Friday, June 30, 2006

Here's an idea!

The Totally Self-Absorbed Meme

This is a fun game, first seen on Professorial Confessions and then on Polyopia. I saw it first on Repressed Librarian.

This is how it goes: In the comments on this post, you post a request for a photo of something from my life. I get to use my discretion as to whether or not I fulfill that request, and will of course reject anything that threatens my anonymity or that is not totally G-rated. So, what do you want to see? De-Lurk yourself for this one please!

Like a Bee

It's the last day of June. Warm, but not too hot with the windows open and the ceiling fans going lazily. Lawnmowers drone from across the street. It's nap time, and everyone is at "horizontal parade rest" as my dad used to call it. I am in my room with the door shut, hunched over the laptop. From down the hall a little voice calls:

"Mom, are you in there logging again?"

Thursday, June 29, 2006


My brother gave me this Jasmine plant a few years ago. It grows in a big pot that I keep by the kitchen door, and bring inside in the winter. The white flowers have the loveliest sweet scent. It reminds me of the tea we always drank in China. If I close my eyes and bend down to take in a delicious deep breath I can feel the swaying and hear the clickety clack of the train traveling from Beijing to Tianjin or the gentle clink of the tea cup lids during foreign affairs welcome meetings. I buy this kind of tea now in Asian stores. It comes in a yellow square tin.

Honeysuckle grows along the fence in our backyard. I planted it there a couple of years ago, to cut off the view of the neighboring apartment house parking lot. It is the smell of summers at the Jersey shore to me, where I lived in a communal house and worked on the boardwalk doing beach evangelism when I was in college. It’s also the smell of the city neighborhood I lived in when I came back from China. It grows like a weed every where that no one is paying attention. It is the sweetest weed I know.

This lavender grows on my front hill garden. My mom gave me the plant the first year we moved in here. I try to remember to harvest the flowers before they pass their peak so I can make sachets for my drawers, dried flower mixes with rose petals, lavender wands and pillows, and anything else I can think of. It’s kind of an old fashioned scent, but I love it.

More summertime sweetness....

Sun tea. Peaches. Watermellon. Popsicles. Swings. Sprinklers and wading pools. Long evenings with a breath of cool air.

What is your sweetness?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A week's worth

My Mac has been in the shop for a week again, so I haven’t been around. It has been so strange to be completely without a computer! The boys at the shop were mystified about what could be wrong, until this came out. It seems eMacs put out when mine came out tend to have problems with power and video. Now that the problem is identified, they are replacing the motherboard and I can go pick it up and everything should be working fine again. Thank God! I borrowed a laptop from school but didn’t get it till yesterday, so I am still trying to catch up on all the blogs. I really feel out of it!

I have been reading a lot, of course. A few of the children’s books I’ve been enjoying:

Burning Up by Caroline B. Cooney. A high school senior in a small affluent Connecticut town is assigned a local history research project. She decides to find out about a fire that burned down a local barn in 1959. Her grandparents and the grandparents of a cute boy she is getting to know live on the same street as the barn, but they have only vague recollections of the affair. It seems strange to her that the adults she questions are both hazy about their memories and actively discouraging her from further research, until she discovers that the barn had been turned into an apartment that was housing the town’s first black high school teacher at the time of the fire. The more she pushes for information the stranger things seem, until she finds the courage to confront the possibility of racism and hate crime in her own town and even in her family. It is a good read. I didn’t expect to find it as gripping, but ended up staying up way too late to finish it all in one night because I couldn’t put it down. The thing she struggles with is not just the realization that racism is active and close to home, but that silence and passivity in the face of hatred is part of the culture we are trained in. It is a way of life actively supported by adults, role models, the media, our families, our teachers, virtually everyone around us. It takes the strength and determination and passion of youth to insist on examining the smothering stranglehold silence can have on us. Seeing, hearing, thinking deeply, all these are stifled by the ones who say they are teaching her the best way to live. The truth of this picture is frightening and challenging. This would be a good book for discussion and follow up in a classroom or book discussion for young adults.

