Category Archives: Books

The Myth of the Spoiled Child

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I really thought I would be too busy gardening this summer to read.  I am so excited that I have, in fact, read 2 books in the past 2 weeks.  Yay!

A friend of mine told me, “I loathe the word ‘spoiled’ when it applies to anything other than rotten food.”  After reading The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn, I fully agree with her.

I should state that I was introduced to this book via FAIR.org.  I should also state that the link I just provided isn’t the one that I read.  What I read was a chapter excerpt which prompted me to get the book from the library.

In the interest of social change, Kohn argues that there are many misconceptions about how children are being raised today.  He argues convincingly that they are not, in fact, more spoiled, entitled, rude, etc. than the children raised years ago.  He also uses the book as a platform to argue for unconditional parenting–a topic explored in depth in one of his previous books called… Unconditional Parenting.

Since I am also interested in and committed to positive change, here are some parts of the book that I found intriguing:

– Every generation for thousands of years has complained about the generation that will succeed it–even the ancient Greeks!  A well-worn tune, apparently.

– Most of the complaints about children’s behavior is anecdotal and not research-based.

– Many children are still not being heard, cooperated with or listened to about things that matter to them either at home or at school.

Solutions?

– Listen to children.

– Promote skepticism, media literacy and help children learn how to question authority.

– Encourage solutions for positive change by engaging in projects that reject a status quo that is not helping children reach their potential.

– Parent by “working with” your children, instead of “doing to.”

One section, in particular, stood out for me as both a teacher and a parent.  It was about “deep modeling” as opposed to simply modeling behavior.  Kohn asserts that modeling a certain behavior, while useful, can be made even more effective by taking it a step further by “deep modeling.” He uses the example of an instructor who tries to solve a problem, makes mistakes, corrects them, and works toward a solution.  He suggests that students will learn in the process to feel less anxious about making mistakes themselves and will also be more aware of the process behind problem solving, that it takes work, errors, revisions and so on.  I found this compelling because I have always questioned myself when I don’t have a ready explanation for Philip for why we aren’t going to do something that he wants or when I make a mistake while writing on the dry erase board in the classroom.  In the former, I chide myself for being a confusing parent.  In the latter, I feel as if my students have concluded that I’m an idiot with no grasp of the subject matter.  Reading this section, however, was quite reassuring for me.  It also gave me some ideas for more collaborative work in the classroom.

This weekend, we celebrated part of Philip’s birthday in Chicago.  One of his gifts was a trip to the Adler Planetarium.  While we were in the Planet Explorers exhibit, Philip was busy building a robot jetpack with PVC pipes and I was enjoying the show.  Nearby, there is a magnetic cogs station.  At this site, you take wooden magnetic cogs of different colors and sizes and try to get them to interact and spin on a magnetic board.  I watched casually as a young boy worked diligently to align and interlock nearly all the cogs in the station.  While he was designing his master work, his father visited.  He told the boy that the design wouldn’t work because there was too much weight.  The father tried to twirl one side with his fingers to illustrate his point and then he started relocating some of the cogs.  The boy protested.  The father persisted.  The boy protested again.  The father persisted.  Eventually, the father walked away and I could tell he was thinking, “Geesh, I was just trying to help.  I was just trying to have a little fun.  My kid is so…(insert your descriptor here).”  The boy continued his work.  A few minutes later, his father returned.  It was almost like watching an instant replay.  The same remarks were made.  The same attempts were made by the man to change the boy’s work and correct it.  The same verbal objections were voiced by the boy.

I don’t know how this all ended up.  My memory tells me that the boy eventually abandoned the project, but that may not have been the case.  More likely, Philip began to show me something about his project and I forgot all about the boy at the station.  But, it did get me to thinking about this book and the importance of having children become thinking, questioning and passionate adults.  Further, I saw that, as parents, we have to resist our urges and see things from our child’s perspective and not just our own.  It isn’t easy.  It takes time.  But, I believe it is worth the effort.

In one of my favorite movies, Contact, with Jodie Foster, there’s an exchange between her character and Dr. Drumlin (her adversary and former boss).  He tells her something to the effect, “It’s a cruel world out there” (suggesting that he knows how to navigate it and his lying to get on the ship was justified) and she says, “I’m sorry.  I thought the world is what we make of it.”  I love that line and I fully agree with her sentiment.

