Our daughter and son-in-law have always made a point of helping their six children acquire basic life skills at an early age. I've mentioned previously that by age four the kids are fully competent to chop vegetables for a salad, having begun by cutting up mushrooms at age two.

On a recent visit, we were blown away by their skills on a different front.

The family has a small apartment above the garage that is used by overnight guests. This time it was our eight-year-old granddaughter who took complete responsibility for preparing the apartment for our visit, from cleaning the bathroom to putting fresh sheets on the bed.  She did an excellent job.

And on each of our pillows she put a neatly-folded set of towels ... and two pieces of chocolate.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 5:07 pm | Edit
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It's far too early to have figured out all the ins and outs of the recent Ohio State killings, but two lessons seem clear to me.

I wish we would not be so quick to label such acts as terrorism. The officials may be cautious, but that doesn't stop the public from making its own hasty judgements. We don't want to dilute the term, and I for one am tired of every act of violence toward more than one or two people being called terrorism. Maybe this was, but my own feeling is that terrorism has to have a broader purpose, such as an ideology or at least a campaign to gain power and intimidate a group of people through fear. Murder/suicide, mental illness, anger, and hatred have been around a long time, and calling them terrorism gives the actions a certain respect that could lead still more deranged people to express their feelings through dramatic forms of murder/suicide.

However he might have cloaked his actions, this attacker sounds more like a lone wolf with personal problems. Calling him a terrorist, no matter how much he may have played into the hands of certain terrorist organizations, is according him a dignity he does not deserve.

Empowering is better than cowering. This article from the Columbus Dispatch explains why Ohio State broadcast the message "Run Hide Fight" to their students during the attack. (Emphasis mine.)

“Run Hide Fight” has become this generation's “Stop Drop and Roll.” It stems from a public-awareness campaign used by the Department of Homeland Security. ... The message is meant to get people to go through a series of steps to ensure survival: Run if they can, hide in a secure place if they can't and, as last resort, fight for their lives.

Dr. Steve Albrecht, an expert on threat assessment in the workplace and schools, said the “Run Hide Fight” protocol has been an effective tool in helping people react in mass-violence situations.

“What I teach in my program is these (attackers) aren’t Navy Seals, they are dumb or mentally ill guys with guns who can be stopped,” said Albrecht, a former San Diego police officer who is now based in Colorado. “You have to give people the mindset that we can fight back, and that we have to wait around for someone to shoot people is wrong. And that’s why the 'Run Hide Fight' approach has worked and fighting back has helped save the day in many of these situations.”

That's pretty much the advice we were given when our homeowner's association had a program on what to do during an "active shooter" situation—which, by the way, the speaker pointed out is a misnomer that we should stop using. A rifle range is full of harmless active shooters, and the killer at Ohio State managed to do a lot of harm without firing a shot. "Active killer," or "active attacker" would be more accurate, though I don't expect the media to change their language anytime soon.

Our speaker had some other good advice, such as:

  • When you walk into a room, note where the exits are. Active attackers may actually be rare, but that's good advice for many situations, including fires and having to take your toddler to the bathroom.
  • Recognize that guns and knives are not the only weapons available. Chairs, tables, umbrellas, and other items in the room could save your life.
  • Know the difference between cover and concealment (both make you more difficult to find, but only cover will stop a bullet).
  • Run if you can, and keep running as far as you can. Don't stop just because you have gotten out of the room/building. Many dangerous things will stil be happening. And try to remember to run with your hands up, because the police don't immediately know who the dangerous people are.
  • Remember that you won't necessarily know who the police are. In such situations, the police are called in from all over, and may not be in uniform.
  • If you are a concealed carrier and have heroically saved the day by shooting the assailant, drop your gun, put your hands up, and step away from the scene. Remember that the police will enter the room intent on stopping a man with a gun in his hand....

It's high time we stopped teaching our children that they are helpless. We don't want them to be so confident they take unnecessary risks, but if we don't give them knowledge and skills and teach them to be courageous in the face of danger—even evil—we're lost.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 9:21 am | Edit
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The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him ... to make him think things for himself.

 — George MacDonald

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 19, 2016 at 9:41 am | Edit
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Ten years ago I discovered xylitol and the positive effects it had on the health of my gums. Four years later I reported on my unintentional experiment in which I discovered that regular use of xylitol in my dental care routine kept my teeth in better shape than they had ever been.