The Secret Language of Girls by Frances O’Roark Dowell. Kate is eleven and in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. She worries about boys, how weird her feet may look with or without toenail polish, her parents, and growing away from her best friend. This book brought back too many awkward memories for me, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I didn’t even finish it. I would have loved it when I was about 10 though.

East by Edith Pattou. This is a mythical story a lot like Beauty and the Beast. Rose is an odd but lovely child that is chosen by a mysterious white bear to be taken away and kept in a magical cave. She is wise and talented and ends up loving him, searching out his identity, and of course losing him to the Troll Queen. She goes on a quest to find him and rescue him, has many challenges and adventures, and ends up triumphant in love and happiness. It is an enjoyable read, but a bit too predictable. Rose is too good to believe and the white bear is too easy. Maybe I am getting into a mood where I am harder to please, but I just hope for more from a book with a good premise. This one is pretty good but not golden.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer. I shouldn’t have read this one right after East, because it has too many similar features. Based on Celtic and Viking mythology, it also contains trolls, magic, Viking gods, quests and adventures. Jack, the hero, is eleven when he is kidnapped by berserkers and taken into slavery with his little sister. He has been half trained as a Bard or Skald magician. By twists and turns he ends up being the one chosen to complete the quest with a disagreeable but powerful girl his own age. I haven’t finished it yet but we can predict the outcome. This is one I would recommend to middle grade kids who like adventure and magic.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Being Real

It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are, even if we tell it only to ourselves - because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and full are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing."

- Frederick Buechner

It is these children that see me most completely as I really am. They are the only ones on the planet to see angry enough to throw an empty shoebox across the room because someone insisted they need help going to the bathroom again because they are afraid of the fly buzzing on the window. They are the only ones to see me frustrated enough to growl and scream and stamp my foot when I get interrupted again and can't finish reading two paragraphs together in the newspaper without someone needing more toast or another drink. They are the only ones who see me frightened enough to drop the baby and grab up a boy and rush to the sink when he trips over a toy and busts his lip open and spews blood all over me. They are the only ones who have ever heard me rage Just shut up! in the middle of the night because I so deserately wanted to sleep.

They are the only ones getting my adoration for the curve of their foreheads, the fold of their necks, the tender turn of their toes. The ones' whose hair I cut, or let grow too long and just admire and try not to complain about finding in the drain. They are the ones for whom I cook in a hot kitchen, get on my knees to scrub the jam off the floor, clean the toilet and endure traffic jams. For whom I gather my courage and figure out how to pay the bills, schedule and show up for doctor's appointments, socialize with strangers, find a roofer and a plumber. The ones who need English essays edited during the morning rush, five or six reminders to clean the cat box, and sometimes even a lost temper in order to get off the couch. Those who expect a check written at the last minute, new shoes a week before payday, trips to the ER in the middle of a work day. For whom I learn new things, face old demons, battle bad habits, learn my own body and fight for health. For just one or many more days of jam and bad smells and those priceless smiles. No one else knows the real me like they do. That is just one of the treasures they offer, these boys of mine.

Grape Thief

Grape Thief by Kristine L. Franklin is set in the 1920 in Roslyn, Washington. It is a coal-mining town filled with immigrants from Europe, many of whom work in the mines. Slava Petrovich is twelve years old, the middle son in a family of five children and a widowed mother. Slava’s nickname is “Cuss” because he taught himself to swear in fourteen languages. He loves school and hopes to complete seventh grade and go on, an accomplishment his brothers and friends are unable to reach because they must quit school and work in the mines. Cuss’s older brothers are forced to leave town when they get mixed up in Mob trouble. It is the era of Prohibition and the Mob wants to move in and take over control of local moonshine production. Cuss becomes the man of the family, and has to face the economic realities. I found it to be an engaging story and well told. The use of colloquialisms was a little distracting. Terms such as skeddadle, Hokey-dokey, scram, and diddly squat may be meant as a realistic dialogue but it seems overdone to me. Sections like this one sound like a ‘B’ movie:

