Sunday, February 27, 2005

school thoughts

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about our future with homeschooling. When I first started out homeschooling with Georgie, I envisioned homeschooling with all of the children. I thought that would be best and that's what we would do. However, Lidia has been uninterested in homeschooling. She is extremely social and has done very well in school. J thinks she is wasting time at school and could learn more at home, but I tell him I'm not so sure. Lidia's teacher has found very positive ways to motivate her in several areas. For example, L writes copiously to Chopper, the teacher's dog. Chopper has never received so many (and such well-written) stories, according to the teacher. L loves to do her homework, especially the homework that is challenging. Marcus has blossomed intellectually (really! I'm serious!) at his Montessori this year, and is very excited to go to school every day next year. He loves school. Bertie talks every day about starting school.

I do not believe it is the right thing to do at this time to say, "O.k.! Everyone is staying home now! No more school for you guys." I do not think that would go over very well. I could probably win them over in the end if I were truly committed to homeschooling and thought it our very best option, but I don't know that it is. I do not feel that commitment at this point, so I will not be bringing everyone home this fall.

I was feeling rather blah about Kindergarten for Marcus at the local public elementary this fall. In fact, I'd even considered having him do Kinder at his Montessori or looking for another private school. He has learned so much this year. At the rate he's going, he'll be reading as well as Lili was when she started Kinder. It seemed like such an anti-climax to have him start next school year with "A is for Apple" and "Oh, he reads? How nice. Now he can work on his social skills while I teach the other children in the classroom their ABC's and 123's."

Well, it looks like we might have another option. Our city school district (if the school board approves) is starting a Spanish immersion program next year. Marcus and his peers would be the pioneers. They have a little over 70 slots and there were 89 applicants, so they will have to do a lottery. They have in fact done the lottery and have the letters telling us yes or no ready to go out, but they cannot send them until the board approves. At the last board meeting they were preparing to vote but they saw that they were deadlocked. They were missing one member, so they delayed the vote until next meeting, March 7. Oh, I hope it happens!

The discussions I've attended about this program have brought some interesting information to my attention. There is a Spanish immersion program at a neighboring district. This program began in 1996, I believe, and they have classrooms K-6. Because Minnesota has open enrollment, it is possible to apply to another school district and they must accept you if they have openings. In fact, school districts subtly compete for students and the funds these students bring with them. I've put Georgie and Lidia's names on the waiting list at this immersion school. The secretary told me there is a long waiting list for first grade, but she wouldn't give me much information on the fourth grade situation. She said she'd rather I discuss it with the principal. Students entering the school after first grade are required to take a Spanish proficiency test. On Wednesday morning, J and I are scheduled to meet with the principal and visit some classrooms.

I've discussed this option with both girls. Georgie is very interested, though she says she would be sad to stop homeschooling. Georgie loves Spanish, and though she doesn't speak fluently she understands a great deal and can read it. It's interesting to me that while Georgie embraces Hispanic culture, Lidia is rather cold toward it. At this point, Lidia is not excited about a Spanish immersion school. She is slightly less turned off by it now that she knows that the children at the school are native English speakers who are learning Spanish. At first she had understood that it was a school full of Hispanic children who spoke no English. However, she is still not sweet on the idea. She says she doesn't like Spanish because "tons of people speak Spanish." She says she wants to learn a rarer language, like Greek. I told her, with my loveliest smile, that I would love for her to learn Greek. However, she would also be learning Spanish because it is part of her culture and heritage and part of our family.

This morning Lidia read some Spanish for me and I was surprised at how well she reads Spanish. Who would have known? When I try to speak Spanish with her she just says, "I don't know what you're saying." But she reads well! I praised her quite a bit and made a big deal out of how I didn't know she could read Spanish, and she smiled really big. I think Lidia just needs some practice. She needs to gain some vocabulary and have some structured "conversation labs" where she feels successful. The poor thing has no confidence in her Spanish skills because she is always sitting next to her more proficient big sister and she naturally compares herself.

Back to Gerogie. I hate the idea of watching our homeschooling days draw to a close. It's been such an adventure! We've become much closer as mother and daughter. I would miss her terribly. If for some reason she can not go to the immersion school, then I will probably continue with homeschooling and Minnesota Virtual Academy. However, I'm finding that I feel stretched very thing trying to homeschool one child while the others are at school. People who homeschool all of their children do not have to get up early and rush around to get little ones off to school. They don't drive a child to and from preschool. They don't have to plan field trips, homeschool classes, and co ops around being at home for the school bus. Next year I will have two different morning busses to get children on to. I will need to be home at noon when Marcus gets back from kindergarten and 4 pm when Lidia gets home. Also, I have decided that next year I want to volunteer at least biweekly in each of my children's classrooms, so that will require careful planning.

Sigh. I am tired just thinking about it. It looks like we are going to see another Life of Mammals episode, so I must sign off.