I'm still a huge proponent of xylitol, but today I must report an important caveat:  be careful to check the ingredients of any xylitol product you use.

For years I had swished pure xylitol around in my mouth before going to sleep at night—and sometimes during the day as well. That led to a huge dental health victory for me. But I was concerned that most xylitol comes from China, and I try to avoid food products from there if possible, because of their many known abuses. So I was excited to discover a North American-based source of xylitol, and even more so because they also sold xylitol mints and candies that were both more convenient and more interesting than plain xylitol.

Then the reports from my dentist started going downhill, and I was having to have crowns replaced that should have lasted for years, because of decay at the gumline. My dentist was dumbfounded, and so was I. Then I looked at the ingredients list on my xylitol candy packages. Many seemed fine—if flavorings alone caused problems, they would not be in toothpaste. But it turns out that some of the candies, particularly the fruit-flavored ones, also include citric acid.

There may be other factors that led to my dental problems, but certainly it could not have been good to be bathing my teeth in citric acid at night, particularly since I would let the candies disolve slowly in my mouth as I fell asleep, and would also reach for them in the middle of the night to calm a dry cough. After all, it's not so much the bacteria that cause dental caries, but the acid created by the bacteria.

So I'm back to using pure xylitol for my teeth, and taking care to avoid the xylitol candies and mints that contain citric acid. I share this for everyone, including my own grandchildren, who chew xylitol mints as part of their nightly routine, because their dentists have recognized the value of xylitol for dental health. It's still a great idea—but have a care for the other ingredients.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 9:37 am | Edit
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I rarely read Doonesbury anymore, as I've greatly cut back on my comic reading, and get too much political ranting as it is.  But here's one I can appreciate! (Click to enlarge.)

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 8:57 am | Edit
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This clip about the German Forest Kindergartens showed up in my Facebook feed. (Thanks, Liz.)

It caught my attention because Janet and her kids visited one (Waldspielgruppe) and had a blast.

("What do you mean, 'had a blast'?" asked five-year-old Joseph. He speaks three languages, but misses the occasional idiom. He's also very literal, and was probably puzzling about pyrotechnics. I suggested that it means "an explosion of fun.")

Perhaps the most educational part of their visit was the revelation of do-it-yourself possibilities.

  1. Spielgruppe, whether this or one of the differently-focussed options available, is expensive, costly in both time and money. You could buy a lot of cool equipment for your home and still save money.
  2. Anyone can buy the special rain gear that allows a child to emerge clean and dry from a romp in the mud—once you know it exists and where to find it. ("There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.")
  3. The forests are open to the public, nearby, and free.

Who needs Spielgruppe?  Who needs kindergarten?

Since then Janet has taken the gang, outfitted in their new rain gear, for their own fun in the forest. Once they even met up with the preschool group and they all had fun together.

Maybe the best advantage a formal organization gives you is that, after paying all that money, you work to find time for your child to participate. But if you have the self-discipline to make it happen, don't outsource the fun!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 8, 2016 at 11:55 am | Edit
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While we were visiting New Hampshire, our son-in-law and the older children spent the better part of one day helping another family move into their new home. Their reward for this good deed was to catch a stomach flu, and bring it home to the rest of us.

One by one the children's gastro-intestinal systems gave in. Porter and I took our turns at the end, but the last victim of all was—you guessed it—Heather. I believe there is quite a bit of truth behind the idea of mom-immunity, a constitutional strength that keeps mothers going until their children are on the mend.

But that immunity finally deserted her the day after I came down with the bug myself. Since I was no longer actively vomiting, and the children—now essentially back to normal—were active and needy, I crawled out of bed to see if I could be useful.

But Jon, who had been among the first to get ill and recover, had everything under control, assisted by the older kids—especially Faith:  The Nurturing Force is strong in this one. So I gratefully crawled back up to bed.

Where I stayed for the rest of the day.

For a day all I had to do was drag myself between bed and bathroom, and thought that was a difficult enough task. The rest of the time I slept. And slept. And healed.

What a luxury!  What a tremendous blessing!  What mom ever has this opportunity?  Maybe mothers whose children are in school or daycare can get a few hours' rest, but outside of those hours they too spend more time functioning than healing. Babies need nursing, and children—especially children who have recently been sick themselves—sometimes need Mom's attention, despite the avaiability of other helpers.

