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. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 7, 2011 at 12:35 am | Edit
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What was Hallowe’en like when you were a little girl, Grandma?  alt

No one has as yet asked me that question, but if things run true to form for most Americans, someone will, someday, after I am past being able to respond.  So I will answer it now.

My Hallowe’en formative years were in the 1950s and early 60s, in a small village in upstate New York.  Contrary to what we’d like to believe, it was not an idyllic and crime-free time.  One of my first (and worst) Hallowe’en memories was of the teenaged thugs who thundered onto our porch, grabbed our carefully-carved jack-o-lanterns, and smashed them to bits.  I lived a sheltered life:  this was my first view of senseless, wanton destruction; my first encounter with people who get pleasure from breaking the hearts of little children.  Our tiny village did not escape teen gangs and vandalism, which seemed to be more widespread, if much less dangerous, in those days.   At least they attacked property, not people.

That was the only scary thing about our Hallowe’ens.

The most important difference between Hallowe’en then and now is that the occasion was first, last, and always for children.   A few adults dressed in costume for the neighborhood parade and party, but the purpose of the event was to entertain the children.  The only excuse for anyone over 12 going out trick-or-treating was to escort the younger ones—every once in a while a compassionate homeowner would give us a piece of candy, too.  Now, when high schoolers come to my door, I give them candy if they’ve made any attempt at a costume, but I pity them, that at their age they are begging door-to-door for candy instead of helping younger children to have a good time.

On the other hand, teenaged trick-or-treaters is a clear improvement over teenaged vandals.

The Hallowe’en season began several weeks in advance of October 31.  No, not because Hallowe’en stores began popping up all over town, and shelves everywhere sprouted candy in yellow and orange.  Because of the costumes.  Store-bought costumes were largely unavailable, and anyway, who would have wanted one?  Hallowe’en was an occasion for great creativity.  Merely deciding what to be could take a month.  (Decisiveness, I’ll admit, was never my strong suit).  Those who come to our door today are mostly beings—a cat, a princess, a Star Wars character—but we favored things:  one might be a rocket ship, a pencil, or the whole Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (no relation to the present-day Tea Party, as mad—in either sense—as they may be).  The challenge was to create a costume from whatever we could scrounge around the house without actually having to spend money.  No problem—we had not yet forgotten what any five-year-old knows:  the cardboard box is the most universally useful of all materials. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 6:16 am | Edit
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This was just posted on Free-Range Kids, and deserves to go viral.  So I'm doing my part.  The author, Darreby Ambler, is a writer and mother of three from Bath, Maine.

These were the travel rules we used with our kids when they were smaller.  They are now 15, 19, and 21, and travel independently and joyfully around the world. (You can tell from the rules that it wasn’t always this way!  Hang in there, parents!)

Ambler Family Travel Rules and Responsibilities
  • It’s good to talk to strangers.  The outside world is full of them.  The place you don’t have to deal with them is at home, which is where people who can’t cope with strangers will stay next time.
  • Each traveler is responsible for finding things to be excited about, and sharing that enthusiasm.
  • If the enthusiasm of others embarrasses you, pretend otherwise.  Being cool is dull, except in a sports car.
  • Unusual foods are part of the point.
  • Staying home is usually more comfortable than traveling, but traveling is more interesting.  Prioritize well.
  • Travel disruptions are normal and a good way to show your readiness for more challenging adventures.
  • Remember that your dislikes do not make interesting conversation.
  • Wash your hands.  You have no immunity to foreign germs.  Throwing up is not interesting.
  • You have travel in your future that you can not even imagine.  Adhering to these guidelines makes you eligible for such travel.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Edit
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Modesty:  propriety in dress, speech, or conduct (Merriam-Webster)

It’s an old-fashioned word, uncommon in our hyper-sexualized, push-the-envelope, anything-goes culture.  It even has negative connotations, as when it is associated with oppression of women in Islamic countries, or with certain Christian circles in which women, even young girls at play, wear only long dresses.

But it’s a good word, and a good concept.  We’re not meant to share all that we are with all-and-sundry.   Merriam-Webster’s other definition, freedom from conceit or vanity, gives a hint as to one of its benefits:  modesty focuses our attention away from ourselves.