“There’s twenty-two drink joints in Roslyn, and that’s the ones with a front door. So the mobsters from the city say to themselves, ‘Hey, let’s us get a piece o’ that,’ and they send out a chump like Simms to make deals, to get all the drink joints to start buying from his mob, and if they don’t make a deal, they get leaned on.
“That guy Simms was sent by the Mob to deal, and nobody was dealin’, so he was starting to lean,” said Perks.

What keeps me reading is the tension between Cuss’s longing to pursue an education and his responsibility to help his family survive. He finds mentors in the town’s priest and doctor, both of whom encourage him to continue his studies and who help him look for ways to care for his family in the process. I would recommend this book to fifth and sixth graders who like realistic fiction with action and conflict.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

From Galatians chapter 5

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.... if we live by the spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard has always been one of my favorite writers. I have been reading The Living, her 1992 novel set in the Northwest, in Whatcom County, Washington in the 1870s – 1890s. Her writing is always juicy and here her descriptions of the beauty and drama of the natural landscape overwhelm the senses. I have never been to Washington state so I have no gauge for Puget Sound and the Cascade mountains, but Dillard gives my imagination a vehicle and I dearly want to visit in person. The focus of the story is the lives of the settlers and immigrants. She has a fascination for the ways people die and the strategies their left behind loved ones learn in order to keep on going. What they did to survive and thrive takes my breath away.

I looked around my house to see what other Dillard books I have, and found The Writing Life from 1989. She tells about living on a small island in Puget Sound while writing, and how the vastness of the trees, the howling wind and the startling beauty of the ocean effected her writing. These two books are great companions, and I am continuing to dip into them one after another. It is nice to hear her voice both as the writing teacher and the storyteller. Here is an inspiring excerpt from The Writing Life:

“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.” Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this. Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. “Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life… Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
Write about winter in the summer. Describe Norway as Ibsen did, from a desk in Italy; describe Dublin as James Joyce did, from a desk in Paris. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels in New York City; Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in Hartford, Connecticut. Recently, scholars learned that Walk Whitman rarely left his room.

Gift books

Henry David’s House edited by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Peter A. Fiore is a book I am giving Buster as part of his graduation present. It is a compilation of excerpts from Thoreau’s journal, telling about how he built his cabin on Walden Pond. The illustrations are beautiful watercolor and oil paintings. With a borrowed axe Thoreau satisfies his material needs, saying "My furniture, part of which I made myself, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs (one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society)." Thoreau’s life in the woods is not simply solitary, but also includes companionship and the building of new friendships. He joy and quiet passion for the beauty of nature is interspersed with his delight in unexpected visitors, children picking berries, a passing hiker. He builds a life where thoughtful reflection and the celebration of the beauty and vitality of nature are the central playground of his spirit. "A slight sound at evening lifts me up by the ears, and makes life seem inexpressibly grand." I hope his words inspire my son as much as they have inspired me.

The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka is a Caldecott Medal winner from 2005. We are giving this to my dad for Father’s Day. Buster started calling him “Bapa” while trying to say “grampa” and the name stuck so now all three call him that. He is a wonderful Bapa too! The Hello, Goodbye Window tells about a little girl’s visits to her grandparents’ house and the fun they have looking in and out the window. The visit story is structured by the kitchen window in their house acting as a welcome ritual, an opening for imagination, a view of the world and a farewell wave. The illustrations are charming. The family is a variety of shades of brown and tan and beige, just like our family. The nurturing relationship between the child and the grandparents is celebrated, making this the perfect gift for a grandfather who is such an important role model.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Game

Unfortunately my Mac is not working again. If I disappear from cyberspace for days or weeks, you'll know why. Don't give up on me, I'm still reading!