Then there are those whose job situations leave them little choice but to drag themselves out of their sickbeds and into a full day's work—to infect who knows how many others along the way.

Wouldn't it be so much better for everyone if our life situations had enough slack built into them to allow all sick people the time to heal effectively?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 24, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Edit
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altThey're Your Kids:  An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate by Sam Sorbo (Reveille Press, 2016)

I usually ignore the suggestions my Kindle pops up for me to read, but I'm a sucker for homeschooling stories, especially at $2.99. This one both pleased me and was woefully disappointing.

The pleasure came in the second part of the book, which describes the family's experience with homeschooling. I love these personal tales, whether the author shares my own educational philosophies or not. Homeschooling stories are infinitely varied and, to me, endlessly interesting. The Sorbos' adventures are no exception.

The disappointment came, as disappointment usually does, through foiled expectations.

I had read that the inspiration for the family to begin homeschooling came because the parents' careers (acting, modelling, writing) took them on the road a lot. "Aha," I thought. This could be the solution to a problem that has been troubling me.

Because we were homeschoolers before that educational option became popular—indeed, before it became legal in many states—my lovingly amassed collection of homeschooling stories is very old. Not that anyone's personal experiences can really become outdated, but I know that those currently homeschooling or considering the option would like to hear voices from the current century.

Moreover, while homeschooling was initially primarily a left-wing, "hippie" kind of movement, it was later enthusiastically adopted by Christians who had their own reasons for distrusting government schools, and many of the more recent stories have an unabashedly religious base. Nothing wrong with that—but it muddles the issues in some people's minds.

Knowing that They're Your Kids was from a family of traditionally secular, left-wing professions, I anticipated that it would provide a much-needed, different perspective.

It doesn't. Far from it. The beginning of the book is filled with the kind of anti-public-school ranting that the more secular folks associate with right-wing extremism, and which embarrasses so many of us who still consider ourselves both Christian and politically more right than left. Especially painful is that the author, like so many others, fails to distinguish the Common Core standards from some of the highly objectionable implementations. It's the kind of diatribe that may pump up those who already agree, but will turn off nearly everyone else.

Despite all this, I certainly don't regret buying They're Your Kids. It costs more than $2.99 to buy a bag of chips!  What I'd recommend is skipping over the first part of the book and getting right into the Sorbos' story. Every homeschooler's story has a unique perspective and new ideas

I do have one more warning; it's for my readers who are trying to teach multiple levels and wrangle toddlers at the same time:  Just ignore the part where she says her three kids get everything done in three hours.  (We only had two and never finished in three hours.)

Herewith some of my favorite quotes:

“No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest - for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” — T. S. Eliot

As good a job as the educators [at the Classical Christian school] were doing, I realized Shane was no longer at liberty to pursue his mathematics to his heart’s content. Now he was on a treadmill, along with his entire class.

I realized that teachers are, in fact, traffic control cops, and so my son was simply good at being herded. “What about his academics?”

“He’s doing fine...”

“Fine” was an unacceptable accolade, when I’d seen him love learning at home.

[Schools] adopt a plan that levels the expectations, by slowing down the better performers. Although this approach may seem counter-intuitive, it’s much easier to hold back the advanced students than try to accelerate the less gifted ones.

If revered institutions don’t complete the textbooks, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist… but that’s unhealthy for my kids and me. I decided that just because I have high standards doesn’t mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to find educational satisfaction.

Keep your eye on the ball. Learning is the goal, the textbook is just a tool.

[A]t the risk of losing them to boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution—everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see they understand, confident that review is coming. This way, the loves of my life aren’t burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I’d rather we concentrate on enjoying the process instead.

Early in life I’d learned to choose the hard thing, because boredom was worse than hard work.

Sometimes, you have to do something that’s hard simply because it is hard—to practice, to build strength.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Edit
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Last year I had the privilege of reading and reviewing S. D. Smith's The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston.  I'm thrilled to report that a new episode in the adventures of #RabbitsWithSwords will be available soon.  The Kickstarter campaign for Ember Falls is almost over and has exceeded its goal—though I'm certain that if anyone wants to become a last-minute backer they will be as welcome as the earliest.

For some reason, the trailer isn't imbedding properly here and I can't find it on YouTube, but you can see it at the Kickstarter link.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Edit
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I just read an interesting article entitled, "I Didn’t Let My Kids Snack for a Week. Here’s What Happened."  It reminded me again of my puzzlement over how we got to the point of believing that children can't go a few hours without food. I've always seen that attitude as a problem. A First World problem, to be sure, but still a strange and annoying problem.

