Monthly Archives: February 2014

No, Boundaries, Okay


I continue to read Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling and I have found it helpful.  Tonight, I am sharing takeaways from the chapter, “Living With Children.”  Whether you are a parent, thinking about becoming a parent, interact with children or interact with people who seem to act like children, the following tips might be useful for you, too:

– Become aware of your use of the word “no” and in what ways you use it.  From the book:

“‘No’ does not have to be just a signal, an explosion of angry noise.  It can be a word, conveying an idea.”

“Except in rare times of great stress or danger, there is no reason why we cannot say ‘No’ to children in just as kind and gentle a tone as we say ‘Yes.’ Both are words.  Both convey ideas which even tiny children are smart enough to grasp. […] Except when overcome by fatigue, or curiosity, or excitement, or passion, they want to do right, do as we do, fit in, take part.”

– A handy interaction model related to children testing boundaries that could be useful in certain situations.  From the book:

“Are you testing me, just doing that to see what I will do? If the child said ‘Yes’ I would say, ‘Well, I don’t like that, it’s not nice and I don’t want you to do it.  I don’t do bad things to you just to see what you will do.  Then it’s not fair for you to do that to me.”

– Become aware of the use of the word “okay” when an adult is giving an instruction (e.g., “Let’s put our coats on, okay?”).  From the book:

“The trouble with this ‘Okay?’ is that it suggests to the children that we are giving them a choice when we really are not.  […] If we too often seem to be offering choices when we really aren’t, children may soon feel that they never have any.  They will resent this, and resent even more our not saying clearly what we mean.”

“It is perfectly possible to be firm and courteous while making clear to someone that you are not offering a choice, but telling them what you want to happen or is going to happen.”

As a teacher at a community college, the phrases “continuous improvement” and “lifelong learning” are part of our ethos.  As an individual, I embrace a similar perspective.  As a parent, I have discovered many areas for improvement in myself.  Sometimes, it seems daunting.  But, I can readily say that I am no stranger to hard work.  Each day, as I pursue my quest to be a good parent, I face new challenges.  Some of them I meet; some, I find I have room to improve.  Tomorrow, I will start integrating these new approaches into my repertoire.  While I do not expect to reach perfection, I know that I will find the experiences highly educational and, no doubt transforming.  Each little improvement doesn’t just improve my parenting skills; it helps me grow as an individual.  It helps me become a better partner, a better relative, a better friend, and a better colleague.   And maybe, just maybe, that will help to build a better world.


The world is what we make it


I have been reading Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Home-schooling by John Holt & Patrick Farenga.  Today, I’m going to share an excerpt that I think is pertinent for many who are following this blog and not just for people who are interested in (or opposed to) homeschooling.

“The important question, how can people learn to feel a stronger sense of kinship or common humanity with others who are different is for me best answered by a story about John L. Sullivan, once the heavyweight prizefighting champion of the world.  Late one afternoon he and a friend were riding standing up in a crowded New York City streetcar.  At one stop a burly young man got on who had had too much to drink.  He swaggered down the center of the car, pushing people out of his way, and as he passed John L., gave him a heavy shove with his shoulder.  John L. clutched a strap to keep from falling, but said nothing.  As the young man went to the back of the car, John L.’s friend said to him, “Are you going to let him get away with that?”  John L. shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t see why not.”  His friend became very indignant.  “You’re the heavyweight champion of the world,” he said furiously.  “You don’t have to be so damned polite.”  To which John L. replied, “The heavyweight champion of the world can afford to be polite.”

The passage continues, “What we need to pull our countries more together are more people who can afford to be polite, and much more–kind, patient, generous, forgiving, and tolerant, able and willing, not just to stand people different from themselves, but to make an effort to understand them, to see the world through their eyes.  These social virtues are not the kind that can be talked or preached or discussed or bribed or threatened into people.  They are a kind of surplus, an overflowing, in people who have enough love and respect for themselves and therefore have some left over for others.”