Fortunately, I am in school one more day (today) tying up a few loose ends before summer break, so I can tell you that. These computers work!

Unfortunately, my car died on Sunday morning just when I had everyone washed, dressed, brushed, fed and ready for church. Nothing but tick tick tick...

Fortunately, I could borrow my mom's car this morning. And Fortunately, my car started this morning so I could drive it around the block to my mechanic and leave it with him. He is putting a new battery in it and it will be done this afternoon. Thank God for him and that I was at home when trouble came...

Unfortunately, my camera died too. What is it with electronics this weekend? Sun spots or what?

Can anyone give me one more Fortunate thing???

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Today is the anual neighborhood yardsale. I am getting rid of a pile of stuff that has been hanging around the house... hopefully most of it good in someone's eyes. I usually don't make much money at these things, I think because I don't have a lot of good stuff to sell. What's the best thing you ever bought at a yard sale? The best thing you ever sold? Did you ever sell something and then later really wish you still had it?

Friday, June 09, 2006

A cat's life

Now that I am on summer break, I am planning to be right here during naptime, reading and snoozing...

I checked out 35 books from our library and I am going to be making my way through them, and blogging them for you. Mostly Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction.

It's going to be a great summer!

Gettin' RSS Wi'cha

The May issue of Book Links, the American Library Association’s magazine for teachers and librarians has been sitting on my desk for weeks, waiting for me to find time to read it. Now that classes are over for the summer I am cleaning my desk off, and I found it and took it home last night. I read an interesting article about teachers blogging with their students. There are so many possibilities here!

The key idea I am going to take further for myself is to work on developing an RSS feed list for all my favorite blogs. I wanted to use Yahoo, so that I could check my email, see my comments and read the daily new posts from my list all at the same time. I hate having to sign in to so many different accounts just to check all the messages. But it turns out a lot of you don’t have the RSS feed available in a way that Yahoo can use, so I had to sign up with Bloglines and put in all the blogs I want to subscribe to. Those of you with blogs, how do you do this? Do you use Bloglines, Yahoo, or something else? Do you have a button on your page that makes it easy for others? Should I?

I have spent the past few months putting links on my blog and going down the list every day to read everyone’s posts, and then following links in the comment sections to find new blogs. What do the rest of you do? I am ready to take the next step I think. Any tips?

I also signed up with and tried to gather all the links in the history folder from all the various computers around the media center that I use to surf. There are about four work stations that I regularly use, and I have been lazy about relying on the History folder to go back to the good sites I discovered on previous days. But now that I am on summer break I will be surfing from home, and that favorites folder is completely different. And between Firefox and AOL on my home computer I get really mixed up… So glad someone came up with an online favorites folder I can check from anywhere! What else do you do in cyberspace that is new and exciting?

Graduation Speeches

So much depends,
Upon the red wheelbarrow,
Glazed with rainwater,
Beside the white chickens

William Carlos Williams

A couple of nights ago we had our Eight Grade Graduation here. There are about 30 kids in the class, and each one of them spoke; sharing a “small moment” that they remembered as significant during their time here. It was a lovely, touching ceremony. The kids had so much love and joy and excitement to share many of us joined in their tears and laughter.

One girl quoted the poem above, and told her memory of the day their sixth grade English teacher read them that poem at the start of class and asked them what they thought it meant. She says they sat in silence, perplexed. A few shouted out silly responses, but she simply stared them down. At last she told them the poem was significant simply because it was beautiful.

This young woman concluded by saying her experiences at our school over the last ten years were beyond her ability to explain, but significant because they were beautiful.