I think the world is what we make of it and it is also one that our children make.  Thankfully, there are a lot of people trying to make the world a better place.  I am grateful that Alfie Kohn, despite all of the challenges he has seen in education and parenting, is still trying to do just that.  I hope more people are inspired, as I am, to keep trying.

Missing Microbes

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It seemed like only a month or so ago (turns out it was 3) that I listened to Terry Gross interview Dr. Martin J. Blaser about his new book, Missing Microbes on NPR’s Fresh Air on my way to work.  I was so fascinated that I decided to get it from my local library.  After waiting patiently in the queue, I received the e-mail announcing that the book was finally available for me to check out.  Hooray!

I learned a lot about the microbiome in the book.  While I knew that we all share our lives with bacteria, I didn’t know that the body is composed of “an estimated 30 trillion human cells” but is also host to “more than 100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells.”  Specifically, “seventy to ninety percent of all cells in your body are nonhuman.”  All told, “these bacteria weigh about three pounds, or the same as your brain, and represent perhaps ten thousand distinct species.”  Incredible.

Dr. Blaser makes cogent arguments for the overuse of antibiotics in the United States.  I was personally thrilled to read that France has had 2 campaigns to instruct both physicians and patients about the risk of antibiotic overuse.  While Dr. Blaser didn’t suggest that this had economic motivations, I suspect that that may have also influenced the decision.  Nonetheless, that France–and other nations–are attempting to implement measures to reduce our excessive use of antibiotics, is good news.  I certainly don’t imagine that we will fully dodge the “super bug” (or bugs) that can resist current antibiotics, it is comforting to think that some public health officials are trying to minimize our risk.

I found the chapter on c-sections fascinating.  I had no idea that an infant is bacteria free when it is in the womb.  I don’t know what I thought prior to reading the book.   Probably nothing.  But, it was quite the revelation that babies receive their first “dose” of bacteria as they pass through their mother’s vagina on their way out into the world.  Children born from c-sections, however, acquire bacteria from the hospital surroundings and then from parents and so on.  Hunh.

Here’s a fun fact for you: each and every one of us has a unique microbiome.  It’s kind of like a fingerprint in that no two are identical.  That revelation prompted me to think about the reasons behind our different reactions to different drugs, foods, situations and so on.  How many times have you been talking with a friend about health problems and she has one kind of solution that works for her and you have another one that works for you?  In those conversations, I feel like, most of the time, both of us are wondering why.  Maybe I now have the explanation?

Dr. Blaser suggests that the dwindling diversity of our microbiome could maybe, possibly be a factor in the rise in obesity, diabetes, esophageal cancer, allergies, and asthma.  For some afflictions, he points to his laboratory studies on how mice have been shown to demonstrate a certain condition with certain types of antibiotics.  It seems that he and his team have scratched the surface of these modern “epidemics” and he is quick to point out that he doesn’t have all the answers.

Learning about possible solutions to our microbiome deficit was encouraging.  There are things that can be done.  Diagnostic tests to determine if an individual’s symptoms are driven by bacteria or viruses could be utilized (once they’re funded and developed).  Then, there’s fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).  Sounds nasty, but, rest assured, it isn’t coprophagia.  You get a slurry of “good poop” from a donor and, instead of drinking it, it gets dumped into your body via a tube.  But hey, it could save your life!  I was particularly intrigued by narrow-spectrum agents that are basically drugs that attack a particular bacterial strain that is wreaking havoc on your system.  Can it be done?  Not now, but it could be if it was funded and the research could proceed.  Sounds like a lot of painful work.  Lastly, Dr. Blaser mentioned that it would be a good idea to stop feeding antibiotics to cows, pigs, and other farm animals that become food since many people get extra doses of the drug that way.  Plus, and this is my comment, not the good doctor’s, a cramped, overcrowded space is a perfect place for a superbug to appear.    While it’s not a bacterium, nor is it currently a threat to public health, the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) sounds pretty awful.

