This Week Has Been a Blur

Here’s what I’ve written, read, and done this week. Just another peek into my everyday life.

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This Week in Writing

I haven’t written much since I last posted here. Whenever I am working on a major blog post it’s hard to get really serious about another one at the same time. I’m hoping to publish the big one tomorrow. It’s partly author interview and partly book reviews. I’ve been corresponding with local children’s author Beryl Reichenberg for a few weeks now, and  I’m now in the final stages of compiling all the material and getting it written. Here are the posts I have completed since I last posted here:

  • Special Education Teachers Are Special: A tribute to special education teachers I’ve known. I’ve included gift suggestions for great teachers.
  • A Discouraging Day Online : This one is a vent I wrote after trying to open an account to pay a credit card bill online and hitting lots of obstacles.
  • Abandoned Barn? This is a short photographic essay inspired by a barn I saw on our trip to Madera last week.

Reading this Week

As the title states, the week has been a blur. If I didn’t write it down, I don’t remember it. I did some laundry, worked out at Kennedy Club three nights, and read one book. I started reading Flowers  in the Snow by Danielle Stewart Friday night, but haven’t been in the right mood to finish it yet. It appears to be a worthy read, but it’s dark. It’s based on history, but it’s a period of American history I’d rather forget since it shows how inhumane people can be.

“Betty” tells her story of growing up in a KKK family, completely unaware of what it meant during her early years. Her rude awakening came when she saw a beaten black man in town and tried to help him, believing she was practicing what she’d learned in Sunday school in the story of the Good Samaritan.  She learned fast enough her family did not consider the man human, got the spanking of her life, and was ostracized by not only her schoolmates but her family. I won’t say any more now except that I can’t face reading about the violence I know is coming until I can prepare myself emotionally for it.

This Week Has Been a Blur
Jacob had to dress like an Amish boy.

I  did enjoy A Lancaster Amish Home for Jacob by Rachel Stolzfus. Jacob is a homeless boy who lives in a group home and gets into trouble all the time. One night he and a friend led the police on an especially wild chase after they had spraypainted some cars. He got caught. His social worker decided drastic measures were called for, and he had the choice of living in an Amish foster home or going into juvenile detention. He chose the Amish home. I won’t tell you any more, but I would like to get the sequel.

My Packages Have Almost All Arrived

I had to make some returns at Costco and Sears yesterday. I hadn’t realized you could return items purchased at Land’s End to Sears. My purchases for myself there were too big, so I had to return two pair of pants. I also had to return a shirt my husband had purchased at Costco  that was too small, and a pair of PJ’s I’d bought that were too big. This trip half an hour out of town, with shopping on the way home, kept me on the road for four hours. I spent most of the time at Costco.

I just received my new WaterPik and steam mop so I will have to start learning to use them during the next few days. Now I must go finish my blog post for tomorrow.

Thoughts on Black Friday

Just a few thoughts on the day after Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving Celebration

We enjoyed a long anticipated family dinner in Madera at my nephew’s home Wednesday afternoon. He usually has to work on holidays, so the family often celebrates when he’s available. Family members live long distances from each other, so getting together at all is something to celebrate. Even so, my other nephew had school and couldn’t come. I enjoyed the family time with those able to be there. I never know when or if the next time with them will come.

Thoughts on Black Friday
Thanksgiving Pies

Since my family likes privacy I won’t post their photos here, but I did post a photo of the delicious pies (above). I sampled all three.

I hope all of you who celebrated Thanksgiving with your families enjoyed a stress-free day of connecting to those you love. If you were alone because you no longer have a family, are estranged from family, or you have lost someone dear to you, I wish you peace and healing.

The Trip to Madera and Back

The traffic was heavy going south on Wednesday. It was lighter for us going north except here and as we approached Fresno and Madera.  It was especially bad trying to get back on Highway 41 going north after making a pit stop near the intersection of 41 and I-5. (Where the photo below was taken.)That line of cars is headed south to the only signal light that can get people access to I-5.

The only way to make a left turn, which we needed to do, was to hope someone would create a space so you could squeeze through while traffic was backed up to a red light. You can see a truck stopped to let a driver through who needed to make a left into the street we were on . The traffic was lined up for about two blocks behind what you see here. A kind driver did let us through to make our left turn, too.

Traffic near I-5 and Hwy 41 in California
Traffic near I-5 and Hwy 41 in California

As we had hoped, traffic was much lighter as we drove home on Thanksgiving Day. We finally got home yesterday in the late afternoon. After unloading the car, I had to get back to work on the computer.

