After six nephews, four grandsons, and 29 years, we once again have two little girls who fit these adorable outfits.  Picture credit for the second goes to Heather and Jon Daley; the first is scanned from an old, washed out Polaroid-style print, but you get the idea.

Janet and Heather, December 1982

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Joy and Faith, January 2012

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Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Edit
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Lately it's looked a lot more like picture-perfect Switzerland, thanks to the snow and cold.  Except that it could be picture-perfect New York, or Pittsburgh, or Minnesota, because even today, when the sun came out, the Alps were obscured by low clouds.

Weather or no, Joseph likes to be outside.  He loves the snow, which he calls "no," except when talking to Bappe (Daddy); then he says "nee" (Swiss German "Schnee").

On our walk the other day I'd intended to get some video footage of him playing in the snow, but he kept getting distracted by airplanes and other vehicles. 

What may not be obvious is why he suddenly stops in the middle:  his hat catches on an overhanging branch.  After breaking loose, he's a bit unhappy—until another airplane comes by.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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Joseph has two different words for "spin."  One, pronounced "pin," refers to when he, himself, is spinning.  The other I haven't yet figured out how to transcribe, but it has two syllables and refers to spinning an object, like a top, a ball, a block, a coin.  Whether it's supposed to be one word, or a two-word command, the meaning is clear when he hands you an object:  "Spin it!"  You'd be surprised at how many items that are not tops can be made to spin. 

"Pin," on the other hand, can refer to being spun in someone's arms, or twirling himself around till he staggers with dizziness, or being spun on Mommy's office chair.  When he does the last sitting backwards and holding on to the seat back, it can be very fast, and produces an impressive postrotatory nystagmus.

He also likes this, sitting in his space capsule (backpack) and training for NASA.  The position makes up for the reduced rotational velocity.  At the end he is saying and signing, "more."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Edit
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This was the first video, taken nearly two weeks ago to let Dad-o know that Joseph is thinking about him even though he isn't here with us.

We love you, Dad-o!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Edit
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Here's an interesting article from Newsweekon the popularity of homeschooling with "urban, educated" parents.

We think of homeschoolers as evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside. And it’s true that most homeschooling parents do so for moral or religious reasons. But education observers believe that is changing. You only have to go to a downtown Starbucks or art museum in the middle of a weekday to see that a once-unconventional choice “has become newly fashionable,” says Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford professor who wrote Kingdom of Children, a history of homeschooling. There are an estimated 300,000 homeschooled children in America’s cities, many of them children of secular, highly educated professionals who always figured they’d send their kids to school—until they came to think, Hey, maybe we could do better.

We've come a long way in the 25+ years of my experience.  (Not that "evangelicals or off-the-gridders who spend a lot of time at kitchen tables in the countryside" comes close to being an accurate description of the home education movement at any time that I remember.  It was always much broader than that.)

One consequence of the increasing popularity of homeschooling is that there is now enough collective knowledge that journalists are less likely to write utter nonsense.  I found the article to be fairly accurate.  An exception would be the section equating homeschooling with attachment parenting, which they define as, "an increasingly popular approach that involves round-the-clock physical contact with children and immediate responses to all their cues."  This bizarre description makes it sound as if mothers continue to carry their eight-year-olds around in slings all the time.  No normal one-year-old would put up with that, let alone someone of school age.

Other than that, it's a pretty fair article, considering it was written by someone on the outside looking in.  And considering the really clueless articles that have been written on homeschooling over the years.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Edit
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The real question is not, How Smart Is Your Baby? but How can you help your baby avoid losing his extraordiary powers as he grows up?  As the book of that name acknowledges, every normal baby is a born genius.  If you don't think so, take three years and try to become fluent in a foreign language.  Then remember that most babies can do that with ease.  For multiple languages.  Simultaneously.  And while learning the very concept of language itself.

Joseph and I try to take at least one walk each day.  Most of the time I'm the one doing the walking, and comes along passively in the stroller, because I don't get much exercise going at his pace, and that's half the point of the walk.  (The other half is giving his parents a break.)  Until recently, we'd go where I wanted to go.  But two days ago, Joseph started expressing his opinions in the matter.