After starting this blog, I am impressed by the number of people who, in their own ways, are trying to make their mark on the world in a positive way.  It is really incredible that so many are devoting themselves to such good.  What the author is asserting above may be discarded as idealistic, but what is the world without having ideals?  They may not be the current reality, but if the world is what we make it, and a lot of people are making it better incrementally on a daily basis, then we have a lot to look forward to.

I’m going to recommend 2 other items for you today:

1) Read Older than The Stars by Karen C. Fox (Yes, it’s a children’s picture book, but it is a wonderful reminder of where we came from and what we’re made of for the science lovers in all of us.)

2) Watch The Fruit Hunters directed by Yung Chang (A film that is based on the book, The Fruit Hunters, by Adam Leith Gollner, that explores the impact of fruit on history and people’s lives.  I learned, for example, that there is an international Rare Fruit council and that they strive to collect and preserve fruits (mostly tropical, it seems) for future generations.)

It is still cold here and spring looks like it is going to take its time arriving.  I am hoping to get my hands in the dirt during Spring Break.  We shall see.

Enjoy your evening!



While I was driving home from work the other night, I heard the song, “Happy,” on the radio.  I hadn’t heard it before, but I was glad I did.

Tonight, I searched for the song and the artist and found this video.

Even though I do not feel like the singer at this moment in time, I will imagine a place in my mind where I do.  And that, I think, will make a difference.

Here’s hoping you can find your happy place, too.

Good night.


Puss in Boots — 2 NEW versions


So, tonight at dinner, as Philip and I ate our maki, he asked if he could get our library copy of Puss in Boots so that we could read it together.  I told him that maki was very messy and that the book would have to wait until we were done with dinner.  But, I told him, we can come up with our own story instead.  So, he said, “Mom, tell me a Puss in Boots story.”  Here it is.

Puss in Boots-Mom’s version

Once upon a time, there was a cat called Puss in Boots.  He was called that because he was a cat who wore boots.  But, they weren’t just any boots.  They were magic boots.  When he put them on, he would be able to walk on his back legs, stand up straight like a human and talk to people.  When he would talk, people understood him.  This was unusual because most people do not understand cats when they talk.

A lot of people knew about Puss in Boots.  They knew that his boots were magical.  If you were a human, all you would have to do is put your toes near the boots and they would stretch to fit you.  No matter who wore them, the size would fit perfectly.  And then, as soon as a person put them on, that person could make wishes.  Those wishes would come true.  Almost everyone knew about the wishing power of the boots and many people decided that they would try to steal the boots so that they could stop working so hard and wish for money, houses, carriages, fancy food and so much more.

Puss in Boots knew full well that many people wanted the boots.  But, it did not worry him.  He knew some things that they didn’t.  First, the boots always came back.  If Puss in Boots fell asleep by the warm fireplace and someone snuck in and removed the boots, the boots would always be back by the time Puss in Boots woke up.  Second, the wishes, once granted, would turn from a dream come true into a curse.  The person who sought the quick path to riches or glory by using those magical boots always came to a sticky end.  After all, the boots did not belong to them.

One day, Puss in Boots decided to visit a nearby stream to go for a swim.  He had spent most of the morning in the king’s barn chasing mice, climbing behind stacks of hay, running across rafters covered in spider webs and pouncing on dust-covered floors.  He was filthy and he needed a bath.  Now, it is true that most cats do not enjoy the water.  When they want to get clean, they simply use their scratchy tongues and get to work.  Lick by lick, they transform their dusty selves into shiny, sleek creatures worthy of admiration.   But, let’s remember that Puss in Boots is no ordinary cat.

He walked over toward the stream, tail flicking in the air, and stopped at a tree to take off his boots.  After relieving himself of them, he placed them neatly at the base of the trunk, then plunged into the water and splashed around.  People passing by were surprised by the sight of a cat in the water.  They were even more surprised to see him rolling around like an otter and diving and leaping like a mermaid in the sea.

