Friday, September 29, 2006

Poetry Friday

My daughter does not consider herself much of a poet. She is more of a prose writer - but in language arts this year she's going to have to write a lot of poems. I think her first effort for the year is a lot of fun, so I'm sharing it on Poetry Friday.

My Pencil
by KRM (age 9)

My pencil is tall and new
And unfortunately his brains are few.
I sharpen his dull head to a point.
Now my pencil is smaller,
Not taller.
He likes to write a lot.
Now my pencil needs to get smart.
He sharpens himself again.
If this continues,
Where will my pencil be?
As short as a short fat bee!
I'll try to add links later.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Banned Book Week

It's Banned Book Week - a week during which the ALA tries to raise awareness of books that have been challenged, mainly in libraries and schools.

Now banning books conjures up images of book burning and oppresive regimes.

And book banning is bad.

Okay - that said - this is really about books that parents or community members (usually a small group) don't want their children - or any children to have access to. Focus on the Family protests that calling this banning books is going too far.

But not allowing access to anyone because of a personal problem with something, is not right. No one is forcing you to read a certain book.

Ah - but what about when they are? Some books that are challenged are on required reading lists. If a parent thinks that a book is too mature for their ninth grader, do they get to have a say? Saying "I don't want my child to have to read this" and saying "I don't want my child or any child to have access to this" are two different things.

Unfortunately those two things tend to get lumped together - making it so that some people can point to extreme examples of children being required to read books that have extremely mature content - and others to say that people are trying to ban Clifford the Big Red Dog.

It's really two different arguments. Parents of elementary school children and young teens should have some say in what their children are reading. It's part of being a responsible parent. And notice I say "their children" and "some say". Notice I also said "young teens", I think older teens should be allowed to make their own decisions without interference.

However people don't have a right to say "I don't like this - no one should be allowed to read it."

There are a lot of different views of the world, and a lot of different experiences people have had. Reading about them is one way for our children, and ourselves to learn about the world. If you start restricting what can be read, you restrict what can be learned.

So celebrate banned book week - by reading a book. Any book - and be glad you have the right to.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fun at the Bookstore

Well, we had our adventure yesterday. The kids and I got to meet Jennifer L. Holm at a book signing. She was promoting her new book, Penny from Heaven, a wonderful account of one girl's growing up in the 50s in New Jersey. That girl, by the way, was based on her mother - who was there last night. Very cool.

We were late for the reading because a make-up Hockey game ended up being scheduled for last night - but we did get to hear the end of the question and answer session.

Jennifer has also written the Babymouse books, which my kids practically have memorized, they've read them so many times.

And Jennifer was so very nice and charming. She signed four books for us and posed for a picture with my son and daughter.

An added bonus was we got to see Liz. It's always a good day when that happens. And, since I was the one holding the camera - that's Liz getting her book signed last night.

So, thanks to Liz for telling us about this event and thanks to Jennifer for being so great and gracious. And thanks too to my Mom who went with us and informed me that the Barnes and Noble in Holmdel had moved to the other side of the street since the last time I was there.

Career Choices

It's always fun when kids tell you what they're going to be when they grow up. I remember when my daughter was about 3 or 4 and she announced she was going to be an artist (this was a kid who didn't like to draw) and a mountain climber. She was also going to be the President's helper. Why not the President? We already have one. Okay.

Later she realized that she could be an actor and also President - a la Ronald Reagan - so that was her goal.

Then she decided that she would be an actress and an author - like Julia Andrews.

I think that's where she still is - goal wise. She wants to be on Broadway though - not in movies. I say - go for it.

My son has also gone through his share of career goals. He watched the Tour de France and decided he'd be a professional bicycle rider - as well as a baseball player - of course. And he thought we should contact the airlines about getting his bicycle to France - I told him we had time for that.

More recently he told me he was going to be President (I'm glad my children aim high).

Yesterday the topic came up again. My daughter announced that she didn't want to work in an office when she grew up. "Good luck with that," I told her.

And then my son said he was going to be three things when we grew up. A publisher, an author and an engineer (an engineer like Dad).

He figures if he's both a publisher and an author it will be easier to get his books published. Sounds like good reasoning to me.

His sister immediately said that if he was a publisher he had to publish her books as well.

He agreed.