Just like those chickens.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Deadly Nightshade

Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade grows all along the edge of the playground and on the fence at the back of my garden. It always reminds me of the time when Buster was a toddler and the neighbor’s girls put together a tea party with the lovely red and purple berries. Their mother made a few frantic calls to poison control before we knew they were going to be OK, so I always rip it out as soon as I see it. It also reminds me of these haiku by Issa (Japanese poet; 1763 – 1828):

it's so pretty!
so pretty!
the poison mushroom

watch out kids!
don't let those red mushrooms
cast a spell

So I wrote my own haiku this morning:

Belladonna grows
tempting a child’s tea party –
purple, red dream drops…

Learning to Hear with the Heart week 2

Hearing the Heart’s Desire: "It’s so easy to tell others to go after their dreams, something you know God calls them to be or do. Seeing someone else’s deepest desire is often easier than seeing – and acting on – our own. Somehow our heart closes down when we desire something that seems fanciful, impractical, or unobtainable. The voice of reason takes over and closes down our discerning heart. What dreams do you have that seem impractical, improbable, or unreasonable? What prevents you from pursuing your heart’s desire?"

Name Your Gifts: "Discounting your gifts is much easier and safer than finding the courage to name them, claim them, and grow into them. We have this idea that if we’re even remotely aware of our gifts we’re conceited or arrogant. But trying to discern what God call you to do or be without looking at and naming your gifts is like trying to solve a mystery without clues. What are at least three of the gifts God gave you?"

Listen to Your Body – "Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. – Psalms 16:9 “God wants us to have joy in our should and health in our bodies,” Hildegard of Bingen once told a novice who was being too harsh on herself and others. How does your body communicate with you, both when it is at peace and when it is not?"

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is a real ‘boy’ book in the category with Huck Finn. A steady stream of fifth graders have been coming into the library asking for this book, so as my last Bus Room Book of the year I had to pick it up to read. The older boys in my bus room all said it was really funny and recommended it. The first chapter had me busting out loud with laughter, so one of the fourth graders immediately started reading it too.

Yesterday in bus room when I picked it up to continue he said:
“I knew you would be in that book today, pulling out more laughs; like a bird plucking worms!”

Monday, June 05, 2006

Talking With Young Children About Adoption

Talking with Young Children about Adoption by Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher was published in 1993. It was given to me by a good friend who has adopted two children, as a gift after my first adoption. I read it then, three years ago, and just re-read it with the added perspective of having been through two adoptions. With my boys being one year and almost four they are in the ages described in the book and adoption talk is frequent at our house.

In the introduction “From Sharing to Telling” the authors review changes in what the ‘experts’ have recommended over the years in regards to how parents should treat their child’s adoption. It used to be thought that children should be matched as closely as possible to their adoptive family’s looks, background, physical features, etc., and parents should wait to tell the children about their adoption until they were old enough to understand. Many times parents were in fact advised to deny the adoption or tell the child the birth parents had died in order to spare the child confusion about who their family was. It was thought that the less talk of adoption, the healthier and more normal everyone would be.

The authors of this book are both adoptive moms of the 80s, and the perspective they are speaking from is that of the expert advice of their time. They were told to “speak of adoption early and lovingly, to speak about adoption to our toddlers and preschoolers as the way our children entered our families, to acknowledge with respect our children’s birth-families and cultural heritage, to create an atmosphere in which questions, feelings, and concerns about adoption could be spoken about openly.” So the stories here are all about parents talking with their toddlers, preschoolers and middle-aged children, telling about their origins and their journeys into their adoptive families. The emphasis is on both the parents’ work of coming to terms with the losses, anxieties and adjustments to adoption and the children’s’ work of coming to understand what adoption means to them and their losses, their histories and their families.

Although the stories for young children are almost universally happy homecoming stories as presented by the parents, there is acknowledged the sadness that parents feel in not having the baby come from their own womb and the sadness the children feel in not being born from their mothers. For me personally, this is not something I can relate to as I have not felt it a terrible loss to not have been pregnant and given birth to my two younger sons. I wish I had been with them, held them and known them from the very beginning, but it is not an intense loss. I feel more sadness for their birthparents’ loss and the separation my boys have/will experience as a result of their first parent’s decisions about placing them.

