My seven children and I rode in a borrowed 15 passenger van with Tootles and her 13 y.o. daughter, and another friend and her five children. We had, you know, been planning this dream field trip for a few months. Last Monday our plans saw fruition and we all went to Victoria to see Da Vinci's great works of art and models of his incredible inventions.

"Last Monday," you ask? "A week ago? Why haven't you told us about it before," you inquire?

"Because I hadn't yet recovered," I reply. In fact, I don't think I've quite recovered yet, but figured I'd better say something before it was too late. I mean, one can't go see the Da Vinci exhibit and not tell one's friends, can one????

So, as I said, before any more time passes, I'd like to tell you all about the deeply meaningful experience I had visiting the Da Vinci exhibit last week.

Unfortunately, I can't. All the bathrooms we visited between here and the museum stick out in my mind much more than the exhibit. Particularly memorable is the one on the ferry where my 11 y.o. handicapped child dashed in ahead of me, flung her coat to the floor and dropped her drawers before I could stop her- and didn't bother shutting the door. I shut it in the face of a startled and embarrassed ferry employee. O h, yes, that's an event I shall never forget.

Of course the museum bathroom where she didn't quite make it- for the fourth time of the day, also stands out in my memory as an important part of the day. That's where, crowded into one stall with my 11 y.o and my 2 y.o. so my 11 could use the facility, my 2 y.o. suddenly insisted she had to go, NOW. But she was in a sling on my hip. Impressed by the urgency of her pleas, I was Frantically trying to get her OUT before, well, you know-before-what. I yanked, tugged, and pulled, but her boot was caught on a fold of material. Finally, it came free with a jerk- smacking the 11 y.o. in the forehead.

We did not, of course, just visit every public restroom in between Washington State and Victoria British Columbia. That would be silly and not worth writing about. We did many other things in between bathroom trips. The 11 year old tried to snatch three purses from strangers. She's always sure they are hiding treats from her, and she does love to tease. Such a fun sense of humor that girl has. So delightful. We raced two blocks in the rain from the parking lot to the museum and back again about one hour later. I pushed the stroller with one hand and held onto the 11 y.o. with the other hand. You may remember among her litany of issues, she has mild cerebral palsy and walks like a drunken sailor and wears a leg brace that hurts when she steps on you?  I never forget, of course.  I think she found every puddle between the car and the museum and stomped in them. Hard. My left foot was soaked, and it did not dry out until sometime after midnight. It warmed up around three days later. The museum closed thirty minutes before the gift shop did, so I got to spend about as much time in the gift shop as I did in the actual museum proper. While there I did buy a neat book on identifying mosses in the museum bookstore, as well a postcard or two so that later I could look at the pictures from the exhibit and see what I missed.

While in the museum bookstore I had the toddler in the stroller and the baby in the sling. The toddler said she wanted out. I quietly said I knew that, but that the knowledge did not have the impact on me she might have thought. She said she wanted OUT. I calmly said I knew that, but that knowledge did not create in me a desire to leap to her bidding and set her free. She said she wanted OUT NOW TO PLAY WITH THOSE PRETTY THINGS. Peaceful in the knowledge that she could not get out, I calmly said I knew that, too, and actually, that was sort of why she had to stay in there. The sales clerk thought this exchange was positively hysterical. She laughed quite cheerily. Then she asked me how long we were going to be in Victoria, and where we were from. I explained we were from Washington and that we'd left the house at 6:45 a.m. (did I mention that?) and were going back the same day. She looked rather astonished, and then said that all things considered, my little girl was holding up pretty well. I looked balefully at her and said that while that was true, all things considered, so was I. She thought that was very funny, too.

The museum shop closed, so we all ran back in the rain, two blocks, to the van. You have noticed how quickly the 11 year old in the leg brace runs, yes? You have perhaps missed how quickly I run while carrying a child in a sling and pushing a stroller and holding the 11 y.o.'s hand.  Don’t expect to see a repeat performance, as I never intend to repeat it on purpose again.