He's usually pretty complacent and quiet as we trundle along, so I was shocked when he suddenly started fussing as we passed through an intersection on our way home.  I stopped, and he pointed in the cross direction, clearly indicating that he wanted to turn.  "Aha!"  I thought.  "I know where that road leads."

"Do you want to go see the goats?" I asked.  Joseph quickly signed, "Please."  I made the turn toward the dairy farm, and he was his happy self again.

I found that astonishing enough—that he was able to recognize the intersection.  But it was a straight line from that point on to the goats, and he'd been there many times before.

Then yesterday, when I had planned to walk to the nearby mall, Joseph once again fussed and pointed in another direction.  I decided to forgo shopping and give him his head.

At each intersection I stopped the stroller and asked, "Shall we go this way, or that way?" with appropriate gestures.  Even though I deliberately changed up the way I asked the question (so as not to give him any hints), he led me unerringly, without hesitation, and through many turns to one of his favorite places:  the swimming center, where there are also goats (chickens, peacocks, rabbits, etc.) to see.

But that's not where we stopped.  At the final turn, when I knew for certain that he knew where he was—because he could see the animals from the intersection—he chose to go left instead of right.  So left we went, and this time he led me—perfectly, and over a route that had changed recently due to constructionso he'd only been on it a few times—to the library.

I'd been that far before, but after the library I was in new territory.  I explored, following his directions, until we came to a main street, at which point he decided he didn't like that and asked to go turn around.  We explored a bit more, then I decided we'd had enough and headed back towards the library.  At that point Joseph fell asleep, so it's a good thing I knew how to get home.  But if we ever get lost, I'm asking him for directions.

My brother was like that as a child, though at an older age.  He might run off (as he did in Yellowstone National Park when he was six) but we could count on him to find his way back.  Unfortunately, he says, he lost much of that ability as he grew up.

So how can that loss be prevented?  Is such skill like a muscle that must be exercised regularly?  Use it or lose it?  It should be easy to devise "navigation games" and create increasingly difficult puzzles through the years, to keep the skill sharp.  But it would take a conscious effort to make that happen: no one seems to care about leaving no children behind navigationally.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Edit
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Joseph's language abilities are growing steadily; it's amazing to see how much he has learned in the short time I've been here.  And that's just in English!  It is so strange to hear Swiss German words coming from his mouth, and to see that he obviously understands when Stephan speaks to him.  The latest game is for him to hand Janet one of his number puzzle pieces, whereupon she says (for example): Mommy and Grandma say nine.  The Germans say neun.  Daddy says nüün."  (The last two sentences are said not in English, but in German and Swiss German, respectively.)  Then Joseph gets her another number and asks, "more."  This is as close to formal language teaching as he gets—because he asks for it.  Mostly he just hears people speaking and figures it out, as all babies do.

Of course a 19-month-old does not speak clearly in any language.  Joseph has a few words that anyone can understand, but mostly it takes a parent, or a grandparent who has been living with him for a while, to make out what he is saying.  For example, it took me some time to realize that he knows the number "0," because the word he uses doesn't sound at all like "zero" to me.  But it is consistent and always associated with that number.  (And, no, it's not the German or Swiss German word; Joseph says "null" clearly.)

It's especially helpful that Janet has taught him many ASL signs.  It's too cute, really.  Please, thank you, help, water, sleep, milk, down, play, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, airplane, train, and more, including the very useful toilet.  Joseph will often speak and sign at the same time, which helps me understand his speech, be it English, German, Swiss German, or Josephese.  I know I'm going to be helpless on the phone, though.

Note:  I love American Sign Language, but what sadist designed the sign for "please" to involve rubbing the hand on the chest?  No one who had to do the laundry after a toddler's spaghetti dinner or yoghurt-and-muesli breakfast, that's for sure.