However, I am very familiar with the intense dichotomy of joy and grief that comes with adoption. One of the things I like about this book is the way that is recognized and addressed from the parents’ perspective and the children’s perspective. Talking about those feelings is a large part of our coming to understand adoption and our growing together as a family I believe. Understanding those feelings and wonderings and thoughts is work that will continue throughout their childhoods, and is an opportunity for us to learn much about listening to each other and loving each other.

This second time I am reading the book it has bothered me a lot that the first parents to these children are not very well represented. Of the twenty families whose stories are told in detail, in the words of the children and parents, only one situation is an open adoption where the children know their first parents. Most of the families do not even know or share the first names of the original parents, and the children are told they may search for and possible meet their first parents when they reach the age of 18. Many of the stories told to the children by their adoptive moms disregard the first mom, calling her just a “tummy mommy” or “nice lady who took care of you before we came to get you”. The children’s lives’, in these stories, start when the adoptive parents race to the hospital and hold them for the first time. The joy of their birth is in the waiting of their adoptive parents. Their “ladies” are described as “too young and too poor” to be parents. It is as if they were just wombs, or instruments of producing the babies the adoptive parents longed for, and not people in their own right, people who might love and long for and miss the children they gave up.

Many of the adoptive moms acknowledge feelings of fear, anxiety, or insecurity when their children ask for details about their first moms, or in some way indicate that the first mom might also/alternately be a “real” mom. There is no understanding that both moms might be real, both moms might love the child and want to see their happiness, both moms might be part of the child’s family. There is little respect for the first parents’ connection to the child, which I find very distressing.

I have had to share my first, biological child with his father (not my husband; with whom I have been estranged from pregnancy) through out my son’s life. It has always been a struggle, and always been a relationship requiring qualities of grace, forgiveness and trust that were difficult to acquire. Perhaps because of this I have no difficulty seeing that it is entirely possible and actually beneficial to share the love and nurture of my children with adults who have deeply rooted connections to them, even in spite of my own possible feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness and confusion.

I also noticed that most of the stories are told by the adoptive moms. There is only one case where an adoptive father told his view point. He felt that the whole adoption process was painful and humiliating and made him feel a failure, because he and his wife did not achieve pregnancy and they had to adopt in order to raise children together. He wanted to forget about the whole adoption process and just focus on the kids. He didn’t think much about the biological parents at all. No biological fathers are mentioned or acknowledged. Biological fathers rights are not even on the horizon.

I strongly believe that a relationship with one’s biological parents is a right and expectation that every child should have, unless those parents have proven to be abusive or dangerous to the child. By that I mean not just when the adoptive parents feel threatened, but in a case where the child has experienced trauma and abuse. In those situations, maybe the ties should be cut to protect the child. But MOST of the time, children should see and know and maintain contact with their biological parents.

Perhaps because this book was written in the early 90s, and is based on family stories collected in the years preceding that, the ideas and values of open adoption have not been presented. The children whose words are repeated here have grown up now, and are coming into adulthood. One can only hope they have been reunited with their first parents, have established healthy loving relationships, and their adoptive families have grown to include their children’s first parents within the circles of love, respect and nurture.

I would really like to read the book like this that tells about the conversations parents have with their adopted children when the first parents are known to them and loved as part of the family. What are those conversations like between first and adoptive parents? Between first parents and adopted children? Siblings of adoption? Has such a book been written? Is it in the works?