We got lost leaving town. The baby cried for the only time that day, but he cried for forty-five minutes, and there was truly nowhere to stop. I was in the front seat and he in the middle because as we all know, some of us much to our discomfort, I get woefully abysmally, disgustingly, and nastily car sick, but after twenty minutes of this, and with no stopping place on the highway in sight, I unbuckled my seatbelt and started climbing over the back of my seat to get to my child. Tootles, who was doing an admirable job of remaining calm and trying to soothe my son, raised an eyebrow and asked if I wanted to change seats with her. Since I was by then tossing her out of her seat, I thought the question rather superfluous. I nuzzled my face up against his little wet cheek and he eventually went to sleep. We drove the rest of the way to the ferry in comparative peace.

The bathroom in the coffee shop by the boarding area for the ferry coming home was memorable. We arrived thirty minutes before our ferry was due. It was cold, dark, and pouring down rain. My toddler announced that she needed to go potty, "weally bad." I peered out the windows, and couldn’t see a bathroom anywhere, I couldn't spy even a building where one would be located. I asked if anybody else had seen one. Nobody had. The toddler got louder. I peered into the rainy darkness some more, asked again. Toddler begins screaming in anguish that she has to go weally weally bad. I put a diaper on her and tell her I'm very sorry, but if she can't wait until the ferry arrives, I don't know what else to do, and that there is nothing wrong with her using a diaper in this immediate hour of need. This seriously offends her, and she insists that she will not use that baby diaper, she wants a real toilet. We were also first in the line of cars for the ferry and now more cars are pulling up all around us. This unfamiliar place, in the dark and the rain, is a terribly unsafe place to be wandering around in search of a toilet. I cannot tell where cars may and may not be, we are not dressed for night walking, I can’t even tell which direction to look in the dark, and I am afraid if we leave the car to wander the immense lot of cars, I will lose the van.

She screams some more. I am miserable on her behalf, and not so happy on my own either. I try to reason with her. Screaming, nonstop, continues. Finally, in one of those sterling moments of perfect motherhood that we will all cherish forever, I reasonably and maturely bellow back to my two year old child, "I CAN'T MAKE A BATHROOM! DO YOU SEE A BATHROOM ANYWHERE AT ALL? WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?" There is sudden silence in the van, on the part of everyone except my continuously screaming 2 y.o. Then an 11 y.o.(12 this month), who isn't mine and a very good thing that is for both of us,, casually remarks that we passed the bathroom as we drove in, and she points out where it is.

I didn't say anything at all for a moment, but I think my silence at that moment was more eloquent than anything I could have said. Come to think of it, my silence was also much more polite than anything I could have said. Perhaps the disbelieving glare I tossed in her direction helped me make my point as well. After I recovered from my astonishment that a young person nearly 12 years old could listen to a toddler scream for a bathroom for half an hour without ever once thinking to mention that she, and only she, actually knew where one was, I grabbed the poor little one and raced across the tarmac in the rain, heading for the general direction pointed out for us. We made it. But while we were there the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the ferry was in and it was time to board. You will remember that our van was first in line, so nobody was boarding until we did. So, I hasten my child through the usual steps and make her skip washing her hands (this upsets her), snatch her up hastily again and we frantically race back to the van. I have a bad back and I'm not supposed to carry her, let alone run 100 yard dashes with her in my arms. She thinks this is fun. I suppose if only one of us is going to have fun, I’d rather if it was her. At least, I suppose that if I were as mature and grown up as I’m supposed to be that’s what I would think….

Did I mention that we left our house in the morning at 6:45 a.m? Just wondering. We arrived back home at midnight. We could not sleep in because we were already scheduled to visit the nursing home the next morning- it’s a regular appointment, and the nursing home people have made it quite clear that they do not wish us to alter this schedule. It upsets their routine and it distresses the elderly to have their schedule disrupted, so we must be there no matter what. The next day while we were getting ready to go on our monthly nursing home visit, my poor toddler began kicking and screaming, "No, no, not back in the car!!!" I felt the same way.