And Vivienne?  Janet's beginning to learn the difference between the cry that means, "I'm hungry" and the cry that means, "I need to go to the bathroom."  But I'll let her write the post about Elimination Communication.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Edit
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Every day, after the noon meal, we follow the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer "Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families" noontime liturgy.  Joseph loves the time and is an active participant, as they use hand motions for many of the prayers.  (Some, at least, are a legacy of Janet's American Sign Language minor.)  For example, at "Give praise, you servants of the LORD" we raise our hands high in the air; at "in quietness and trust shall be our strength" we flex our biceps.

Then comes time for the reading, and Joseph jumps up to get the Bible for Daddy.  After that we pray. Before Vivienne was born, Joseph would put his hand on Janet's belly to "pray for the baby."  Now he puts his hand out, says "baby" and looks a little confused.  :)  After the Collect, he will often join in with a hearty, "Amen!"

That's it:  short but sweet and powerful.  It's especially delightful to watch Joseph's enthusiasm for "praise the Lord time."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 8:05 am | Edit
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As you might have guessed by the blog silence, we've been a little busy around here.  We have Baby News at last!

Vivienne Linda Stücklin
Born at home in Emmen, Switzerland

Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 12:26 p.m.
Length: 53cm (21in)
Weight: 3840g (8lbs 7oz)

I would never say that anyone's labor was easy, and this certainly wasn't, but it was a WHOLE lot better than with Joseph.  Consequently, Janet is recovering quickly and enjoying little Vivienne immensely.  So, you might observe, is Grandma.

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(Click photo to enlarge.)

Vivienne was only a few days late, but the wait seemed long because Joseph had been a week early.  Once Janet was sure she was in labor, Stephan's parents joined us to keep Joseph entertained.  He did get to see his sister's birth, though I'm sure he won't remember it in years to come.

Ten years ago, I had no idea why anyone would want a home birth.  Now it's glaringly obvious.  That could be a whole nother post.  For now, suffice it to say that hospitals and doctors are great when it comes to emergencies and high-risk circumstances, but haven't a clue when it comes to normal childbirth. What a difference an experienced midwife makes—and how wonderful to give birth in (and to be born into) one's own, familiar nest.

Joseph had a rough first day (and night—hence so did the parents), bursting into heart-rending tears every time Vivienne cried.  But Janet learned to calm him by enlisting his help in calming his sister, such as patting her gently.  By the next day he seemed to have accepted the idea that her cries were a form of communication.  He loves to give her kisses, and sometimes even suggests to Janet that "Baby" needs mommy milk.

Some of the old anxiety returned today when the doctor came and Vivienne cried more than usual (more accurately, her cry was a bit different from usual).  I think tomorrow she is getting her first heel stick; remembering how his cousin Jonathan curled up in a ball and sobbed, "I didn't want them to cut my baby's heel," I think we may try to distract him in another room when that happens.

Vivienne herself is doing great, working on advanced degrees in eating, sleeping, eliminating, and charming the world.

But for the rest of us, sleep is still a bit on the short side, and I am up 'way too late working on this post.  So, enough for now.

Welcome to our world, Vivienne!  Congratulations to the family, and good night to all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Edit
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Breakfast
An international child, Joseph might start his day with leftover pizza, or rice, or bread and peanut butter, or a tortilla with "spices" (more on that later).  But for the most part his breakfast is "no no bissi" a.k.a. yoghurt and muesli.  Unsweetened muesli and plain yoghurt—and he loves it.  His drink for all meals is water.  He feeds himself with a spoon quite competently, although as you can imagine some cleanup is required.

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For breakfast I might have yoghurt and muesli, or cooked oatmeal, or good Swiss bread, or yummy, fresh Swiss eggs (with golden yolks). (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Edit
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It's hard being a long-distance grandmother, whether the distance is 1000 miles or 4800.  Certainly I'd rather our grandchildren live just down the street!  But one compensation for the loss of frequent interaction is the joy of seeing how much the children change between visits.  As we await the time when I'll have baby news to announce, I'll share a few stories of life with Joseph, 18 months old and soon to assume the important role of big brother.