It's nice to have that settled.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Revision Progress

As of last night I've revised through chapter 11 and I have a total of almsot 33,000 revised words. Unfortunately I'm at a point where the revised story differs dramatically from existing story - so no grabbing stuff already written and using that. Hopefully more will get done today. We'll see.

Go to the Carnival

The Seventh Carnival of Children's Literature is hosted this month by Wands and Worlds. Go over and enjoy some good reading. I have something there too - my first carnival submission!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Poetry Friday

Sometimes there are lines from poems that just stick in your head. This is one of the ones that sticks with me.

From The Walrus and The Carpenter
by Lewis Carroll

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
And cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."
For the rest of the poem, go here.

Some other Poetry Friday contributions: Jen Robinson brings us a little Shel Silverstein, Book Buds gives us some poems for peace and Blog from the Windowsill has a review of a monster poetry book for young readers.

Edited to add: A poem on moving at Here in the Bonny Glen, Michele at Scholar's Blog has a combined Poetry Friday/book review, Journey Woman shares a little Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Chicken Spaghetti brings us some poetry news. Little Willow give us a Nest Full of Stars, and Susan Taylor Brown brings us Christina Rosetti on Caterpillars.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More Revision Progress

I stopped noting my progress - because I started over at chapter 1 again. But, I am making progress. Today I finished chapter 10 and wrote slightly more than 3000 words. So - progress is being made. But, no more tonight.

Making Him Happy

It was the first day of CCD today. For my daughter it was old hat. It was brand new for my son. He didn't seem too intimidated by it. He answered a question correctly at assembly (the answer was Jesus, I don't know what the question was) and got a googly-eye bookmark.

And for homework he said he has to practice saying the Rosary. We've done a family rosary once or twice - it's a habit I'd like to get into, but haven't yet. I said that sounded like a good idea. We could all say the rosary.

Then my son told me, he thinks he should say the Rosary even if it's not homework, "because it would pleasure God."

Yes, it would.

Monday, September 18, 2006

By Our Actions Shall we be Known

The second reading this Sunday was from the Letter of James, and in it we have James 2:18 - "Indeed someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works." In other words, you can tell I have faith, because of the way I act.

We all like to have an image of ourselves - but it is the way we act that puts the truth to our image. Do we view ourselves as outgoing, but are uncomfortable speaking to someone we've just met? Do we say we believe in a healthy lifestyle, but yet go to McDonalds for lunch everyday?

We can say and think whatever we want about ourselves, but it is in what we actually do that the truth manifests itself.

So, the bigger question is, if people who call themselves followers of Islam, proclaim that they are a religion of peace, but yet, seem to be involved in a lot of violence in the name of that religion - what are we to believe? What we hear, or what we see?

I'm Just Saying

It seems to me that if you say "If you call me violent I'll kill you," that you are pretty much winning the other person's argument for him.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Poetry Friday - Weather Edition

by Robert Louis Stevenson

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

Guess what the weather is up to again. Sigh.

Other Poetry Friday entries so far:
Blog from the Windowsill offers an ode to her new goddaughter.
Jen Robinson offers an ode to Roald Dahl (one of my son's favorite authors by the way)
And Nancy at Journey Woman offers us a little Robert Frost.

Edited to add: Michele at Scholar's Blog provides a poem by and biography of Gerard Manly Hopkins.
Little Willow gives us some of Tennyson's Lady of Shallot.
And Kelly at Big A little a has an excerpt from Poe's The Raven

Edited again: Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, shares some Robert Browning.
And Melissa in the Bonny Glen shares the poem she named her site after. Now - is the site eponymous, or the poem? I'm never sure which direction to use that word.

I'm sure there are more, or will be soon - I'll check back later.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Perfect Childhood?

This past week both Book World and Big A little a posted on some articles in the British Press that were critical of the culture in which children were growing up.

Is childhood being destroyed by too much junk food, electronic gizmos and pushy parents?

I guess that depends on what you decide it means to be a child.

Visions of idyllic childhoods come to us from any number of places, primarily books and movies (though now that I think about it – in a lot of books, children have a substantially less than idyllic life.) I think it’s easy to picture the ideal childhood: children romping through meadows (as an aside, I was reading a book to my children the other day and in it the mother dog says to her pups “Go romp.” My daughter promptly said she didn’t think she’d ever been told to ‘romp.’ I figure they do enough ‘romping’ without being told.), girls with daisy chains in their hair, boys building forts and tree houses; kids going fishing or bike riding for hours on end. Pick-up games of ball in the vacant lot. Days at the beach or the lake with no one to answer to.