Black Friday Deals

I’m not much of a shopper, but I am an affiliate marketer. I had posted early access specials to my blog before Thanksgiving, but I still had to add all the bargains that actually did start on Black Friday to a blog post. I needed to get them all posted before they started at midnight.

Enjoy the rest of this holiday weekend, fellow Americans. I hope those of you from other parts of the world also have a pleasant weekend and can do whatever your heart is set on.

Zero Tolerance and the Never-Ending Lockdown in America’s Public Schools

Why are we using police power to terrorize children who don’t realize they are violating school rules when they bring objects to school rational people don’t consider weapons ? A folding comb? A camping eating utensil? Their fingers? Where has common sense gone when we use police to arrest children for these offenses instead of using them on the streets where real criminals are using real guns to kill innocent people. Mass murders aren’t committed with folding combs or fingers or even the unmoving guns in the hands of miniature toy soldiers in play sets.

Zero Tolerance and the Never-Ending Lockdown in America’s Public Schools.

Jason Pinning Me at Court of Honor
Jason Pinning Me at Court of Honor. Yes, he owed the camping eating tool that included a knife.

This is the kind of thing that will make actual criminals out of innocent students. Take the case of Zachary Christie mentioned in this article. He is six years old and a Cub Scout, learning to be a good citizen. He innocently brought a camping utensil to school that’s an all-in-one knife, fork and spoon to be used for eating. For this offense he was sentenced to serve 45 days in reform school. I’d wager that will be a much worse influence on him than a Boy Scout camping trip. He’ll probably learn how to commit real crimes, disrespect authority, etc.

We’ve known for a long time that legislators on the state and federal level have been short on common sense, but it appears this lack of common sense also exists in public school administrators. I’ll bet a lot of them played cops and robbers (or violent video games) when they were young. In fact, if we want to prevent  gun violence, maybe those violent video games are a great thing to make unavailable for children. If the first amendment keeps those legal, maybe the second amendment can at least keep fingers and harmless guns on play figures that can’t even move legal.

A common sense approach would be that students who probably didn’t realize the items administrators find offensive  were considered weapons be informed and warned . Parents should then be called to the office and have it explained to them, and then have the parents come get the item with instructions never to let it come to school again. Things that are normally not thought of as weapons that are forbidden on campus should be listed on the school website that parents use for school policy information. The list should also be on a note sent home at the beginning of the year. Students should also be informed in their classrooms the first day of school and again about once a month.

Meanwhile, while the police are being called to drag these young and probably unintentional offenders from their classrooms, they are not available to track down the real criminals on the streets who are killing each other with real guns. Where have our priorities gone? Where has our common sense gone?  No wonder children aren’t learning critical thinking skills in some schools. Teachers can’t teach what they don’t have.

Maybe the idea is to label these children as terrorists now so they will never be allowed to own a gun when they grow up.  Then they won’t be able to protect their family someday from a real terrorist or common criminal breaking into their home.

One-to-One-Instruction

New research shows how important explaining things to mom is in a child’s education. Problem solutions explained to mom help young children retain what they have learned and be able to transfer that learning to new situations. Having to explain helps develop critical thinking skills.

One-to-One-Instruction

One-to-One-Instruction

A lot has been said about the importance of parents in a child’s education, but today I found an article that shows we were using the right approach in our homeschooling —Learning from Explaining: Does it Matter if Mom is Listening?

I’ve written a lot about the need to read aloud to young children often and in past posts we’ve given a lot of hints on how to to that, especially in When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up. I haven’t said as much about the other technique we used to see how much the children understood. That method was to ask the children to explain something to us or to put something they had read into their own words.

Now in the article referenced above,  a study suggests that explaining something to Mom (and I think the same would be true of Dad) is the best way to fix the  problem solving method a child uses in his brain so that the information will transfer to a different situation. The study used four and five-year-old children and gave them some classification problems to solve. Some were instructed to just solve the problems and repeat the solutions. Others were asked to solve the problems and explain to themselves how they did it (while recording), and the third group was asked to explain to their moms how they solved the problems. (The article will give you several pages of details on this experiment and the data generated.)

The results showed that those who explained the solution to themselves or their moms did much better at retaining the information than those that just repeated the solution. But those who explained to their moms did better than the other two groups at transferring what they had learned to solving different problems.

Explaining a solution forces a child to think critically about his method. Explaining to a parent is even more helpful. I would imagine that this would also extend to explaining to a teacher or tutor, but it illustrated once again how important  verbal interaction with significant adults is in student learning. It’s not just important to get an answer correct, but also to know the process of getting that correct answer.  Remembering that process is much easier if the student has explained it to an adult.