John Ciardi said that a child should be allowed to learn, "at the rate determined by her own happy hunger."  Joseph's current "happy hunger" is for letters and numbers.  He  has a wooden puzzle of the upper case alphabet that is the first toy he takes out in the morning, and again after his nap.  This was supplemented at Christmas by the nicest number puzzle I've seen, which includes the numbers from 0 through 20 and arithmetic operators as well.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:21 am | Edit
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A Facebook discussion set me to pondering what I have learned through the years about necessary and unnecessary stress at Christmastime.  Yes, I think there is such a thing as necessary stress.  The discussion was prompted by this quotation from Ann VoskampWhenever Christmas begins to burden, it’s a sign that I’ve taken on something of the world and not of Christ. Any weight in Christmas has to be of this world.

I appreciate the point, but I beg to differ, slightly.

The Christmas season, like all other seasons, has its own burdens and blessings. The work that goes into it, like the work that goes into life, can be delightful and can be stressful. I don't think it's a sign that we're doing something not of Christ just because it's stressful or burdensome.  Good things take work.  Labor, as in the birth of a baby.  The more effortless a work of art looks, and the more joy it brings to others (inspiring musical performance; smoothly-running household; creative, confident, well-behaved children), the more labor you can assume went into it.  Yet there's no denying that we can get so caught up in the effort that we miss the point, be it Christmas, or a wedding, or life itself.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 9:57 am | Edit
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The Duggar Family is just about the only reason I might wish, a little bit, that we had cable television.  Not really; Netflix has spoiled me for watching anything I can't control.  But Netflix has also failed me, not offering any but the first two seasons of their show.  As a result, I'm 'way behind on their story, other than the little snippets I can see on Hulu.  So I can't write the (long) post I want to.  Instead, I'll summarize everything I'd hoped to say this way:

  • There are many things I like about their lives and the way they are raising their children.
  • There are many things I don't like about their lives and the way they are raising their children.
  • I don't understand the extreme reactions the family has provoked:
    • Not those who treat them like rock stars, standing worshipfully in line for hours just to see them at a book signing.
    • Even less those who treat them as if they were evil incarnate, responding with vicious, hateful, ignorant comments.
  • No one can ever adequately judge a family while it is still a work "in process."  But I will note three things:
    • They have been under an intense media spotlight for years; major politicians get less scrutiny.  They've been interviewed, filmed, followed, and written about by journalists from all over the world.  If they were hiding some dirty little secret, it would be known by now.
    • The children (ranging in age from one to 23) are clearly well-behaved, pleasant, active, helpful, and happy.
    • The parents are incredibly gracious in their responses to, and understanding of, those who question or misunderstand them.

I say, more power to them, and congratulations on expecting #20!  Netflix, are you listening?

Here's a video from the Today Show that considers why the Duggar Family might elicit such strong reactions.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Edit
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What were you doing at 11-11-11 11:11:11?

I was washing dishes.  I noticed the clock at 11:13.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:20 am | Edit
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Our son-in-law, Stephan, has an artist's eye, and it shows in this book he created for our grandson, Joseph.  He has published it, in three versions, through Blurb, so anyone may order a copy.

The inspiration was the absolute delight Joseph has shown, from a very young age, in the "math dot cards" from Glenn Doman's How to Teach Your Baby Math program, and his joy in reading books that show an object along with its name.  As you can see, on the left side of the page is the numerical form of a number, with the written form in four languages (English, German, French, and Japanese), while the right side shows the number respresented by red dots.

Now Joseph will be able to examine his beloved dots whenever he likes.

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Because there's no getting around the fact that specialty books are expensive, Stephan has produced three versions:

This video was from six months ago, when Joseph was ten months old, but you can see his enthusiasm.

Stephan's Dots in Books page will keep us updated on how Joseph reacts to the book.  You can also leave comments and suggestions there.  Maybe there'll even be a new video some day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 7, 2011 at 12:35 am | Edit
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