Did these days ever exist?

When was the perfect time to be a child? Was there such a time?

I think that everyone (providing they had a pleasant life) thinks that the time of their own childhood was just fine – ‘the good old days’ – but every age has problems.

The sixties and seventies were a nice time to grow up – provided you stayed out of contact with the drug culture and race riots.

The post-war fifties give us lots of images of “Dick and Jane” perfect childhoods – but what about the polio scares that kept people isolated and indoors for whole summers?

The first half of the forties was a time of war – a war that impacted very much on the home front.

The thirties had the depression – I’m sure there are children who have wonderful childhood memories – but some of those memories include having to get up before dawn to sell newspapers or apples, or work in fields.

They enacted child labor laws at the turn of the century for a reason – and it wasn’t because kids were being told to clean their rooms.

That said – what about now – are our children over-scheduled and over-burdened? Maybe some are. Sometimes the kids are in eight weeks of various summer camps because both parents work, and you can’t just leave a kid home alone all summer – and most jobs don’t give eight weeks of vacation.

Are there a lot more organized sports – and a lot less pick-up games in the vacant lots. Well, there are also a lot less vacant lots – and less kids home and available to play at any time (remember the kids in eight weeks of camp because the parents work?)

So, is childhood being destroyed? That depends? How do you define childhood and where can you find it?

Childhoods are as individual as children.

Should children eat less junk food, play less video games, spend more time exercising. Um – yeah – and so should adults.

Most parents want what is best for their children. What that is changes with the ages. Maybe in the fifties a child could leave home at breakfast and not show up until dinner. Now if a mother has no idea where her child is for the entire day, she is likely to be reported to child services for neglect.

Kids need to interact with other kids – if that means Thursday afternoon French class, then so be it. But they also need time to be alone. Time to be bored (Sandra at Book World goes into this) because it is when a child is bored that he gets creative (depending on the child this can be either a good or a bad thing.)

I don’t think we are destroying childhood. There are a lot of places in the world where ‘childhood’ as we know it doesn’t even exist. Childhood changes – with each new generation it changes – and there is always another generation of people looking back going – “things were better when I was young?”

But were they?

It's Good to Have Goals

During the school open house we also visited our daughter's fourth-grade classroom. Here we found on her desk a letter she had written to us, her parents.

It was long, rambling and full of excitement about the school year.

It also listed some goals she had :
"In fourth grade, I vow I will try to like math, live through health, stumble through social studies and pay attention in science. Language Arts will not be a problem."
What more can you ask for, anyway? (And I'm really glad she's going to 'live through health'! And as is evident from these two short sentences, language arts really will not be a problem.)

Sharing Love

Yesterday was Open House at my children's elementary school. We got to meet the teachers, see where the children sit, and see what's in their writing journals so far (after a week of school.)

Our first grader, on his first day of school, has a journal entry that starts off "My favorite thing is" (that was probably a writing prompt from the teacher.)

Here's our son's full sentence: My favorite thing is sharing love.

It's my favorite thing too - come to think of it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Excitement at the street hockey game tonight. In the 5 and 6 year old division it was the Rangers vs. The Blackhawks. The score was tied 1 to 1. We'd had a time-out so the Ranger's goalie could go to the bathroom.

And then number 2 on the Blackhawks (aka my son), playing defense, hit the ball all the way from the Blackhawks goal line into the opposing goal. That crazy little orange ball just went past everyone.

Score! Amazed shouts! And one very happy little boy.

But we don't have to worry about him getting a big head about it or anything - no not him (ha). When we got home he said that at the next game everyone would probably want his autograph since he had made such an amazing shot - after all (according to him) pros probably couldn't even do a shot like that!

And although I wouldn't go so far as to say he outdoes the pros - it was a pretty cool shot!

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Day to Remember

September 11.

It's a date that evokes responses that are neither simple nor ordinary.

Like everyone else I remember that day very clearly. I don't need to share my feelings of that day - they are feelings shared by everyone who saw images of the towers collapsing and of seeing the clouds of smoke where the familiar outline of the towers used to stand on the skyline.

It is a day to remember, to reflect. To pray.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Comfort Reading

Some people have their comfort foods: chocolate, lasagna. I have comfort books. With a week that included two funerals I felt a bit in the need of comfort.