February Reads 2/11-2/18

The Little House, Burton, Virginia Lee
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, Gerstein, Mordicai
Horton Hatches the Egg, Dr. Suess
Babar: A Gift for Mother,
Babar and the Wully-Wully, Brunhoff, Jean de
Prayer for a Child, Field, Rachel
Roxaboxen, McLerran, Alice
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Martin, Bill
Madeline and the Gypsies, Bemelmans, Ludwig
The Story about Ping, Flack, Marjorie

The Magic School Bus: On the Ocean Floor, Cole, Joanna
El papalote de Lupita, Ruiz-Floes, Lupe
Two Bad Ants, Van Allsburg, Chris
Who Grows Up in the Snow? Longenecker, Theresa
El di que el perro dijo, "Quiquiriqui!" McPhail, David
Se Me Olvido, Mayer, Mercer
Europe,
Antarctica,
Asia,
South American, Peterson, David

Is Your Mama a Llama? Guarino, Deborah

With Lidia: chapter 1-5 Hitty Her First Hundred Years, Field, Rachel
Georgie: The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkein, J.R.R.

These are not all the books we've read this past week but I'm too lazy to exercise my memory or fish through the kids' bedrooms looking for the others. I'm tired. It's felt like a long week for some reason.

Friday movie night

On Friday J built a home theater in our family room. He did this by hanging a white pull shade from the ceiling in front of our fire place. (Yes, it looks ugly. I'm trying to ignore it.) He pushed our sofa and chair back and put a DVD in the projector he brought home from work. The whole family watched "The Life of Mammals: The Insect Eaters" together. My children really love "The Life of Mammals" series. Georgie is doing a report on monotremes inspired by the first show--I forget what it's called but it's about monotremes and marsupials.

We put the kids to bed and J and I watched "The Man Who Knew Too Much." That is a great Hitchcock film. It's hard to find good ones we haven't seen. (There is an annoying misogynist scene in this movie, but that's also typical Hitch. I can overlook it because the rest is so good.) I did find myself wondering what other actors besides Doris Day and James Stewart would have done with those roles. Actually, Doris Day was quite good in her part. However, the relationship between this glamorous, young stage star and old, country-bumpkin doctor James Stewart was just not believable. Little chemistry between those two. I thought in "Rear Window" Stewart and Grace Kelly really sizzled (as much as ice queen Grace Kelly can sizzle). Maybe Stewart was just too old in "The Man Who Knew Too Much". I mean, other actors of the same age could have carried if off, but there's nothing fresh about the way he approaches it--he's playing Jimmy Stewart. Anyway, it's great to watch a suspenseful, exciting movie that doesn't have gratuitous sex or violence in it. Modern movies tend to either take themselves too seriously or include lots of the gratuitous stuff or both. They mostly make me roll my eyes.

Lidia and I did see a great new movie in the theater last week: "Because of Winn Dixie." For some reason Georgie didn't want to go see it, which surprised me because she's the one who has read the book. Anyway, it was a cute movie. Maybe a little too cute sometimes. The girl who plays Opal is one of the most beautiful little girls I've ever seen. You can't stop watching her.

Why don't they make more movies for kids that have inspiring stories? My girls were enchanted by "Whalerider," "The Secret of Roan Inish," and "The Secret Garden." They really identified with these strong, spirited, intelligent little girls. These films were meaningful, they were relevant. They inspire all manner of virtue: resilience, perseverence, kindness, loyalty, courage, and hope, to name only a few. There is nothing silly or cutesy about these movies. I am sad to say that we've seen other movies in our home that I admit my children have enjoyed, but mostly inspire silliness and loud guffaws. The "Air Bud" series, for example. I suppose these movies do have some sort of positive message, if you can see it through the broad characterizations and inanity. The Air Bud movies talk down to children while "Whalerider,"
"The Secret of Roan Inish," and "The Secret Garden" talk up. A couple of other movies that I put in this category are "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Spirited Away."

Do you know of any other great family movies? We are always looking for good ones!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

sledding, new cast

Yesterday, President's Day, we went sledding. When I told the kids that Dad would come home early from work and we would head over to Hyland Park to go sledding, it didn't occur to me that this might not be a good activity for Marcus, what with the broken arm and all. We just went. We took a few tumbles. Bertie got a bloody nose on a run with Dad and decided she'd stop going down with him. She sat out a few with me and when she was ready I took her down the hill a few times, bloody coat front and all. Bertie yelled, "Scary! Ooooh, scary!" all the way down and when the sled stopped she'd say cheerfully, "We did it!" One time that I went down with Marcus we both turned over and he got a badly scraped eyebrow. After that he wasn't as keen on the sledding, and we didn't stay long. The girls were disappointed, as they could have gone on for hours. We did stay an hour.

Today when I took Marcus to get his long cast off the physician's assistant asked about the eyebrow. I told him we'd gone sledding and he started laughing. He said that we probably shouldn't do that until the cast is off. I like that physician's assistant. He is very agreeable, and he reminds me in looks and personality of my brother. (Hi Dickon!) Georgie was reading and he asked her about her book. He was impressed that she was reading an adult book on nueroscience. He asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said she didn't know. I told him about the observation Gerogie made the first time we went to the orthopede--that she'd much rather be an assistant to the orthopede because he got to do all the cool stuff like putting on casts, while the doctor just came in, talked, and left. The physician's assistant thought that was very astute.