 

Oral Comprehension Lays the Foundation for Reading Comprehension

If we are trying to improve a child’s reading comprehension, we need to start with oral comprehension, and we should begin this when the child is still just learning to use language. This means parents need to be involved. They are their children’s first teachers, and they lay the foundation for all future learning.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If a child can’t comprehend spoken language, he’s not likely to understand what he reads, either. We all learn to use spoken language before we learn to read. Almost any parent or teacher has those moments when they are quite sure a child has not understood a word they said, though they also might believe the children did not want to understand and didn’t really listen.

It still follows, though, that if we are trying to improve a child’s reading comprehension, we need to start with oral comprehension, and we should begin this when the child is still just learning to use language. This means parents need to be involved. They are their children’s first teachers, and they lay the foundation for all future learning. One of the first things they teach children is how to talk.

I know few parents who have taken an educational methods course in teaching children to talk. They are able, instead, to zero in on the child’s own desire to interact with them. If the parents talk, the child  will want to talk. If the child wants something, he has to learn the words that will communicate his needs. He also begins to learn what the parent expects of him, and even the meaning of the word “No!” The parents will teach the names of the objects and living beings in the children’s world and some basic concepts such as over, under, through, run, push, and all the rest. By the time the child reaches kindergarten, he’s supposed to have that basic grasp of language.  He will, if the parents have spent enough time interacting with him.

However, many parents are too busy and too tired at the end of a day to meet all the child’s interaction needs. Many children live with a single parent who also works outside the home. At the end of a day, the temptation is to put the child in front of the television or a video game rather than interacting with him. Thus the child has no need to to actively use his brain to understand, but can sit passively and absorb or, in the case of the video game, develop hand/eye coordination, but not improve communication skills.

What’s the solution? Reading enjoyable stories to the child for twenty minutes each night, maybe just before bed, can be a big help. The parent can go to the public library once every couple of weeks and check out books that look not only appropriate for the child’s age and interests, but that also look like they would be fun for the parent to read. Keep these books so the child has access to them at certain times of the day, and then let him pick one of them for you to read to him. There are some good suggestions in this previous post: Choosing the Best Children’s Books, Part 1. Another previous post, When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up, might also inspire you — especially if’s there’s a bit of the actor or actress in you.

We found that our own children looked forward to story time, and when we read stories to them during summer vacation, they would often round up their friends to join in. As we discussed the stories, it was easy to talk about the meanings of words they might not know, ask what they thought might happen next, ask why they thought a character behaved as he did, and so on.

Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone
Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone

Let’s  take some examples from a story you may remember from your own childhood : The Little Red Hen.

As you sit with the book in your lap and your child next to you, begin the story. The  process of making bread as it’s described here may be entirely new for your child, so you can talk about what the hen is doing and why. Here are some questions that would be perfectly natural:

  • What is the hen doing with the wheat? Why?
  • What other jobs does the hen need to do to make the bread?
  • What does the hen ask the other animals to do?
  • Do they want to help her do any of  the jobs?
  • Why do you think they don’t want to help her?
  • When the bread is ready to eat, do they want to help her eat it?
  • Does she let them? Should she have shared? Why or why not?

These questions will not only help you make sure the child is understanding the facts in the story — what’s happening, but also will let you know what the child is thinking about the story line itself. Does the child think the hen should have shared? Did the child think it wasn’t fair for the hen not to share? Does he see the point that the animals didn’t want to help with the work, but thought they were entitled to the result of the work whether they had helped or not? This involves higher thinking skills than just knowing what happened.

Almost any folk tale lends itself to a good discussion as you read it aloud. If you have a discussion like this several times a week when you read a story together, your child will naturally learn the comprehension skills they will later try to teach in school : main idea, figurative language, context clues, reading for detail, inference, cause and effect, drawing conclusions, fact or opinion, logic and reasoning, and predicting outcomes. If he can figure out the main idea orally, it will be easier to find it in a passage he reads in school, because he will know what a main idea is. He has learned that the main idea in The Little Red Hen is that those who do not want to help with the work should not expect to share in the results of the work. To see if they can apply this to other situations, you might ask them for examples of this same main idea in what they observe from life. (If a child won’t share his toys with others, should  he expect the others to share their toys with him?) You get the idea. Now, if you apply it, your child will be well on his way to improving reading comprehension later on.

How to Recognize Love

How does a child recognize if he is loved? I know how this five-year-old recognized it.