When that happens I turn to my collection of Norma Johnston books. In this case The Keeping Days series. It’s a series of six books (all out of print) which, over the years, I’ve managed to collect.

I’ve read them countless times (and I am not saying that metaphorically, I really have no idea how many times I’ve read them) and so know the stories very well. That’s part of what makes them comfort reading. No surprises.

There are no surprises anymore, but they are always enjoyable. The story of 14-year-old Tish and her family living in 1901 New York, with all the trials and tribulations that any family at any time may have, is always fresh to me.

Re-reading these books is like visiting old friends. Wonderfully reassuring and well, basically comforting.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bloggers Block

Why is it that throughout the day I can have all these great ideas for things to post - but when I finally get around to turning on the computer - they've all fled?

Maybe some of those thoughts will return tomorrow and consent to being written down.

I can hope at least.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Poetry Friday

In honor of my husband's Aunt Scotty, whose funeral we will attend today, I am posting a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Because I could not stop for Death --
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
And Immortality.

We slowly drove--He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility--

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess--In the Ring--
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain--
We passed the Setting Sun--

Or rather--He passed Us--
The Dews drew quivering and chill--
For only Gossamer, my Gown--
My Tippet--only Tulle--

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground--
The Roof was scarcely visible--
The Cornice--in the Ground--

Since then--'tis Centuries--and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised theHorses Heads
Were toward Eternity--

Later today I'll post links.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why I Don't Need an Ark

It finally stopped raining (again) and I'm giving up on my plans to build an ark (besides the fact that the only thing I ever built out of wood was a box for my dollhouse that works best as a podium) because I won't be needing it.

But the real reason I don't need an ark is best illustrated by this picture from our vacation to Niagara Falls. The rainbow was a covenant from God to us that he would never flood the whole world again.

Rainbows were much in evidence at Niagara Falls, and each time we saw one it was an opportunity to remember God's promise (and to say - "Look! Another rainbow!")

Revision Progress

Well, I'm on chapter four. I wish I could say I finished it. But I didn't. However, since chapter four turned out to be completely new material, I do have a word count. Slightly over 2000. So, I'd say today was fairly successful. It would have been more successful if I'd finished chapter 4. I suppose I could struggle on - but I'm tired and thinking tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where are those Ark Directions?

It's raining again.

I don't think I can take much more.

Nose to the Grindstone

The kids are at school. The house is quiet. It is time for me to get down to the business of writing. Nothing like a few uninterrupted hours to get some revision work done. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm revising something right now, I'd post here how many words I'd written a day - that would be motivating! I will say this - in my revisions I'm on chapter 3. Maybe each day I can post what I'm working on. That could be motivating too!

Monday, September 04, 2006

The First Day Should be Good Anyway

My son is looking forward to the first day of first grade. He says it will be exciting. But, he's a forward thinker, and told me that while the first day would be good - the second week of school would probably be boring.

Last Day of Summer Vacation

It's Labor Day, and around here that means that tomorrow school starts again. It's a big year for us, my son starts first grade, and so will be in school all day now.

The rain finally stopped sometime late Saturday night, and despite the fact that Tropical Depression Ernesto destroyed the gazebo (see Teddy Bear Picnic photo for undamaged gazebo - the picnic by the way was last Thursday, before the storm) it's nice to be outside again.

So there was some outside playing, some bike riding, some computer games, some Harry Potter DVD (it's the last day of summer, they can do what they like) and we made cookies.

I thought about making cookies as a way to welcome them home from school tomorrow - but I thought they'd like it a whole lot more to be involved in the process.

We got out the cookie cutters: school bus, flag, question mark, music note and others. Some of the cookies broke - that's okay, it means they can be eaten sooner. Now they are decorating them. (While my son sings "And I Shall Raise You Up" - not sure why). Then they will get to chose which ones they want in their lunch boxes for tomorrow.

Pretty soon we'll put some meat on the grill and get dinner going. And then, it's going to be back to old routines. After all, tonight is a school night!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Teddy Bear Picnic

"If you go out in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise"... so begins one of my favorite kids songs, "The Teddy Bear's Picnic" and in homage to that song, for the past six years we have held our own annual Teddy Bear Picnic.

This year, the girls were busy being "Nuts" - let's see, we had cashew, and pistachio, and walnut and peanut. And there was my daughter who said "I'm not a nut, I'm a corn" (acorn... get it).