Nevertheless, I had made a commitment and while we all must suffer for it, suffer we must, because a commitment is a commitment. The older children understood this, and it was a good example for the younger, and so with grim duty in mind we duly arrived at the nursing home for our regularly scheduled monthly visit where we learned that the nursing home was on lock down because of a power outage the night before, and nobody was allowed in. No, nobody called us. So we all drove back the 20 or 30 minutes back home again, the toddler still complaining bitterly about the car seat.

Before penning this novella I asked the children if they thought it had been worth it. My eldest (15), and my 8 y.o. both were in rapt agreement that the museum was wonderful and every minute was worth it. My 14 and 9 y.o. both thought the museum was boring, but the ferry ride was fun. We live a mere 15 minutes from a ferry with much cheaper rates and better accommodations, so if all they wanted was a ferry ride, we could have done that in an afternoon. My toddler says she didn't like any of it. The 11 y.o. didn't say, but then she doesn't speak. And The Baby, bless his heart, slept most of the time.

Saturday, my eldest and I went to a used bookstore just a few blocks from my house. I found a huge (at least 14X16, 4inches thick) hardback book about Leonardo Da Vinci- with what appear to be reproductions of all the things I didn't see at the exhibit. The cover had a bad watermark, so I got it for 15.00, which is what the owner paid for it. I haven’t gotten to look at it, as my 8 y.o. has monopolized it, but one day this week I intend to sit down, put my feet up, sip a cup of something hot and calming, and leisurely look at page after page, an armchair field trip I shall enjoy with great relish. As for our Da Vinci trip, I'm glad we went, but I'm even more glad that it's over."


That was many years ago, as you can tell. That infant was about five months old then, and he is now a 20 year old college student hitting 6'5". The toddler is in her early 20s and self-supporting and in college. The 14 and 15 year olds are now in their 30s, married with five kids each. The 8 and 9 year olds  are also married with two kids each. Along the way those two reversed their positions and at one point the one who only remembered the ferry ride actually remembered more from the actual exhibit and was glad she went, and the one who loved the museum no longer remembered it at all.

Memory is a tricky thing. The really funny thing about all this to me, is that all the things that I wrote about in this letter, funny as they are, have receded further and further into the distance of my own memory. I am glad I wrote the letter, because I should have forgotten nearly all of those dreadful but very funny in retrospect things if I hadn't. As the details recounted above have grown smaller and smaller in perspective, something I didn't think to mention at all has grown and grown in my mind's eye until it stands out in glorious detail as truly the only significant detail of the entire trip. When I hear Da Vinci's name I no longer think of my wet left foot, my aching back, the stitch in my side from running all over the place. Instead, I see one picture in particular. I have a print of it to remind me, but the print is nothing like the original for beauty and exquisite detail.

In my mind's eye I still stand in a circle of quiet in front of that painting, and I see the detail of the stone window, the small insects on the wall, the creased line in a small, chubby foot- and I am refreshed and renewed in spirit by the beauty and wonder of a man living in the late 15th century reaching out across the centuries, oceans, and continents that divide us, and touching one tired, wet, cold, and sore housewife in the middle of a day that seemingly had no space for such peaceful moments. I couldn't have stood there for more than a minute or two, neither the 11 y.o. or the toddler were capable of permitting me. And yet, that minute has grown swollen and pregnant with meaning and depth, and it now fills the entire day in my memory. (also funny- that painting is no longer considered a Da Vinci, but I don't care).

Had I known what that field trip would be like, I would have sent two children with my friends and kept the rest and stayed at home in peace and quiet, as well as immediate proximity to a bathroom. Had I known what I would remember and take with me from that field trip in later life, I would have gone with gladness and rejoicing. I would not have missed The Kissing in Infants for all the bathrooms in two countries.