They decided to put another short cast on Marcus for a couple of weeks. The doctor said that if he were not a very active boy he probably wouldn't need it, but seeing how he is... Marcus was quite excited to get another cast, this time a green one.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Fire in the Bones

This has to be one of the best biographies I've read. I'm nearing the end of it now. S. Michael Wilcox is a great writer--you can tell he has passion for his topic and he is effectively communicating that passion to me! This is a living book.

The chapter I just finished deals with "The Great Duel" between More and Tyndale. More lashes out in the "voluminous Confutation of Tyndale's Answer," the longest religious diatribe in English." Almost all scholars wrote in Latin at that time. In fact, More addresses Luther in Responsio ad Lutherum, where he uses extremely lewd and vulgar language to tell Luther what he is and where he can go. All in exquisitely correct Latin. He truly was an omnium horarum, a man for all seasons, as Erasus said.

More did leave us with an enriched English language in his attack on Tyndale. We owe the following words to that work: anticipate, meeting, monosyllable, obstruction, paradox, pretext, shuffle, and taunt. The phrases not to see the wood for the trees, to make the best of something, out of the frying pan into the fire, and a moon made of green cheese all came from More's attack on Tyndale.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Saipan Elders

Hey, Conners--

Do you know these guys? This is a cool picture: Click here.

Friday, February 18, 2005

February Reads 2/11-2/18

Curious George Goes Camping,
Curious George and the Dump Truck,
Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon,
Curious George at the Fire Station, by Rey, Margret
North America,
Australia, by Bagley, Katie
Africa, by Peterson, David
Doctor De Soto,
Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa, by Steig, William
Saint Patrick, by Tompert, Ann

Across a Dark and a Wild Sea, by Brown, Don
The Mixed-Up Chameleon,
La mariquita malhumorada,
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Carle, Eric
Babar and the Ghost,
Babar’s Rescue,
Babar’s Battle,
Babar the King, by Brunhoff, Laurent de
Love You Forever, by Munsch, Robert
Bugs are Insects, by Rockwell, Anne F.

The Big Snow, by Hader, Berta
Chanticleer and the Fox, by Chaucer, Geoffrey
Spectacular Spiders, by Glaser, Linda
The Napping House,
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Wood, Audrey
The Story of Babar,
The Travels of Babar, Brunhoff, Jean de
Abraham Lincoln, D’Aulaire, Ingri
The Biggest Bear, by Ward, Lynd
Selections from The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by Milne, A.A.

Is Your Mama a Llama by Guarino, Deborah
The Perfect Pinata / La pinata perfecta

Georgie:
Don Quixote [abriged], by Cervantes, Miguel de
Triss, by Jacques, Brian

21 Up

Last night J and I watched 21 Up, a documentary in a series that interviews every seven years a group of British youths starting at age 7, with 7 Up. I watched clips from this series in a Sociology class in college and it fascinated me. A couple of weeks ago something made me remember that I wanted to see the films, so I ordered them from Netflix. We've seen 7 Up, 14 Up, and now 21 Up. I've heard that there is an equivalent American series.

It was interesting to see how these young people were influenced by their families, peers, and educational systems. It was hard for me to sleep last night as I kept analyzing what I'd just seen. I was impressed by the prep school boys in all three films. They were the ones I found most interesting. I suppose I'm always impressed with people who "live up to" to some degree their innate talents and abilities. I think these boys at age 21 are products of an educational system that has taught them enviable self-discipline combined with a strong sense of duty. I couldn't help comparing these boys with the average 21 year olds of this country, who mostly express a sense of entitlement. However, that is an unfair comparison. For apples to apples, one would have to compare these boys to others in the U.S. from a similar socio-economic background, and of course a similar time period. These kids were 7 in 1963, so 21 Up was filmed in 1977 when I was 3 years old.

These British prep-school boys seemed much more interested in pursuing educational opportunities than amassing personal possessions. They spoke lovingly of their country and said they wished to live out their lives in England in part to give something back to the country that had provided them with so many opportunities.

The first time we are introduced to these boys they are 7 and singing "Waltzing Matilda" in Latin. They were at boarding school, and in the interviews their extensive vocabulary and way of expressing themselves were quite amazing, I thought. I saw enormous disparity between these prep school boys (including a fourth prep schooler, son of missionaries, who is at a different school and interviewed separately) and their East-ender peers at even this young age. Naturally, as the children grow older, the differences become greater.

These boys seemed very positive about the world, generally speaking. They have high hopes for their future. They are very informed about politics and want to be of service to others in some way. They seems to have many interests. To me they seem like positive examples of what a privileged education can produce. However, there was another privileged child in these films whose education did not have a similar result. This was the only rich girl in the group. I wish they'd had a few more. She was rather serious in 7 Up, and in 14 Up and 21 Up she was obviously unhappy and unpleasant. She had quit school when she was 16. She did not seem to take any pleasure in the world and had no interests that I could tell.

I found all of the children's stories interesting, though I thought the two boys from the boy's home were painful to watch. They looked like deer caught in the headlights. They were very solemn and never smiled. In part it could be because they were interviewed alone, while others of the children were interviewed in groups.

Anyway, these are great films and I recommend them to all!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Self-esteem Myth

Yep, life'll burst that self-esteem bubble

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

Andrea Sobel shudders at those oh-so-positive messages aimed at boosting kids' self-esteem.