The boys were skateboarding in the driveway.

This picnic has evolved into a tradition that my kids expect to happen every year. The idea is simple: I let them invite whomever they want (while I hope that at least some people will be on vacation - last year, no vacations, 23 kids in relatively small backyard!). The kids bring their own sandwiches, but I supply drink and snacks. We have games (with candy for prizes) and a craft - and this year for the first time a drama center (as you can see it was a big hit.)

The craft this year was making God's eyes using popsicle sticks and yarn, last year we did sand art - one year they decorated plastic visors with foam stickers.

Games include the perrenial favorites - throw the bean in the jar (dry Great Northern Beans, mason jar - this is actually pretty hard) and sticker tag (give everyone a handful of stickers. The goal is to stick your stickers on other people without getting any one yourself). We also had games my kids invented like the Teddy Toss (pairs toss their bears from one to the other - if Teddy hits the ground the team is out) and Teddy Bear Freeze tag - a complicated variation of freeze tag that was nonetheless a lot of fun.

This year it was too cold for our traditional water balloons and sprinkler play - but everyone had fun just the same.

I started the Teddy Bear Picnic because both of my kids birthdays are in the winter - and indoor parties mean the guest lists have to be kept relatively small. Also, I found that birthday parties are imbued with a certain anxiety. As the birthday boy or girl you want to make sure that your very best friend is there. You want to make sure that everything is perfect - and when things go awry it is so much more than just a minor snafu - it's a ruined birthday (or so it can seem.)

The Teddy Bear Picnic comes with no emotional baggage. Whoever can come comes. People have fun. No one has to bring a gift. No one has to be the center of attention.

It's become a great tradition in our home and we will continue until the kids no longer want it. Though - they tell me that I have to keep having this picnic every year until they're in college. We'll see about that.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Now Where'd I Put That Gopher Wood?

If it doesn't stop raining pretty soon - I'm going to seriously think about building an ark!

My First Babysitting Job

In thinking about and remembering Michael (1970-2006) I realized that he was the first child I ever babysat for.

I was about seven. So he would have been two. He was napping. His mother had to go out (possibly to pick up his older brother from somewhere, I'm not sure.) She didn't want to wake the sleeping child. So she asked the seven-year-old neighbor girl to come over and stay in the house with the baby.

I felt so very grown up and proud of myself. I went to their house. Michael, of course, was sleeping the whole time. I sat at their dining room table facing the picture window. Their picture window faced the picture window in my dining room - at which my parents stood and watched me during the whole ten minutes that I was there.

For doing my job so well, I earned a quarter. I was able to use that quarter as my wampum money for Indian Princesses that night, where I proudly told the story of my first babysitting job as I deposited my dues.

Words to Live By

Today I went to the funeral of a childhood friend. It is hard seeing the family struggling and suffering with the loss of one so young. He was a good man and will be missed by all who knew him.

At the funeral service the minister told how this young man's father had given him and his brother copies of Desiderata. They have strived to live by its precepts and from all evidence have largely succeeded.

Desiderata was found in old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore, dated 1692.

In honor of Michael, I copy it here.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

In rememberance of Michael Wheeler 1970-2006.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Poetry Friday

Okay, so it's been a couple of months since I did this. And, I almost forgot today was Friday. There has been a certain feel of fall in the air around here lately (or maybe it's just all that darn rain) so in keeping with the feeling, I present:

Autumn Fires
by Robert Louis Stevenson
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Of course in suburban New Jersey they frown on burning your leaves, but I like the imagery anyway.

Climbing the Walls

We've had a spate of rainy weather here in New Jersey. This has resulted in some kids without enough outlet for their energy.

Especially my son.

He's been climbing the walls.

Umm - I mean that literally.

He puts one foot and one hand on each side of the doorway between dining room and kitchen, and he climbs up to the ceiling. It's only a little disconcerting.

So, climbing the walls isn't simply a metaphor. Neither is bouncing off the walls. I found that one out with my son also. In the winter, when bad weather keeps him too confined, he runs at the living room wall, and then jumps so that he can kick off the wall with his feet.

Right now, both my children are upstairs practicing some sort of an act that involves a lot of jumping and the singing of the word "read" over and over.

I'm looking forward to the performance.

Hiatus Over

It's the first of September. School starts Tuesday, and it's time to get back in the swing of regularly posting here.

So - the unscheduled summer break is over and I'm back.