View from the Hammock

"Quack! Quack!" they said; and they all came quacking out as fast as they could, looking all round them under the green leaves; and the mother let them look as much as they liked, for green is good for the eye." The Ugly Duckling Hans Christian Andersen

The other afternoon Punkin was napping in the pack-n-play in the living room. Buddy Boy and I gathered a handfull of books and tip toed out the back door. Our hammock is set up under the trees... a perfect place to while away a summer afternoon in excellent company...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mac is Back

Hey my Mac is back! Yay I can surf on weekends ! When I called to check on it on Friday the tech guy said he still couldn't find anything wrong with it. He had been running it for three weeks with no problem at all. For us is was crashing and showing a black screen and refusing to wake up or respond at all. So I told him I would come and get it. We speculated that maybe it was my cables or surge protector or printer causing the problem. Who knows. It did crash for my once this morning when I was running three programs and plugged my camera in too. I guess we are operating bare bones until I figure it out. Buster thinks we need more memory. And a high speed line. Perhaps he's right.

I have been thinking a lot about how I love to post pictures of my kids. It seems a risky thing to do though, knowing how the Internet runs wild and I have no control over what other people can download and manipulate and repost... This weekend I have seen warnings on two forums/Yahoo groups about someone downloading kids pictures and passing them off as their own kids. And when I look at my site meter and see the kind of people who find my blog from Google, I realize the audience is tremendously diverse. So I am thinking maybe I won't post my kids' pictures anymore. I love sharing and I think they are my best photographic subjects, but I feel the need to protect them and their innocent beauty, KWIM? I am challenging myself to learn more photography with more challenging subjects. Kids are easy to get looking good, anyway. I know some of you post a lot of kid's pictures, and share your Flickr sites. What do you think about being so free and open? Do you have and tricks for keeping them secure?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Books That Do Stuff

When my oldest was a baby (18 years ago) I don’t remember many books that did other stuff, besides tell stories with pictures and words. Nowadays we have books with working wheels, touchy-feely stuff, finger puppets, sounds and music… all sorts of multimedia. My boys love it. I think the authors and publishers have put a lot of thought and sound pedagogy into them too, as the multisensory, interactive approach teaches higher thinking skills and a variety of strategies for making meaning from the text.

When I was in the store and first saw the Tonka truck series of books with wheels I thought it was kinda gimmicky and pooh poohed it. But my little boys love them. We have Fire Trucks! by Melissa A. Torres and we discovered that if you unsnap the closure and stand it up on the floor and give it a push it rolls along and opens like a fan quite smoothly. It gets a laugh from all of us.

Someone gave us Little Ladybug Finger Puppet Book from chronicle books. It is adorable. You put your finger through the back and it makes the ladybug’s head wiggle. Punkin likes to chew on it. I have no idea what the text says cause he never lets me read it.

Touch and Feel Farm was another gift book. Of course farm animal books are always popular for the sounds you make. It’s interesting how farm animals are still part of the required curriculum for babies. They love the silliness of moos and squawks, and we like to see them getting all the names right. Neither of my little boys seemed to care much for the panels of fabric and fur you are suppose to stroke. Since it is just a cut out overlaid on the animal picture it strikes me as a bit arbitrary anyway. We like the photos and the sound play in any case.

Pop-up books are really popular these days too. We like Riggeldy Jiggeldy Joggeldy Jam Can You Guess Who I am? by Esther Nelson and Davida Hirsch. I have to read the rhyme really fast because Buddy Boy and Punkin race to open the flap and see the object of the riddle on each page. The rhythm and rhyme element of learning language is a good foundation for reading skills, as well as the prediction and analysis thinking skills involved in riddles. So it may seem like a silly book but a lot is going on while we read this one.

Who’s Under That Hat? By David A. Carter is a Lift-the-Flap Pop-up Adventure book that encourages pre-reading skills. At this point I have to keep taking this book away from Punkin cause he loves to rip and chew. But a couple of times I have managed to hold it just out of reach while zipping through it and he adores seeing what is under the hats on each page. Each page incorporates movement, surprise or tactical features as well, so it is stimulating and complex on a variety of levels.

Buddy Boy loves trains and stories about trains, and he loves to push buttons. So A Surprise for Thomas Play-a-Sound Book by Deborah Upton is right up his alley. There are flaps to lift on each page and buttons down the side of the book that make distinctive music or sounds for each character. This book is a favorite entertainment at naptime as he tells himself the story. The battery has lasted a long time too, considering we got the book second hand two years ago.