She has heard her fill of "good job" or "great picture" or any of the highly exaggerated claims that parenting experts and educators spouted as the way to bring up well-adjusted children.
Sobel, the mother of 16-year-old twins in Sherman Oaks, Calif., says they could tell "what was real and what was fake," even when very young. "I was tired of going to the sports field and seeing moms say, 'Great job at going up to bat.' It hit me early on that kids could see through inane compliments."

Those often-empty phrases, however, raised a generation. Kids born in the '70s and '80s are now coming of age. The colorful ribbons and shiny trophies they earned just for participating made them feel special. But now, in college and the workplace, observers are watching them crumble a bit at the first blush of criticism.

"I often get students in graduate school doing doctorates who made straight A's all their lives, and the first time they get tough feedback, the kind you need to develop skills," says Deborah Stipek, dean of education at Stanford University. "I have a box of Kleenex in my office because they haven't dealt with it before."

To be clear, self-esteem is important to healthy development. Kids who hold themselves in poor stead are thought to be most vulnerable to trouble — from low academic achievement to drug abuse or crime. For those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the stakes may be higher and the needs even greater. But empty praise — the kind showered on many kids years ago in the name of self-esteem — did more harm than good.

"Instead of boosting self-esteem, it can lead you to question your competence," says developmental psychologist Sandra Graham of UCLA.

Self-esteem became a buzzword more than 20 years ago, fueled by parenting experts, psychologists and educators. Believers suggested that students who hold themselves in high regard are happier and will succeed. That culture was so ingrained in parents that protecting their children from failure became a credo. This feel-good movement was most evident in California, which created a task force to increase self-esteem.

"At the time my children were raised, we were suffering from a misguided notion that healthy self-esteem results from something extrinsic that tells you you are a good person," says Betsy Brown Braun, a child development specialist in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and the mother of 26-year-old triplets.

It wasn't limited to the West Coast. Raising self-esteem became a national concern, and educators thought it could help raise academic achievement.

But schools got sidetracked into worrying more about feelings, says Charles Sykes in Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add. "Self-esteem has virtually become an official ideology," he writes. A 1991 teacher training session in the Houston area taught the evils of red ink and told teachers to pick another color, says Pat Green, a teacher since 1982. "They said it had a very negative impact, because red is so symbolic of wrong answers," she says.

Some also said grammar and spelling errors should be overlooked so students wouldn't be discouraged from writing, Green says. "It was so 'don't damage their self-esteem' to the point where you would praise things that weren't very good."

Cassie Bryant, 22, is a product of those times. "I kind of became an award junkie," she says.
She believes the awards motivated her and helped her get into a competitive college. But, she recalls her first semester at New York University as "brutal."

"I had always been in honors in high school, and the writing teacher said, 'I don't think that's a good place for you.' I started crying right there. I had never been told that before."
Now, the tides have turned. Schools teach the basics to improve performance on standardized tests, and self-esteem programs have evolved from phony praise to deserved recognition for a job well-done.

Girl Scouts of the USA promotes self-esteem by emphasizing strengths and skills while encouraging feelings of competence, says developmental psychologist Harriet Mosatche, senior director of research and program. "It used to be, 'Whatever you do is great.' That old-fashioned misuse of the notion of self-esteem is not positive. It's unrealistic, and not helpful," she says.

Well-meaning parents lap up that philosophy in the movie Meet the Fockers, with Bernie Focker proudly displaying his grown son's awards when he visits to introduce his in-laws-to-be. "I didn't know they made ninth-place ribbons," says the future father-in-law.

"They have them up to 10th place," Focker replies. "There's a bunch on the 'A for Effort' shelf there."

Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says he had "high hopes" for the benefits of boosting self-esteem when he began studying it more than 30 years ago. But his lengthy review of 18,000 articles, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, ended with the realization that only two clear benefits emerge from high self-esteem: enhanced initiative, which boosts confidence, and increased happiness.
"There is not nearly as much benefit as we hoped," he says. "It's been one of the biggest disappointments of my career."

Overall, research shows that self-esteem scores have increased with the generations, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who compared studies on self-esteem of 66,000 college kids across the USA from 1968 through 1994. Such studies are typically based on self-ratings.

She also has noticed that the undergraduates she teaches tend to have an inflated sense of self.
"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong is not my opinion, it's just bad writing," she says.

So when the criticism flows, some college students are increasingly seeking counseling.
Sam Goldstein, a neuropsychologist at the University of Utah, likened some students to bubbles — on the surface they seem secure and happy, yet with the least adversity they burst.
Neil Howe, co-author of Milliennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, urges colleges and employers to better understand this group, born in 1982 and later, who are in college or recently graduated.

Howe believes "milliennials" are a very connected, team-oriented generation that could benefit society. "It's a positive for the workforce and possibly for politics and community life and citizenship," he says.

But employers such as Sobel, director of recruitment for an entertainment firm, aren't so sure.
"One of the things the managers talked about is an incredible sense of entitlement for people who don't deserve it," she says. "They'll come in right out of college and don't understand why they're not getting promoted in three months."