Well, that’s all I have to say about the book.  Well worth the wait and the read.  I am sharing this information with you since it gave me a lot of food for thought.  Maybe it will for you, too.

Readers of Popular and Literary Fiction Can Get Along

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I have been away from this blog for a while.  I apologize.  I have a reason: I started a publishing company!  The company is called Hope Books, LLC and I am its manager.

For the past few months I have been juggling teaching with parenting with late-night publishing work.  I was thrilled to have received a summer class to help pay the bills.  I am excited to see all that Philip is learning and discovering.  And, it has to be said, I have had some fun sharing my love of Bruce’s book, Schism, and helping to make sure people know about it and, for those that can, buy it.  To leave no stone unturned, people who have the means can buy it via the following vendors:

amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Kobo.com

goodreads.com

For those who do not have the means, you can read it or listen to it online for free here:

Wattpad.com (read for free)

itunes (listen to podcast for free)

Smashwords.com (OK, for this one, you can only read the first 30% for free)

That said, I want to tell you what’s been on my mind today.  In the interest of that “better world” dream I persist in having, I would like to talk about readers of POPULAR fiction versus readers of LITERARY fiction.  There seems to be a long established tradition of enmity between those who read for fun and those who read for status, a mental workout, etc.  In my recent experience, I have seen friends and relations in the literary fiction camp frown on popular work as lacking in intellectual gravitas.  I have also witnessed independent bookstores rejecting popular fiction categorically because it is not literary fiction.  (Plus, there seems to be a high correlation [or reputation] between poor craftsmanship and self-published works, which is unfortunate.)

I will tell you, most unreservedly, that I am a fan of both.  That was not always the case.  As a young woman, I felt that Jane Austen and I were soul sisters.  Even in college, I had a hard time breaking the mold and venturing out into new genres.  I loved everything that rambled with a mellifluous bent.  If the characters were pathetic, miserable and had a horribly tragic end, all the better.

I have since changed my tune.  I think the transition occurred when Bruce and I started to read Harry Potter.  I remember it very clearly.  He had gone to our local bookstore and found Harry Potter #2 (The Chamber of Secrets) on a 20% off stack.  He brought it home, started reading it and loved it.  Then he said, “You should read this, too.”  I snootily replied that I was, in no way, going to read a CHILDREN’S BOOK.  He said, “OK.  Well, I’m going to go back to buy the first one.  I really think you’d like it, though.”  So, he bought it and two things happened.  First, I agreed to read it and started on the path of reading for entertainment and not just to prove my intelligence.  Second, we began our tradition of reading books aloud to each other.  We have, in fact, read ALL of the Harry Potter books this way (and we even reread the series from the start prior to each new release).  But, of course, we haven’t only read Harry Potter.  We discovered Suzanne Collins, Jim Butcher, Greg Rucka (Tara Chace and Atticus Kodiak–AWESOME), Alexander McCall Smith (charming Mma Ramotswe) and many others along the way.  We have also supported our love of Michael Chabon (however you pronounce his last name, we still think he’s BRILLIANT), Cormac McCarthy (house divided on this one) and others.

The point?  There is room, my friends, to love them all.  There is space out there in the universe for us all to enjoy the quirky and the sublime.  We do not need to fight.  We do not need to pose.  We do not need to disrespect each other.  And whether you prefer to get your knowledge in life from fact or fiction, pulp or parchment, via the library or bookseller, in-person or online, remember this quote from Dr. Peter Nazareth, one of my professors in college: “You can get something out of everything you read.”  So true.  You never know where that next book will come from that will change the way you think about things.  It’s worth the risk to cross the line.

Schism Excitement

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I have exciting news that has nothing to do with the garden or Philip!  Can you believe it?

Bruce’s new novel, Schism, is now available on amazon.com!  In the next week, you will also be able to find it at bn.com for those of you that prefer Barnes & Noble.  We are getting Bruce’s book tour plans sketched out and are looking forward to sending him around to pitch the book around the Midwest.

I hope that everyone will love William Adams (and Bryan the detective) as much as I do.  They both have their issues, but I love watching them eat, chat and get the bad guys.  That last part will be particularly meaningful after you read it.  There are a lot of cool fight scenes in the book, too.  Those 25 years of martial arts are paying off!