I just would have put the 11 y.o. in a pull-up.

(my favorite painting from that exhibit, The Kissing Infants, by Jos Van Cleve, and what I recall most is the detail of the stone framing painted around them, and no picture on the internet does it justice)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Cooking for a Crowd: Peach Cobbler

Take 12 peaches or the equivalent in canned peaches. Wash and slice the fresh peaches.
Combine the peaches and between 1 and 2 cups of sugar (if they are fresh). Set aside. You do not need the sugar if you are using sweetened canned peaches. You probably do not need that much sugar for fresh peaches, either. I have used about 1/2 a cup.

Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour, another 1 cup of sugar, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/2 cups milk (or reserved peach juice from canned peaches). Stir until smooth.

Melt a cup of butter (or a cup of coconut oil) and pour in bottom of two 13X9 inch baking pans (1/2 cup fat in each). Pour batter over the melted butter (dividing between two pans), and top with peaches. Bake at 350 for about an hour. Delicious hot, with cream or ice cream.

One summer friends gave us more peaches than we can actually eat, fresh from their tree, so this was a very frugal dessert for us, and that same season, our two godsons were living with us. We had this at least a couple times a week and never had any leftover.  I made three or four large pans of this for serving around 30 college students and the pans were all scraped clean.
A friend suggested the following as well:

4 Frozen Peach Pie Fillings
9 lbs. fresh Peaches (~20 Cups peeled & cut up)
2 tsp. Fruit Fresh
3 1/2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup + 2 Tbs. Quick Cooking Tapioca
1/4 Cup lemon juice
1 tsp. salt

Slice peaches and sprinkle with fruit fresh & sugar. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Line 4 pie plates with plastic wrap & spray. Put 4-5 cups of filling in each pie plate. Loosley fold wrap over filling. Freeze; when solid, remove from pans, wrap tightly & freeze. (I pop them out of the plastic wrap and vaccum seal the pies.) Return to the freezer until ready to use.

On baking day, simply place frozen pie filling in pie shell, add 1/2 stick of butter (cut up) & sprinkle with 1 tsp of cinnamon. Top with crust, seal well & bake 50-60 minutes or until done in a 375 degree oven.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Why We Sing Folk-Songs

This is from a journal entry from the late autumn of 2009, so our youngest godson was almost 3, his older brother was around 6, and our youngest two children were 13 and 11 (our son).  I am not naming names for their privacy.

The boys came to stay this past weekend, and the young boy came again today for a few hours while his mother had a doctor appointment and his brother was in school.

While here, our fourth girl and our sixth girl read to the youngest little guy.  Our son played with him (blocks and cars). Daughter #6 also played with him, fetched him snacks and almost anything else he asked for, changed his diaper, and helped him with lunch. She basically acted as his personal Jeeves because she thinks he's adorable.  The farmer came to harvest the corn in the field next to us,  and he got to go outside and ride in the Combine with our son (who he sees as a very, very awesome person).  He was a wee bit concerned that the combine would eat him, but he bravely agreed to climb in with That Boy, and that ride probably lasted at least half an hour. 

Then he came inside again, tired, a little bit dusty, and ready to relax.  He sat in my lap for a bit while we listened to music on my laptop using my headphones- he liked that. We listened to the Seegers, and Peggy Seeger singing Too-da-la was such a favorite he asked for it to be repeated about ten times. He wanted me to sing along, too, so I did. Another favorite was The Squirrel:
The squirrel is a pretty thing
he carries a pretty tail.
He steals all the farmer's corn
And husks it on the rail.

The hawk is a scheming bird.
He schemes all over the sky.
He schemes into my chicken house
and makes my roost-hens fly.

Then his mother came to get him.  Our youngest daughter (#6 again), put on his shoes, helped him his coat, and kissed him good-bye.  His mama told him to tell everybody thank-you.