Howe blames the attitude on society's high expectations. "We've become a much more child-oriented society around milliennials," he says. "Self-esteem for them meant you're the focus of society's attention."

Monday, February 14, 2005

White

Last night when I finally had everyone down for bed it was quite late--past 9. I talked a few minutes with J, who is in New York on business. I went downstairs to tidy things up. The children had been playing with some wet sand Georgie brought home from her Homeschooler's Science class. They wanted to play with their toy lizards in the sand, and I'd told them they could do it in the tiled entryway. The mess was not too bad. I cleaned up the kitchen. We'd had chocolate lava cakes with ice cream for dinner. (I wasn't that naughty--on Sundays we have "lunner" as we call it at about 3 pm when we come home from church.) I unplugged the toilet. For some reason (hello, Marcus) that is a frequent problem in our home.

As I was turning out lights and locking doors I noticed it. Big, soft flakes of snow drifting down in slow motion. The really big flakes that almost look like snow balls. I turned out all the lights and knelt in front of my living room window. Everything was so still, so reverent. I couldn't believe how slowly the snow was coming down. Everything was blanketed in white. I thought to myself that even the most warlike people of the world would feel stillness and peace for a moment if they could behold the scene I had before me.

In the morning we marveled at the snow-covered trees. Every single twig wore a big plop of snow. I've never seen such whiteness. Busy morning sounds of traffic were muted to a distant whisper. It was quiet. Quiet. I hated to rush around the house getting Lidia and Marcus ready for school. It seemed out of place and almost irreverent.

When I took Marcus to school I crossed the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. I noticed that the whiteness stopped at the river. As I drove to his school in Shakopee I saw that the trees were not as abnormally white as they had been in Eden Prairie. I thought it must be my imagination, but no. On the return trip as I again crossed the bridge, I saw the white-padded trees of my neighborhood on the little hills ahead of me. For some reason the snow had fallen differently in our little spot of the world.

As soon as I got home I suited up Georgie and Bertie and we went out to take pictures. It seemed as if it were snowing again but it was only the snow already starting to fall from the trees. I snapped pictures wildly but I don't think they will show the whiteness as it really was. Now everything looks average again. It was lovely while it lasted.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Family Health, part 2

First I'd like to list all of the good things we're doing for our family's health. Then maybe I'll list a few goals we have in the areas we need work. Maybe if I list these good things first it will make me feel better. Do you ever feel like you're not really doing well at anything? I feel that way sometimes if I don't occasionally bring myself back to earth by reading an article like "You're a Good Mom" or listing the things I'm doing right.

Nutrition:

  • As noted in Family Health, part 1, we follow the Word of Wisdom. No coffee, tea, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, illegal drugs, or cola drinks for us. We also try to limit our read meat intake. Frankly, J and I are not big fans of red meat, except for the occasional hamburger at Fuddrucker's.
  • We eat whole grains. I make 100 percent whole wheat bread from wheat that I grind. About a year ago we started substituting brown rice for white rice. In the past year I've cut down on our pastas because I don't really like 100 percent ww pasta. It's too mushy. The half ww half refined stuff they sell is better.
  • We eat legumes. We like lentil soup and some bean dishes.
  • We love fresh fruit. My children's favorite breakfast is grapefruit. We all love it. They frequently snack on apples, grapes, bananas, and other fruits and berries in season.
  • My children (sans Georgie) love broccoli. They'll eat mounds of steamed broccoli with a little salt. Lidia is our best vegetable eater. Her favorite snack is a sliced fresh tomato. Other vegetables they love are cucumbers, avocado, salad greens, radishes, cabbage, carrots, and corn. I have not been successful in getting any of my children to eat my favorite vegetable: squash. There are other vegetables my children will eat with minimal complaint.
  • We drink lots and lots of water. We very rarely have soda. We occasionally have juice.
  • We do not overeat, generally speaking. During holidays we do sometimes eat too much.
  • We have the Healthy Eating Pyramid created by the Harvard School of Public Health displayed in our kitchen, and I'm really trying to make this our family diet plan. Here is more information about this food pyramid and the study done my Harvard nutritionists.

Exercise:

  • We started a gym membership this year. J and I go about three times per week. I use various cardio machines, weights, and I do fitness yoga. J swims and plays squash. Georgie is taking a homeschooler's gym class every week, where she learns and practices many different sports.
  • The kids do soccer in the spring and fall. During the summer we take walks and ride bikes together.

Rest: The kids go to bed at 8 pm. J and I try to be in bed before 10. I used to try to get up very early so I could cram in some personal study time or exercise, but I was getting too run down. Now we get up between 6:30 and 7 am. Our family has enjoyed remarkable good health this winter. We have not been sick since September! Several times I've felt that I was coming down with something, but I would make a point of getting extra rest and it would never develop. The same has happened to J. The kids have been feeling great, except Bertie who has had a few mild sniffles. We have been very blessed.