It’s been such a long journey–getting this particular book to market.  I am so glad it is out there for other people to read.  It’s a summer book (read action/thriller/sci-fi) to enjoy before all those blockbusters start rolling out in the theaters.

We have friends coming over for dinner tomorrow night and a packed day of activities before they arrive.  I am off to make lasagna now in preparation for their visit.

Have a great weekend!

Worried kids, Impostor syndrome and Biodiversity in Potatoes

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I am rotating between a few library books right now.

If you haven’t read it, and your child leans toward “sensitive,” I highly recommend Why Smart Kids Worry and What Parents Can Do to Help by Allison Edwards.  She addresses the needs of children that struggle with, basically, thinking too much about issues.  Her voice is friendly and funny.  She makes wonderful arguments (preaching to the choir) about why children should not be exposed to talks about terrorism, global suffering, etc.  She entertains and offers a stack of tools that a parent can use to help the situation.  For example, offering “Worry Time” for your child in which they can have 15 minutes to voice all of their worries and be done with it.  She advocates for eating together, turning off gadgets and the TV (also preaching to the choir).  But, one thing (among many) that I learned was to resist the urge to bug your child about their day at school by insisting on a play-by-play recounting of the events.  She comments that a child who has had a particularly bad day at school just wants to forget it and your insistence may result in your child feeling burdened for 10 hours instead of just the school-day 7.  She also talked about inward processors (people who have to resolve their concerns before they talk about them) and outward processors (people who have to talk about their problems in order to find their solution).  I found this one very helpful.  When I told Bruce about it, he said, “Yup.  And I’m an inward processor living with two outwards.  Lucky me.”  Hey now…Anyway, it’s a parenting book that’s atypical of parenting books.  Since she is a professional counselor, her advice is from that stance.  Yes, her “mother’s experience” voice infuses itself into the text on occasion; but, in those instances, it’s generally a funny voice of experience.

About a month ago, my sister-in-law, Erin, asked me what I thought of the “Lean In” movement.  “The Lean In what?” was my response.  She told me it’s some women’s thing where women are supposed to get more energized about being at work and asking for more at work.  Or something.  That was pretty much all she had to say about it.  We left it at that, then drank some more wine and shifted our conversation to wacky family anecdotes.  Last week, while Philip was with Ms. Jo, I picked up Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  You will probably laugh out loud when I disclose that it took a lot of courage to even pick the book off the shelf.  I cracked it open while I was at the Mom’s table and felt uncomfortable as I read about her experiences at Harvard, Google and Facebook.  If you have chosen a simple life, it is a challenge to read about someone who chose a very complex one.  She argues that all women have the opportunity to be amazing in the business world.  We just have to get into leadership positions and “lean in” and shake things up and have our voices heard.  Personally, I am in favor of more women starting their own businesses.  Be your own boss.  Set your own hours.  Take the time to be with your family.  Live a version of the American Dream defined by you and not someone else.  It’ll still require hard work and sacrifice, alliances and friendships, but it’ll be one of the best things you ever did for yourself.  Maybe Ms. Sandberg will be addressing this later in the book.  I don’t know.  I do know that I learned a new concept today: it’s called the “impostor syndrome.”  I wonder if it’s just a new way to describe insecurity.  But, I’ve done it myself many times and the shoe fits.  At this point, this book is not yet on my READ IT! list, but I will try to keep reading it.  It is hard to read about the COO of a company and her life when your life is SO different.  Nonetheless, I will attempt to address my own personal issues as I move along.

In other news, I am chugging along on The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.  I finally finished his section on marijuana.  Let me tell you.  This guy likes to talk about, think about, and smoke pot.  He is also fully prepared to endorse its creative-inducing properties.  I will say the closet cultivation of pot discussion was interesting.  Additionally, the whole war on drugs as it pertains to marijuana is thought provoking.  I am on the final chapter now–about potatoes.  I am in awe of the variety of potatoes (was it 2,500?!) grown in the Andes in Peru. (I just found this amazing article (with gorgeous photos) about potato biodiversity, incidentally, that is worth a read.)  I also thought it was hilarious that Louis XVI put guards around a potato patch in Versailles as a way to generate Parisian interest in the root vegetable.  While I am relieved that McDonald’s eventually eschewed the use of the GMO potato in 2001 (from the book), I am disgusted that a new GMO potato is being supported and endorsed by McDonald’s.  Time changes everything, I guess.