It's true that my childhood was in the dim past, but I'm certain that snacks were few and far between. Yes, there was sometimes a glass of milk and cookies when I came home from school (really!), while my mother crafted dinner and we talked about my day. But generally we reserved eating for mealtime: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating between meals was frowned upon for many reasons: expense, mess to clean up, and above all, it would "spoil your dinner." Kids were expected to be hungry when they came to the table; it made us less likely to complain about the food.

When our own children came along, we pretty much continued the policy, but already society was starting to change. Soon you couldn't have an outside activity—from sports practices to Sunday school classes—without snacks. Parents began to feel abusive if they didn't offer food every time their children whined, "I'm h-u-n-g-r-y!" I don't think the increase in the number of children who are picky eaters is coincidental.

Spoiler Alert: So what happened when the author restricted snacking?  Win-win-win.

I’m definitely going to continue feeding my family in this way. They ate a great variety of foods, and our time at the table together was actually enjoyable.

I didn’t spend it nagging, and they didn’t spend it whining. They arrived to the table hungry, and they ate. My house is cleaner, my kids are happier, and I feel way more in control.

My children have less [sic] meltdowns because they are better nourished. And I have fewer meltdowns because there are fewer demands on me.

I'm not against all snacking. I like snacks myself. Too much. But when it deprives children of the right to be hungry enough to appreciate good food, eaten at the table with family—there's a problem.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 26, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Edit
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As I walked into a ladies' room at Animal Kingdom recently, I overheard a woman speaking to a small boy.

"No, don't go in there," she called, as he headed for the men's room.  "You'll have to come in here because you're with Grandma."

As they entered the ladies' room she admonished, "You'll have to pee like a big boy instead of sitting down, because we're not at home.  You'll have to stand like a big boy."

But there's more to peeing like a big boy than just standing up.  Soon I heard the grandmother's voice at a somewhat higher pitch from inside the stall:

"Point it down.  POINT IT DOWN!" 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 18, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Edit
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If Today.com can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.

We've known Rebecca since before she was born.  Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.

A few other people have been impressed by the video:  last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.

I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.

Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm | Edit
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I'm glad I discovered Kids Mode on my mobile phone: On my last visit Vivienne managed to change my display to greyscale. Kids Mode is somewhat protective.

Our grandkids are very good about taking "no" for an answer, but the question is frequent: Grandma, may I use your phone?

Joseph (5) wants to play PEAK brain-training games. Vivienne (4) is frustrated that most of the PEAK games are still beyond her but loves to watch videos, look at pictures, and use the Kids' Mode camera, sound recorder, and other features. Daniel (2) has but one desire: to watch the two videos I made of pictures of the U.S. states flashing by in sync with an excerpt from the song, Fifty Nifty United States. (Daniel is obsessed with states and loves to sing along, ending with a resounding, "WY-OMING!") Ellie (10 months) is too young to have a favorite app, but figures anything her siblings want so badly must be a good thing, and goes after the phone every chance she gets. My Samsung Galaxy S5 is supposed to be water resistant, but I'm not inclined to test it against saliva and her sharp little teeth. Her turn will come soon enough.

I'm not really complaining. The phone is an amazing educational tool and I so enjoy watching the kids learn. Hopefully they will recover quickly from any bad media-related habits, since Grandma's phone is only available when Grandma is around. I'll have to be careful, however. Eagle-eyed Vivienne watches closely as I enter the PIN that restores full control over the phone, and she's probably now beyond just changing the color of the screen. There are some games she'd really like to purchase....

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 3:34 am | Edit
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Actually—there really ought to be a word for "daughter's in-laws."

That Phil and Barbara were involved in a protest back in the day doesn't surprise me.  But I had no idea they made the New York Times!

Here's the update almost thirty years later.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm | Edit
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altLullaby by Steph Shaw

Here's a shoutout to our very talented cousin-in-law.  (If there's a word for "son-in-law's cousin" I don't know it.)  Steph Shaw is a singer-songwriter and the mother of three adorable girls.  "Lullaby" was written with the first, recorded with the second, and released with the third.

Naptime.  It's what you make of it.

Enjoy!  And don't forget to check out Steph's Facebook page.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 6:25 am | Edit
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