O.k., here are a few of our unhealthy habits:

  • Chips. Chips. Chips. My husband does not really care for baked goods or candy (I know--what's wrong with him?) but he loves his chips. I've never liked chips that much (compared to sweets) but if they are around I find I need to have a few to keep everyone company. We have what I call a wicked family tradition. We come home from church every Sunday to eat chips while I make dinner. Isn't that terrible?
  • Cookies. This is mine. All of my family who reads this know what a sucker I am for fresh-baked cookies. I don't care for store-bought or day-old cookies, but I absolutely love fresh-from-the-oven cookies. Doesn't really matter what kind. Cookies are my ultimate comfort food. Everything looks rosy while I eat cookies. My troubles melt away like the chocolate chips on my tongue. When I'm eating cookies I really believe that I will never feel sad again. There is one other dessert I prefer to fresh-baked cookies, and that is tuxedo truffle mousse cake. There is a particular grocery story bakery I get it at. However, that is something I indulge in maybe once or twice per month, because it is expensive and I can't make it myself. It is also so rich I feel like I should go confess after I eat it. Cookies are cheap, easy to make, and for some reason have a wholesome air about them. So they are more prevalent in my home and thus more hazardous to my health.
  • Drive through. If I don't have leftovers for J to take for lunch he gets Burger King. About once a week I pick up McDonald's for lunch on my way home from picking Marcus up from preschool. It's so convenient. But very unhealthy. I should do better for my kids.

There are other improvements I would like to make in our health habits. I would like us all to get more fresh, outdoor air. I would like to come up with a monthly menu that would make planning meals easier and less time-consuming in the way of buying groceries, etc. I know I will not abolish chips and cookies from our house. I don't want to, really. But we should eat these things far less frequently.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Mommy is reading...

Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour
Fire in the Bones by S. Michael Wilcox
Home Education by Charlotte Mason
A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

Honey for a Child's Heart is one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. I wish I'd read it ten years ago! After reading this book I feel even more strongly than ever that the family that reads together stays together. This book should be read by everyone who gives birth. (And the dads too, of course!)

I raced through the first half of Walking Drum. This book has opened a beguilingly irresistible world to me: the Medieval World. I've especially loved the depiction of Moorish Spain and the intellectual city of Cadiz. However, I am tiring somewhat of the main character's never-ending good looks, charm, seductions, and cliffhangers.

It's about time a member of our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) tackled the subject of Fire in the Bones: William Tyndale--Martyr, Father of the English Bible. I really appreciate the LDS perspective on this reformer. Did you know that Tyndale's English Bible was smuggled like boot-leg whiskey, sold in dark alleys like an illegal drug, and covered in a brown paper wrapper like a smutty magazine? Did you know that people who taught their children the Lord's prayer in English were burned at the stake? Here is my phrase of the week: pestiferous and most pernicious poison. Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall thusly referred to Tyndale's translation. However, Tunstall had nothing over Tyndale on poetic language. We have Tyndale to thank for the musical, stately verse in which we read God's word. Ninety percent of Tyndale's translation made it into the King James Bible. I've been thanking Heavenly Father in my prayers that He gave Tyndale this gift of expression. It is obvious that this humble man was prepared for this great and dangerous work, just as Joseph Smith was prepared for his translation work.

As Wilcox says, "If the medium does not match the holiness of the message, the sacred truth is compromised. Beauty of expression helps us live a holier life, instilling faith and courage much like music." Wilcox includes a comparison between two versions of Matthew 14:28-33, Tyndale's version vs. The Phillips Modern English version. The difference is striking. Here is a brief sample:

Phillips Modern: "But when he saw the fury of the wind he panicked and began to sink, calling out, 'Lord save me!' At once Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying, 'You little-faith! What made you lose your nerve like that?'"

Tyndale: "But when he saw a mightily wind, he was afraid. And as he began to sink, he cried saying: Master save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him: O thou of little faith: wherefore didst thou doubt?"

Isn't that amazing? As far as Bibles go, I really dislike reading anything other than the King James Bible to my children. I have tried various children's version of the scriptures, thinking that my children might find them more appealing. Well, they don't, and who could blame them? They know a good thing when they hear it.

February Reads

Here is the list of books I've read with the kids so far in February:

The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Suess
A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban
Happy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch
Dinosaurs Big and Small by Kathleen Zoehfeld
Did Dinosaurs Have Feathers? by Kathleen Zoehfeld
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Brave Irene by William Steig
White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt
Chester's Way by Kevin Henkes

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Owen by Kevin Henkes
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Lemons Are Not Red by Laura Seeger
The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
The Little Island by Golden MacDonald
The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
Berlioz the Bear by Jan Brett
The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle

The Three Little Pigs by James Marshall
A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss
Count with Maisy by Lucy Cousins
ABC illustrated by Ian Beck
Humpty Dumpty and Other Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Julie Lancome
Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Michael Foreman
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Some of the above I only read with Marcus and Bertie, some with Lidia, Marcus, and Bertie, and some with all four. I also read The King's Equal by Katherine Paterson with Georgie and Lidia. I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Awesome Article!

You’re a Good Mom
By Tiffany Lewis

I’m writing this one for me.

About once a month I call my mom, usually near tears, and sob out this same speech: “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I’m not fit to be a mother. Jackson is hitting/biting/not letting me change his diaper. Addison isn’t walking/sleeping/eating enough green vegetables.”

My mom always hears me out to end, then comes back with this gentle response: “Stop it. You’re a good mother.” And somehow that’s all I need to hear.