Perhaps because of the extremes, discussions and practices of modesty almost always focus on matters of dress and behavior:  physical modesty.   To our great loss, we have largely ignored what I will call soul modesty.  What is blogging but baring our souls to anyone with an Internet connection?  What is Reality TV but a striptease in which hope of financial gain entices the few to allow their emotions, weaknesses, and character flaws to be exposed to the ogling many?  How can the reporter’s demand that a grieving mother tell the world how she feels about her child’s murder be considered anything other than verbal rape?

Lest you think this is not a problem if one stays out of the public eye, how much do you know about what happens in your children’s schools, Sunday school classes, day care, and other activities?  As a school volunteer as well as a parent, I came to realize that our young children are frequently subjected to emotional intrusion that, were it physical, would have a teacher out on the street in a heartbeat.  We take great care to teach our children about private parts of their bodies, and how to recognize and report “uncomfortable touches,” but don’t give them the tools to detect and deflect uncomfortable questions or manipulative exercises.

What puzzles me the most is that I find as little respect for soul modesty among those who prize physical modesty as I do in the general community.  It is particularly prevalent in churches, where community, fellowship, and bonding are often forced, rather than being allowed to grow organically from shared life and work.  I had one friend from a former church—a dear, self-sacrificing lady—who not only shared the most intimate details of her own life but pressed others to reveal themselves similarly—all the while thinking she was “just being friendly.”  It was uncomfortable enough talking with her, but downright scary to see her apply the same approach to children.   More than that, she saw it as her duty to be intrusive in this way, and was hurt when others were not similarly “friendly” to her.  And she was hardly unique.  It must be difficult for churches to discern how to be inquisitive enough to appear friendly to some people while not driving others away.

I’ve been to more than one church gathering where crowd dynamics and peer pressure have induced people to make revelations that I’m certain they regretted the morning after, if not immediately.  I mean, what sadist dreamt up the idea of asking, “What was your most embarrassing moment?” as an icebreaker?  To this day I’m embarrassed for some of the things others confessed.  There’s a reason confessional booths are small.

Although they may differ on the particulars, most people will agree that when it comes to physical modesty, relationship and circumstance should guide our behavior.  That slinky nightgown is appropriate to wear for my husband, but not for my neighbor.  Family members may see us in our underwear, but that’s not how we dress for grocery shopping.  Doctors have privileges with our bodies that almost no one else does.

It’s time we took as much care for our souls. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:25 am | Edit
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Who says engineers are nerdy, computer-toting couch potatoes?  Check out this from the New York Times.  (Click on the photo for an explanation.)

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Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Edit
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Our kids grew up largely ignorant of Sesame Street, and I'm not one bit sorry for that, but this seems to have been written for grandson Joseph.*  (H/T Pami)

 


*He knows even less than his mother did about the show, but “minyum minyum!” was one of his very first words, meaning "food!"
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Edit
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Although I've been a Democrat for every one of my 50 voting years, I've been accused of abandoning the party by voting more often for Republicans than Democrats in recent years.  I've never been a party-liner for any party, but I don't deny the truth of that accusation.  I will plead, however, that it was my party that abandonned me, taking oppositional positions on many of the most important issues, not the least of which is the right and responsibility of parents to direct the education of their own children.

Be that as it may, it gives me pleasure to announce that my hero-of-the-day is a Democrat, the Governor (redux) of California, Jerry Brown.  Why?  Because of what he wrote, refusing to sign into law a bill that would have criminalized, for everyone under 18, skiing or snowboarding without a helmet.  (H/T Free-Range Kids)

I am returning Senate Bill 105 without my signature.

This measure would impose criminal penalites on a child under the age of 18 and his or her parents if the child skis or snowboards without a helmet.

While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.

I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children.

I'm not sure which is my favorite line.  It's a tie among "I believe parents have the ability and the responsibility to make good choices for their children," "I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state," and "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Well done, Governor Brown!  We may disagree on many points, but when you're right, you're right, and I'm happy to celebrate the victory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Edit
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