You Will Cry

When Jason, whom we later adopted, was five and a foster child next door, he had learned he would be moved. (You can read the history of our relationship with Jason here.) As the neighborhood children often gathered under our tree in the early summer evenings after dinner, Jason and his foster siblings gathered there that evening to tell us the news and discuss where he might be moved.  I had to pretend I didn’t know he was coming to us since the social worker said not to tell him. So I let the children discuss the issue themselves while I listened.

How to Recognize Love
Jason, still a foster child, in the tree under which we had this discussion.

 

Jason had been coming to visit us almost every day since we met in the front yard one day, and I had grown to love him. It would have hurt a lot to have my contact with him cut off. That’s why we were trying to adopt him. But it was obvious Jason knew how much we cared. He might not have known the word for love, but this is what he told me that evening:  When I leave, you are going to cry.”

Separation from a Loved One Hurts

Separation from someone you love hurts. Jason had recognized love when he saw it. He knew his leaving us would hurt, and I’d cry. He was right. Fortunately, he lived with us for a wonderful nine years before a jet ski accident separated us forever on this earth. And I cried.

So how do you know if someone loves you? Words? Gifts? Promises? I think Jason had it right. Would that person cry if you were to leave forever? Would that person continue to carry your footprints in his or her heart for life?

You can read my tribute to Jason’s memory here.

‘Tis the Season to Reminisce with Our Picture Albums

I noticed as I looked through our family albums this week that many who have left us still live in the albums, frozen in time, and in the hearts of those who love them.

Sandy (right) making mochi with her family last Christmas Day, 2009
Sandy (right) making mochi with her family last Christmas Day, 2009

Friendship is one of the most precious of life’s gifts. Those friends we have kept up with for over forty years are irreplaceable. A group of friends is rudely reminded of that this month, as it lost the first member of this group to cancer on  November 30. She fought a long and hard battle, but the cancer finally won.You can read more about Sandy and her family tradition of gathering to make mochi on Christmas here.

Her family and friends and others she has inspired over the years are gathering to remember her the day after Christmas, and since they are getting together — a rare occurrence since we are scattered now over several counties and even   states — we are also planning a surprise for someone else who means a lot to all of us.

Our children, Sarah and Jason, Christmas, 1987
Both our children are gone now, leaving at ages 14 and 34.

This  surprise has us all thumbing through our old photo albums, as well as our more recent ones, and,  in the process, I’m sure I’m not the only one strolling down memory lane. And I’m sure I’m not the only one realizing that half my albums are peopled by multitudes of pictures of those who now live on a different plane. So it’s a bittersweet trip. Jason loved life and Christmas and left us while riding a jet ski in 1991. Sarah enjoyed Christmas more than life, which she chose to leave in 2009.

My mom with Jason and his cousin Bobby in 1990, Jason's last Christmas
My mom with Jason and his cousin Bobby in 1990, Jason's last Christmas

This picture, too, has only one living person left, my nephew — the one with dark hair. Mom and Jason are both gone. We lost mom to cancer in 2005. I was privileged to be able to help care for her in her last months, and I’m glad she lived close to me so I could see her almost daily during her last years.

Rich entered our lives in 1993 when we moved to our current home in

Celebrating a mini Christmas with Rich and Bobby the week the weekend after in 1994
Mini Christmas celebration with Rich and Bobby in 1994

Templeton, California. My nephew, Bobby, also spent a year with us in 1994, and we had a mini Christmas  celebration with Rich, who was like part of our extended family by then, that year. He is another dear friend whom we continue to miss at Christmas and every Friday night, as that’s the night we used to meet for dinner and Bible study together. This was taken during our small Christmas celebration the week after Christmas, since Bobby and I and my husband went south to Mom’s over the actual holiday. Rich left us in 2003. Rich used to say he didn’t take pictures because the picture in his head that is always with him, is better than any he could take with a camera.

With that in mind, what about those in our pictures still living on earth? Some may be casual acquaintances, but many will be the people we care most about. Do they know how much you care? Might not this holiday season be a good time to tell them? After all, you never know if it will be your last opportunity to reveal what’s in your heart. Whether you are 14 or 94, or whether they are, not everyone makes it to 70 — or even 17.

Pictures keep us frozen in time, as we are frozen in place in the hearts who love us. Just as my parents and I were frozen in place on this, my sixth Christmas, so

Mom and Dad have gone on, except in my heart.
Mom and Dad have gone on now, but this Christmas with them remains in my heart.

I still carry them in my heart 61 years later. The real album is my heart. It is there the pictures come alive bringing back laughter in times past, and, sometimes tears as I miss them, especially those who seemed, like Sandy, Jason, Sarah, and Rich, to go much earlier than they should.