"Buh-bye, Auntie," he said to me. "Tattoo for singing songs with me." And he scampered out the door, leaving me behind smirking at the indignant and very much short-changed Daughter #6.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The White Table

I was scrolling through a friend's feed and stopped cold at a photograph of a simple place setting.  White tablecloth.  White candle.  A plate with a slice of lemon and a bit of salt on the plate.  The empty chair leans against the table.
I cried.  I'm crying again.  It means so much.  My son-in-law is a war veteran. I used to babysit him, and then he grew up and joined the Army when he was 18 and went to Iraq.  My husband spent 20 years in the Air Force. He was in basic training on our first anniversary.  I've been to one of those events with that place setting.
"The table is set with a white tablecloth, a
black napkin and white candle, and a plate with only a slice of lemon
and salt. An empty chair leans against the table.

The tradition, little known to the general public, of setting an empty
table with a white tablecloth in remembrance of prisoners of war and
those missing in action had its beginnings with a group of fighter pilots
who flew in Vietnam.

But what was started by the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots
Association — the so-called River Rats of Vietnam — has, during the
intervening years, spread to other branches of the military where
remembrance tables, or so-called missing man tables, are set when
units or commands gather for dinners or reunions."


Read more here.

 

America's White Table tells about the custom in picture book form.

I was a young military wife, barely three years into our military life. We were overseas on island in Japan where every branch of the American military except the coast guard can be found. We had friends in all the branches.  One of them was an officer in the Marines. I had to stop by their house one evening to work out some details on some event I was planning with his wife. He was preparing for an annual exercise in another part of Asia. He was taut, a little grim, more serious than usual   His wife was quiet, and then she looked at me and said, "Every year we have this exercise for a week or two.  And every year, one of those kids doesn't come back alive."

I felt like I'd been punched.  The kids were 18 year old Marines.  Some of them went to church with us, and we had them over to stay with us every weekend, all weekend, and they'd play with our kids, and sing hymns, and go to the beach with us and play volleyball, and rearrange my furniture for me, and help carry in groceries.  And then they'd go away to a training exercise and one of them would die. They were not fighting in a war. And people were still dying for their country and we at home knew nothing about it.  


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Children in Church, part 2

I shared some of my ideas and experience last week, and then I thought what would really be helpful would be lots of answers from lots of other mothers, mothers who have done this successfully. I polled some of my friends who fit this category, and below are some of their answers. 

Now, I need to begin with the caveats, because we parents can take parenting advice, no matter how generally give, pretty personally and take umbrage a little too quickly. Of course not everything will work for every parent who reads this. I wouldn't or could not have done every single thing that every single one of my friends did. They probably would not do every single thing that I did, either. I am passing on what worked for me, they share what worked for them, nobody is giving a guaranteed prescription that if you do everything here you will have perfect success, and if you don't you are a failure. These are just some ideas for those who want to consider them.

There are going to be exceptions and various reasons why some of us have more challenges than others, and none of us can address every single exception. And you know what? For some us, there isn't ever going to be a fix for our particular situation. Take us. Out to lunch, preferably. I like Chinese.

Okay, seriously, using our family as an example, although we were able to stop our child with disabilities from pinching her sisters hard enough to draw blood while sitting quietly and angelically in church, to all appearances but her victims, behaving herself like a little lady, she now will reach out to slap one of her nieces or nephews for no discernible reason.  She's 31.  I don't foresee a time ever when she stops loudly blurting out some babbling demand for me to go get her a drink during the quietest part of the church service. I do not see a time when she will not ever again suddenly stand up in the middle of church as though signaling the congregation that she's done and it's time for all of us to go. That's just the way it is. The best 'fix' for this is how I and others perceive it and accept it.  She is is unlikely to change in these things.