I just finished reading Anne of Ingleside, the last book in the series about Anne Shirley of Green Gables. In Anne of Ingleside, Anne is the proud, adoring mother of seven brilliant and creative children. She lives in a mansion on the hill and spends her days soothing her children’s fears and tending her vast garden. She is beautiful and willowy thin. Her fiery temper has given way to a calm and unrelenting patience. She has a full-time maid/cook/nanny to prepare extravagant meals, scrub the front steps, and baby-sit the children so she and Gilbert can take frequent trips to the seaside.

The book depressed me. I would be perfectly happy, too, digging in my peonies all day, if I didn’t have to worry about the piles of laundry, cobwebby corners, and turning all those foodstuffs in my kitchen into some sort of meal, three times a day. Still, I really tried to be like Anne. After three days, I called my mom – sobbing, of course.

“Mom, I’m never going to be like Anne of Ingleside,” I cried in despair.

“Of course not,” my mom said. “She isn’t real.”

I still wasn’t comforted, until I came across a biography of LM Montgomery, the author of the Anne books. And I learned some interesting things. I found out that Montgomery married a man whom she respected but never loved. Although Montgomery was a popular author, she had few close friends. She struggled, balancing her writing career and her role as mother and wife. Anne was tall and majestic, but Montgomery was short. World War II discouraged her so much that she stopped writing and died soon after, sad and bitter.

It’s terrible to admit, but this news really cheered me up. I realized that my mom was right. LM Montgomery was the same as the rest of us. In Anne, she captured her ideal woman living the life she, herself, would have loved to live. But she herself had to live in the real world, and her fantasies didn’t make her own life any more gilt-edged.

I think we all have this image of the type of mother we want to be. Mine is the thin, sturdy, pioneer type, up at 5 a.m., baking bread and scrubbing the already impeccable corners. She puts on her makeup before noon. She flits about the house all day with a smile and a song perpetually on her lips as she manages to organize, serve, and provide creative stimulation for her happy brood of children. She keeps up on their scrapbooks. She has no weaknesses when it comes to leftover cheesecake in the fridge. When she disciplines, she does so in a calm, collected manner, and her children are so grieved to disappoint their sweet mother that they cry at the thought of evil. The children sit through sacrament with their arms folded, and go to bed precisely when they’re told to. The mother manages to make a home-cooked meal every night with at least three vegetable side dishes, and always accompanied by a delicious dessert.

Sometimes I live up to this ideal, at least until 9 a.m. (when I opt for a mid-morning nap on the couch). I observe the family of thin-legged spiders living in the corner of the bathroom and think, for the tenth time, that I really should just sweep them away. Sometimes I dance and sing, but sometimes I storm. Discipline is an unwieldy beast I have yet to capture. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I usually decide that, things being as they are, we’re going to have pancakes for dinner. There are days when I feel like a 10-kid wife, and a good many days when I wonder if I overdid it by having two.

My technique for coping is to look at things in perspective. I don’t plunk my kids in front of the TV for eight hours a day. That merits one check on my good-mom list. I feed them vegetables almost every day. I feed them. I take them to the park. We laugh a lot. My son and I like to make up silly songs together. I wash their sheets occasionally, and try to remember to brush their teeth. My kids will never, ever have scrapbooks, but I keep a good journal. We read scriptures, even if it’s just a very short verse. I take them to church each Sunday. They certainly don’t fold their arms, and sometimes we spend the majority of the time doing laps in the foyer, but at least we’re there.

And I have the perspective of the gospel. Sometimes this perspective becomes shortsighted. In trying to live up to my ideal of a Mormon mom, I often forget that it is just that, an ideal. And sometimes my kids have to remind me of this.

Trying to coax some obedience out of my son the other day, I asked, “Jackson, what do you think makes Mommy happy?”

He answered back without hesitation: “Jesus.”

His response caught me off guard. But in an instant I realized he was right. It only took the wisdom of a 2½-year-old to make it all clear.

If I want to be happy, if I want to be a good mother and be happy with the type of mother I am, I need to more fully understand my relationship with my Savior. I need to be firm in the conviction that Christ didn’t come to atone for perfect mothers. He came for those of us who lose our temper, who sometimes don’t have the energy to mop the floor or read our scriptures or grow a bounteous garden. And even more, my happiness cannot be contingent upon my children eating broccoli, making it to the toilet on time, or not yelling full-volume while the sacrament is being passed. My happiness has to come from within.

I may never make that 5 o’clock threshold to bake bread. I will probably never get the live-in maid/cook/nanny. But I can be happy in my present, imperfect state. And I can be a good mom.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Family Health, part 1

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we adhere to a health code dictated in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This was a revelation given through the prophet Joseph Smith. Many people are interested to know that the prophet received this revelation in 1833, many, many years before it was discovered how damaging cigarrettes, chewing tobacco, and accessive alcohol are to one's health. The Word of Wisdom, as we refer to this revelation, proscribes the use of the aforementioned as well as coffee and black tea.