An old man, worn with years of hard work and a sad life, walked down the road that passed by the stream.  Instead of seeing the cat in the water, he saw the boots by the tree.  He was an honest man and did not like to steal.  But, after a good long look around, he decided that the boots were as without an owner as he was without a home.  He looked down at his bare feet.  They were dusty, dirty, cracked and aching.  He walked over to the boots, sat on the ground beneath the tree and put them on.  All at once, the man felt as if he had slipped his feet into the softest velvet that was as warm and comforting as a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night.  He leaned his head back onto the trunk behind him and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

When he woke, he was surprised to see that the boots were gone.  In their place was a pair of different boots altogether.  This pair was shiny and black.  The other pair was brown like a deer in the height of summer.  This pair was also exceedingly comfortable and he was amazed.  That wasn’t the only sight that shocked him, though.  His tattered pants and his threadbare shirt were gone.  In their place were fine clothes of extraordinary quality.  He was also wearing a vest and a coat.  He stood up to take a closer look.

Jingle, jingle.  He looked around.  A bell was ringing somewhere.  Or maybe it was chimes blowing in the wind.  He walked to the stream.  Sometimes, the water makes a musical sound when it spills over stones on its way to the sea.  He leaned over the bank and listened.  And listened.  He stood very still.  No, it was not the stream.

He turned around.  Sometimes, the reins shaking on a team of horses make a clinking sound. He walked to the road to look for carriages. Jingle, jingle.  He stopped and looked to the left.  He looked to the right.  No carriages were there.  The road was empty.

At this point, the man remembered something from all of his years of experience.  Sometimes in life, he told himself, you just need to put your hands in your pockets and think.  And so he did.  But, guess what he discovered?  His hands were not the only things in his pockets.  Both pockets in his pants were filled with gold coins.  He looked at his jacket.  It, too, had pockets.  They were also filled with gold coins.  Even his vest and his shirt had pockets.  None of the pockets were empty.

It was a sunny day with a beautiful blue sky.  The man, with tears in his eyes, knelt down on the ground and clasped his hands together.  He looked up and said, “Whoever did this for me, thank you.  I am forever in your debt.”

At that moment, a cat jumped out of the nearby bushes.  He was an unusual cat.  He walked on his back legs and he wore boots.  The man recognized them at once as the boots he had put on before he fell asleep.

The cat smiled and began to speak.  “My name is Puss in Boots and I am grateful to you.  Everyone in the past who put on my boots wished for things.  Sometimes, they wished for fame.  Sometimes, they wished for castles or treasures.  But, you put them on for comfort and wanted for nothing.  That tells me a lot about you.  It tells me that you are an exceptional man.”

The cat smiled.  The man smiled.  The man tried to speak, but couldn’t.  He wasn’t sure whether he was awake or in a dream.  A cat was talking to him.  He was wearing fine clothes and his pockets were full of gold.  The sun was shining and he said to himself, “I did not know when I woke this morning that today would be such an incredible day.”

The End

 After I finished my version, Philip asked me to get a pen and paper out because he was going to write his own version.  Here is his version.

Puss in Boots – Philip’s version

Chapter 1- The Disappearing Cat

Once upon a time, there was a cat named Puss in Boots and he had magic boots.  And he had a hat and the hat was magic.  So when he put on the hat and boots, he disappeared.  Then, people didn’t know he was around and, when he was in the water, they didn’t hear splashing.

Chapter 2 – The Boots and Hat

The boots and hat made a very good protection for the cat.  But, sometimes, he asked people to turn into a mouse.  They turned into a mouse and then he ate the person-mouse up.  Then he was fat.

Chapter 3 – The Rice and Tofu and Mouse for Supper for Puss in Boots

He was not a good cat.  He always ate people that turned into mice.  For supper, he had rice and tofu and fried mouse.

The End

So, there you have it.  Two brand new versions of the classic tale…as they have never been told before!  Enjoy.

More Children’s Books recommendations


Today, Philip and I built a small-scale shaduf out of sticks in the back hall, some string, a wad of Play-Doh and a bag of rocks.  Philip and I used it to talk about levers, the fulcrum, the effort, the load and also ancient Egypt, the Nile, and irrigation.  Our origami “snack cup” which we had made the other day was our bucket.  It didn’t last, but it was promptly added to the pile of dryer lint and other papers that are soaking in a bowl in the soon-to-be-recycled homemade paper project.