I am still trying to read about Julio Lobo in Cuba, but it is getting shoved to the bottom of the pile.  It will probably go back to the library unfinished.

Have a good night. Enjoy the gorgeous moon!

Causes to celebrate

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Many of today’s events are cause for celebration (for me, anyway).

1) Philip had a great (he listened, had fun) dance class.

2) We picked up 47 books at the local library and found out that Mo Willems has a book out (That is Not a Good Idea) that we didn’t know existed.  The awesome librarian who helped us borrow our stack of books put it on hold for us.  So nice!

3) We dug in the raised beds and planted 3 of them with the following:

Nantes carrots

Cincinnati Market Radishes, Plum Purple Radishes

Bok Choy Tatsoi

Bloomsdale Spinach

I was reminded today how much I love raised beds.  It is wonderful to be able to stick these in the soil and wait for them to grow while the rest of the ground is still working on thawing.

4) Philip and I spent the afternoon in the garden and I am looking forward to spending even more time weeding and clearing out the detritus from the winter tomorrow afternoon.  The forecast looks promising (read: WARM WEATHER!).

5) Even though the dog pooped on the floor, he pooped on a rug that was able to be picked up and the poop just plopped into the toilet, expediting the cleaning process.  Hey, I know, not a commonly listed reason to smile, but I am going to embrace the silver lining here.  He’s an older dog; I am more comfortable being sympathetic than angry.

6) Received a letter about an application I had submitted a while ago; it was not a rejection (though it was a formality, i.e., “your application is incomplete,” they could have just rejected me because of my incomplete application, so…I’m going to call it a win).

Other highlights from the past week:

  • Finished Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.  Enjoyed it.  If you are interested in some relatively light reading, I recommend it.  Some of his monologues, which are integrated among the essays, may throw you off a bit because he is not writing as himself, but as characters he’s created.  They are not particularly light-hearted, just so you know.
  • Finished Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.  We loved it.  Even if you only have a small amount of time to read, pick up this book.  It helps reassure people who daydream (it’s normal) and reminds us that we are all trying to be the protagonist in our own life stories (so, yeah, sometimes, our view of our lives is a bit skewed in that direction).  Lots of amusing commentary and food for thought.  Well worth the read.
  • Started reading John Paul Rathbone’s The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon.  So far, I am learning a lot and the writing is approachable.  Will keep you posted on progress.

It’s getting late.  Time to call it a night.

Here’s hoping your Saturday gives you causes for celebration, too.  Good night.

Gulliver’s Travels

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Philip and I are reading, bit by bit, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.  It is slow going.  Even though there is something inherently exciting about an average man landing on an island of little people and being restrained by them, the narrative gets a bit choppy when Mom (that’s me) gets to stop every few words and define the new word that’s been introduced.  Today, as we moved through chapter 2, here are a few I tried to explain as we read during lunch:

beeves: “that means cattle for beef”
fobs: “those are tiny pockets” (incidentally, I also learned that a fob can be a chain for a pocket watch.)
palisadoes: “that means…well, I don’t know what it means, but we’ll look it up” (turns out it means “palisade,” or high fences to protect an area)
impudence: “that means being kind of rude”
clemency: “or being kind to people that aren’t nice to you instead of punishing them or getting mad at them”
prodigious: “really big”
dispatched: “get rid of, like a villain or an enemy”
demesne: “someone’s area or territory”

I am considering NOT explaining the words until he asks, “what does ______ mean?”  But, the linguaphile in me may not be able to resist! We shall see.

Seedlings are all doing well.  The forecast says SNOW tomorrow, so I don’t think I will be out there planting anything hardy in the next day or so.  Will just have to wait until the weekend.  Patience.  Must have patience.

…I will add “have patience” to the list of ways to help change the world and then sign off.  Good night!