If your child is really fractious, crabby, and uncooperative you may have all kinds of problems that all the good advice in the world can't help until other issues are taken care of. Your child may have undetected allergies- and what if the little mite is allergic to or highly sensitive to scents, and you're sitting next to the elderly lady who has lost her olfactory nerves and so now uses perfume as part of a daily baptismal ritual (and she believes in baptism by immersion), or you go to a church with lots of incense and candles- your baby will be more fussy and uncooperative in church and you won't know why,perhaps for years. Or it could be food allergies, or autism, or some other issue going on that makes it harder for your children to behave. Or, you know, maybe your parenting really is lacking and you are not communicating your standards and expectations clearly and firmly, but are sending weak and ineffectual mixed signals- I do not know. I can never, ever know because we do not know each other personally. People who see you face to face may not be able to tell you what the problem is, so I certainly won't.

These are, again, things that other parents did that worked for them. Use them, carefully, thoughtfully, prayfully, or not. Adapt them. Bounce off of them. Ignore them. They are not the ten commandments. They are not attacks on your parenting.

 I would also suggest that before you make any major change to the philosophy of how you parent you talk to real people you know in person, people you like, admire, and trust, people you personally can observe (and who see you and know you as well) about those major issues, so you can be sure you define your terms the same way.

To you, a spank may convey a hard whack with a baseball bat, and to somebody else it may convey a barehanded motion no brisker or firmer than the one used before church to brush the dirt off the back of a toddler's britches.

So please, none of this is meant as specific, pointed advice to *you* personally, whomever you are. If it does not fit your parenting style, philosophy, or situation, if you think it's outrageous, just ignore it or consider whether or not there is a way to adapt it, and then move on. These women don't blog here and they can't defend themselves or explain themselves further (and their children are all beyond this stage already, anyway, I only asked experienced mothers with older, or grown, children).


I played quiet games with my babies in church- I would hold them in my lap and roll their hands (like when you sing roll the gospel chariot), twiddle their thumbs, wiggle their fingers and toes- to distract them from fussing or making loud noises.

We also practiced 'church' time at home- Maybe for fifteen minutes at a time with really little ones. We sat in chairs lined up and sang a couple of songs, prayed, and then listened to a short tape of a bible lesson or reading. Here I could be more clear in our expectations, speaking at normal voice, instead of whispering, for instance.

Which brings us to some of the notes from my friends, the first one of which is really unique:


My friend K is married to a preacher, and she says she and her children spent time at the building when there were not services. They sat in the pew with the bible story books that their family allowed. This way, she says, she was "able to set up a training time to teach them to be quiet (since she could verbally remind them and also to spank them when they were disobedient without disrupting other worshipers). She says, " We also had a quiet time each day at home when I had my bible out and they had the same books. One of the books they had was a "bible song book". They looked at this during the singing and then looked at bible story books during the sermon. (We did not allow food, candy or secular type books so that they were able to understand that this is a special time). As they got older, we allowed them to write but only during the sermon and we called it "taking notes". This naturally translated to their attempting to copy words from the powerpoint. I would put my hand over her mouth to remind her that it was time to be quiet. One thing I did not do was discourage her from "singing" at the appropriate times."

Having special toys or books that only are used for church is also something we tried- if you have an extra diaper bag, this can be the church diaper bag so that your once a week toys don't get mixed in with the general population.

Another friend with six children stresses that this teaching has to begin at home, and suggests you practice, sitting with them, talking softly, telling them "shhh, it's quite time," and keep practicing, talking about being quiet in chuch. She also takes quiet little toys, books, and a quiet snack (like cheerios). She also says to keep in mind that Babies and toddlers do not possess the ability to whisper, so do not expect behavior from an 8 month old that she would be expected to develop until around 16mo-2 yrs old. She says "You can't expect complete silence. Just work on no yelling, or making loud noises, while they are babies. If they are crying, take them out until they settle down." She also says "DO NOT take them to a nursery or room to play. That teaches them that if they get loud or cry they get to go play." She stresses that no stronger discipline be used until you are sure they totally understand what it means to be quiet and are clearly being defiant.   Like me, she says she breastfed all her babies, 'even IN church.' =)