Many Mormons, including us, also do not drink other caffeinated beverages, like Coke and Pepsi. I remember that when I was in high school many of my friends thought this very stringent. I have never found it to be so. I also find the other side of our Word of Wisdom interesting--the things of which we are commanded to partake. Here are a few verses:

10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—

The people of our Faith are also apt to see the health of the physical body and that of the spirit as inexorably intertwined: the one will always effect the other. I think we know this from revelation and from experience. I know this myself from personal experience. Here are the beautiful blessing promised to those faithful to the Word of Wisdom:

18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.

Family Night

Today is the birthday of a beautiful, talented, and loving mother! Happy birthday, Nana! (Tonight when we were playing "Guess This Person" Georgie said she was thinking of someone who "loves art." That person was her Nana.)

A few nights ago J and I were talking with the kids about how electric power gets to our homes. We both grew up in places where the power went out a lot. We were talking about how fun and exciting it was when we were children and the lights went out. We would get out the candles, tell stories, and play games. There was always a special feeling of closeness in our family when we gathered around the candlelit kitchen table. Georgie and Lidia said they wished the power would go out here sometime. We decided that for Family Home Evening this week we would have a power outage.

Usually Monday nights are reserved for Family Home Evening. Those are special nights that we reserve to stay at home together as a family. Sometimes this is fairly formal with opening and closing prayer, opening and closing hymns, spiritual thought, and a brief lesson. We may use the time to set family goals, learn about anything from etiquette to physical fitness, or occasionally watch movies.

We planned to have FHE tonight, a Sunday, because tomorrow I have an informational meeting at the school for the Spanish immersion program starting here next year. So. We turned out the lights. We got out the candles and flashlights. J (against my wishes) started a fire in the fireplace, and he managed to not fill our home with smoke this time. We read scriptures together and then we played a version of "I Spy," as J used to at his boyhood home in Mexico when the power was out. Whoever's turn it was would just spot an object in the room and say, "I spy something blue," or whatever color, and we'd guess what it was. (I know, it's a bit strange to play this game in near-darkness, but maybe that is what made if fun and kind of challenging...) The kids loved it. They begged to keep playing. After a few rounds of this game we had some milk and brownies. We continued with a guessing game, this time "Guess This Person," where our people ranged from J to King David.

We then had a rambunctious, short-of-breath rendition of "El Cocodrilo." I know there is an English version but I don't remember how it goes. In the song there's this crocodile who swims along and finds five monkeys sitting on a branch. He eats one and then there are just four, etc. Here is the much-celebrated (in our home) Spanish version:

Un dia por el rio el cocodrilo nado
Miro para arriba y cinco changos vio
Se burlaban y reian, "No me agarres a mi
Con tus dientes y tu lengua y tu grande nariz!"
Calladito, calladito el cocodrilo nado,
Cuando el pobre chango se lo comio!

This is the favorite Spanish song I sing for the kids, "Soy una pizza" being a close second. It was a fun night for all.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Mother Dream

Have you ever had a passage or even a phrase of what you're reading reach right out from the page and grab you by the collar? That happens to my sometimes, and the "offending" passages always seem to appeal to my ideal of what a mother should be. While reading some biographical information on David O. McKay, the ninth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this description he gave of his mother took a leap off the page:

"I cannot think of a womanly virtue that my mother did not possess... To her children, and all others who knew her well, she was beautiful and dignified. Though high-spirited she was even-tempered and self-possessed. Her dark brown eyes immediately expressed any rising emotion which, however, she always held under perfect control... In tenderness, watchful care, loving patience, loyalty to home and to right, she seemed to me in boyhood, and she seems to me now after these years, to have been supreme."

I would love to have that self control. Many times I see that I am reactionary rather than purposeful. I let things get to me. I've learned (not to long ago) that I must not pray to not feel anger, but rather to have the power to control my anger.

I've been thinking lately of stillness. That word has been drifting into my thoughts ever since my yoga instructor read a quote regarding stillness. She compared stillness to a spinning top--perfectly balanced, yet fluid, graceful, mobile, energized. I have also been reminded of "Be still and know that I am God." There is such comfort in that, but I think it is also meant as a commandment. Calandria, when Marcus and Bertie are screaming and biting each other, don't join in. "Be still." You can let your eyes show "rising emotion" but control it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mother's Ed Course January Wrap-up

One of the accomplishments I am most pleased with this month is having started my blog. I have been fairly consistent with my posts. I know that having to actually track my progress somewhere will make me more accountable, besides being good record keeping.

So what have I done this month? I will focus on what I did rather than what I didn't do.

Divinity: Read 90% of Ensign, read David O. McKay lessons, prepared Sunday school lessons in Church history, currently reading Fire in the Bones by S. Michael Wilcox.

Education: Read education article, Charlotte Mason's volume 1, p. 1-41, Charlotte Mason's volume 6, p. xxv-21.

Literature: Read L'Amour's Walking Drum to chapter 23.

Nature/Science: Completed 2 chapters from my Physical Science 100 course

Health/Physiology: doing yoga about 2x/week, various cardio exercises about 3x/week for 40 min. We've increased the amount of vegetables and whole grains in our diet. I've been mindful of drinking more water. I've been getting about 8 hrs. of sleep.

Other: I've read most of Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt. This is a fantastic book! There's nothing "new" here for me, but it is very inspiring.