One of the skills that I have been fascinated with observing develop in my little boys is the understanding of pushing buttons to make things happen. I think we are teaching that at younger and younger ages. My 14 month old can turn on the DVD player even though he doesn’t watch movies or understand what the machine is for. He sees a button and pushes it. He knows which one is the power button - blue lights come on and things light up! He has a toy car that moves and makes noise and flashing lights when you push the drivers’ head down. He has always watched with fascination when one of us made it move, now he crawls over and does it himself and smiles when it goes as expected. I actually think my older boys started using the remote and pushing buttons at an even younger age. Maybe it is an evolutionary development for humanity… advanced digital elocution. We probably have five different types of toy phones in this house, and most of them make noise, flash lights, and/or record your voice when you push buttons. We have a toy remote that does the same. Over half of the baby toys we were given have computer chips and sounds/lights in them that respond to touch or movement. If you stomp your feet or slam the door in this house tinny computer music springs from under the couch or behind the toy box. And sitting quietly with a book isn’t what it used to be… but I digress. What can your books do?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Mother/Daughter Poetry

From The Insvisable Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers Edited by Liz Rosenberg.

Barbie Says Math Is Hard

As a boy, I’d still have asked
why Jack must spend exactly
two dollars at the corner store.
Give him a coin purse is as
good an answer as five apples
and two oranges. Also: would
he bake the apples into pies
or cobblers, save the orange peel
in glass jars to spice up his
tea or cake? If his father
paints their house with Mr. Jones,
which man will take the peaks and
why? Would the raspberry beetles
swarm over wet paint? Why is
Mr. Jones slower than his
neighbor? If x equals y,
is it like putting apples into
cole slaw, the way a tomato
is really a fruit? None of my
dolls talked or grew hair. In
third grade, Satsuki and I
traded our Barbies’ limbs so
mine could flex her left biceps
while hers sat cross-legged
raising one stiff arm
like a weapon. If Satsuki has
daughters, she might remember
the grasshoppers we caught,
how we cupped two hands together
into crooked globes to
hear them rattling inside like
a small motor. She would tell
her daughters: Yes, math was hard,
but not because we were girls.

- Kyoko Mori

I Ask My Mother to Sing

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.

-Li – Young Lee

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Learning to Hear with the Heart

There is a little book I am reading in the early mornings, when I get up when the birds are singing and before my boys start to clamor for food and such. It is the type of book you read slowly, one short chapter at a time, with plenty to chew on and muse over. It is called Learning to Hear with the Heart; Meditations for Discerning God’s Will by Debra K. Farrington. It is meant to be a guide for learning to hear the spirit of God. In the introduction the author says discernment should be a habit, practiced by teaching your mind, body, and soul to be more attentive… to become more aware and alert intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. She says “I intend for them (these meditations) to help you explore – with your mind, body, and soul – some of the different ways in which you can open up your heart and hear.”

She suggests that I:

1. practice silence
2. practice paying attention
3. study with an open heart and mind
4. find spiritual companionship
5. balance reason and imagination
6. balance patience and action

All of this is spread over a period of four weeks, while reading one chapter a day and thinking deeply on each meditation. She says it is helpful to begin by being aware of one question or issue you’d like to explore while you’re reading the meditations. For my focus I have chosen the question that has been on my mind for the last several years. I keep answering it and then circling around to ask again, at a deeper level, how I can do more and address it more cohesively. My question is “How can I further simplify my life and cut my consumption in order to focus and channel my gifts and resources?” I hope over the coming weeks I will be able to revisit this topic and share some of what I am learning. I welcome you to join me in exploring a deeper spirituality and a more attentive, listening heart, mind and body. If you are on a similar quest, please comment and let me know what you are learning and discovering!