Another woman offers these "Three key suggestions:
If you don't spend time training your child at home (to sit quietly, at your request), then you will have more of a struggle at the assemblies. Have your child sit quietly next to you as you visit with someone, or do something else. The goal is to practice sitting quietly, only speaking when necessary, speaking in whispers, and watching and waiting for the okay to "resume normal speech and activity". Start with short time amounts, and increase as things get better.
Do not take a huge bag of activities. Identify a few quiet things (books are better than toys), and stick to that. Allow the child to look at the book during the lesson (prayer time is prayer time; they can be taught to follow along during singing). If they finish the book (or become bored with the book), you can offer another, or two, but then that is it. A well-trained child can sit for the remaining bit of time without looking at a book if he has already looked at three.
Keep these items JUST for assemblies; they should be "set apart" and not used the rest of the week. You will probably want to switch these things out from time to time, especially if the child IS behaving and IS looking at the books. You want to reward good behavior by having books that capture the child's interest.
Finally: Only take the child out to discipline the child. Never allow the child to think that if he misbehaves in assembly (or any quiet area), that he will be removed and allowed more freedom. His best restraint is knowing to have self-control in the assembly because the alternative is worse!"

I would add that 'discipline' here is not just physical discipline or even always physical. It can be quiet time. The point is, if you want your child to learn to behave in church, don't take the child out to play when he's not behaving.

Another friend says:
the first place to start is prayer. I think most mommies hold their little ones on their laps through church services and that makes a quick correction easy to begin with. If young families make an effort during home family devotion time to "pretend" they are at church and make the baby sit in her lap during that time and not play on the floor it will start the habit. I always shooshed my babies quietly as a loud shoosh can be more distracting at church than happy baby babble. With the shoosh came a firm hand on the mouth. This can also be practiced during the times at home. If the baby doesn't like it and wants to fight mommy then the time will come in the eventual battle when Baby needs to be taken out. With mine, we went into the foyer. There is a nursery with toys at church but I didn't take my baby in to play now as that would be letting him win. We sat in one of the pews in the foyer and kept on shooshing where we could get loud without being a distraction.

For an older child, I would recommend practicing at home. Emulate the "church setting" and practice using our "whisper voice". This is something we employed OFTEN (library, church, doctor's office, etc.) For an 8-month-old, I just put my finger over their mouth and sometimes even tapped it gently to bring attention to the fact that this is the issue (so that they can "make the connection")... Other than that, I have no great wisdom for a child that young...

She does say that there is a difference between what you do when teaching, discipling, and training for learning proper behavior and what you do when a child is obviously crossing the line from being childish to being defiant, and that line is different for each child.

I would also add my advice that you not underestimate your children. I did this with my first when I let her whine for months (she was 2), thinking she did not understand me when I said not to whine. I would whine "This is a whiny voice, and it isn't nice," and then I would say in a nice voice, "This is a nice voice, and this is how you should talk."
And then one day she smirked at me, repeated it word for word, only reversed it, and told me the whiny voice was nice.

And then I did it again (lots of times, but this is the example I am using) with our sixth child, when I insisted to a friend that my child wasn't defiant, she just did not really understand what it meant when I said, "No," or "stop that." My friend, who had known me a long, long time, pointed out dryly, "IF she does not understand what you mean, why does she glare at you and scream in rage every time you tell her 'no,' before you even move?"

One more bit of advice- do your best, but do not stress. You may not be bothering other people as much as you think, or perhaps they are unreasonable. I can't tell from here. I can tell you that one day they will be grown and it won't matter how quiet and still they were in church. It will matter that they know you loved them and did you best however weak it was, and that God loves them more.

And my last bit of advice is... give it time. The first is probably the hardest. But the time will pass, and one day you will not remember that it seemed like such a long time, and when you have other children, the well behaved older siblings will model behavior the younger ones emulate.

Most of the time.=)