Toward the middle of the morning, we started in on a few books whose titles are worth sharing here:

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret Weitekamp (a quirky tale from Pluto’s perspective about its original discovery and current theories about its significance.)
Mr. Putter & Tabby Write the Book by Cynthia Rylant (A lovely book that is full of warm humor.)
Mr. Putter & Tabby Paint the Porch by Cynthia Rylant (A cute tale about the hijinks involved when people paint porches with their pets.)
Can I Play Too by Mo Willems (Another winner from Willems that encourages new readers to read and have fun.)
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems (A particularly amusing Elephant & Piggie book that revels in absurdity and, as a result, amuses fully.)

By the way, I highly recommend the following origami books:

Jungle Animal Origami  and Creepy Crawly Animal Origami by Duy Nguyen

Even though they are difficult, I seem to be able to understand the directions.  That is not usually the case with me and origami books.  Of course, it could be because I am practicing more.  But, I will give the author credit.  The directions are straightforward and I appreciate his “Go! Explore!  Have fun!” sentiment.  We made half of a lion today.  Maybe tomorrow we will finish the second half.

Time for me to get a snack and head to bed.  I hope that you have a wonderful night.

P.S. Congratulations to my brother, Charles, for the success of his recent project!

Bean and Chunky Potato Soup with Kale


It is time for me to prep for school tomorrow, but I am touching base here first and sharing a recipe for a soup that I made for dinner that turned out quite well:

1 onion-chopped
6 cloves garlic-diced
2 cups of kale-chopped
2 cups of leftover baked potato strips (that’s what we had at home, but you could easily just add chopped potatoes and sautee them with the onion before adding the broth)
2 cups of cannellini beans
1 cube vegetable bouillon
4 cups water
Salt & pepper to taste


Sautee onions for about 10 minutes, adding water, as needed to deglaze the pan.  Add garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 20-25 minutes.  Serve warm and enjoy!

If you are in a place where it’s cold, this soup should do the trick to warm you right up.

Have a good night!

Recommended kid books


Philip and I raid two libraries frequently: our local library on Thursdays after his reading session with Ms. Jo and the out-of-town library after his dance class.  What great places to shop hungry!

Here are some book recommendations culled from this week’s stacks:

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty (A lovely book that shed new perspective–for me–on the quest for independence in India.)
Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy (A book that helps generate interest in measuring various objects in various ways.  Did you know, for example, that Mal’s nose is 3 LEGO minifigures long?)
Is a blue whale the biggest thing there is? by Robert E. Wells (We really enjoyed this book.  When I asked Philip later in the day the eponymous question, he said, “NO!”  “Oh?” I responded.  “What is?”  He screamed, “THE UNIVERSE!!”  OK, cool.  Just checking that you got the message.)
What’s up, what’s down? by Lola M. Schaefer (Wonderful book on perspectives.  Helps expand a child’s thinking beyond his or her immediate surroundings.)
Alien Deep: Revealing the Mysterious Living World at the Bottom of the Ocean by Bradley Hague (A book that takes you on a journey to seek out hydrothermal vents and introduces great terms like archaea and also showcases how diligently scientists have to work to uncover, unravel and, ultimately, understand any kind of discovery.)
Chinese fables: “The Dragon Slayer” and other timeless tales of wisdom by Shiho S. Nunes (It may be that “The Dragon Slayer” is the most popular of the tales; I don’t know.  But, “The Practical Bride” and “Stealing the Bell” were among our favorites.  This compilation is lovely to look at and wonderfully understated.  The reader can take the tale beyond what is told.  A rare treat.)

And for our favorite…

The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit’s Amazing Migration by Sandra Markle (This book spurred us to watch godwit videos [for your viewing pleasure], check out godwit photos, brush up on our geography, listen to the radio and also work on our art [which is taped to our living room wall and unavailable for viewing].  One book that can do all of that gets a big thumb’s up!)

We checked out 49 books today and I’m sure there are bound to be a few winners.  As we find some titles worth sharing, I will share them with you.

Enjoy your evening!