Giggles At Screen Free Week

Mother's Day adviceAsked by Wooden Horse owner Kevin Mukai what can you do without a screen, kids said, “Swing on the swings, dig in the sand box, play a game, eat, read a book,” and “build a robot.” Launching the Wooden Horse’s annual Screen Free Week was Elementary School Teacher Susan Shirley reading stories in her lovely performing way as some 25 kids and parents listened entranced at the Wooden Horse Pajama Party. I also got to read MOM ME and hear familiar giggles from kids and parents on hearing that first line, “My mommy is not a…” What a fun night at the Wooden Horse. If you’re local, visit the shop on Thursday for a game night when a special guest appears.

It’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Glasses Are?

IMG_8391A friend remarks that some people need to keep a bit of anxiety in their life, “The brain searches for equilibrium to stay comfortable.” How true.

Diagnosed years ago with nearsightedness, it’s taken just as many to learn how to keep track of my glasses. How can that be? Why not put them in the same place each time I remove them?

That’s what I tell my kids to do with their shoes, and they do. That’s what my husband does with his glasses, and he’s worn them only two years.

Following my partner’s advise, I designate a container and spot on a shelf and label it “Jenn’s Keys and Glasses”. The system works — until I stop using it. More honestly I resist using it. Curiously, I convince myself that, when waking up, breakfasting at the kitchen table, leaving my car, walking into the house, If I put my glasses in a new place, I will remember. But I don’t. Next I admit to the four other places I leave them and make a sign listing where to check. IMG_8389

But the resister in me gets more creative. I leave them in new locations (by the cook book, on the shelf at the kitchen window, at the piano, and tell myself, “You’ll remember.” (I don’t). Upping the anti, I scatter them in additional random spots: on the game closet shelf, near the gardening tools in the garage, atop the chicken coop door.

Sometimes I won’t even check the five places labeled on the basket. My refrain becomes, “Anyone know where I left my glasses,” and my sons’ mantra becomes, “Check your list.” The worst is when, they tell me what I tell them, “Think about the last place you put them.” At least some know the system.

Last week I got serious about routine (http://jenncastro.com/2015/03/23/routine-questions/) and made a new commitment to keep track of my glasses. They have one place — In the basket.

But here’s the thing, even though I am ready to allow orderliness into my glasses life, it is not easy. Removing them, I sense a tug to leave them wherever I am. Fighting the tug, and taking my husband’s advice, “Always put them back. Leave the case in the basket and when you’re done store them inside the case.”

The relief I feel when I find them in their place, inside their case, is incredible. And if finding my glasses can calm me, what’s next? My keys? See sign, I solved that years ago, most of the time.

Is it true that committing to a glasses basket is the sign of a sick mind (the clean desk story is next) and that our resistance to order makes us creative?

I think not.

I think it diverts our energy. Scatters it sideways.

What I wonder, is what to do with the newfound peacefulness?

How about you? Holding on to a little anxiety that keeps you a bit on the edge? Got any order you need to put into your life? How will you respond to the newfound energy?

 

 

 

 

 

Routine Questions

waiting on wednesdayI have time compartments that dictate what I can do when. “Work,” which means school stuff, is roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Weekday evenings are for cooking dinner, a meeting here and there, and a lot of I’m not really sure what.

Brainless play is Friday night. Socializing, the occasional (but strongly needed – more about that soon) intellectual talk, and sometimes dinners out, happen on Saturday night.

Pancake breakfast (from time to time), soccer playing and ref-ing, household shopping, cleaning (sort of) and fixing broken things (a bit) is for Saturday. Church, and a lot more of I’m not sure what, is on Sunday.

That’s my routine. Sound familiar?

Here’s what I wonder — if keep this schedule, when will I finish writing my book?

So I’ve started disassembling that routine. Here’s an example:  Recently, my family made plans on a Saturday night. I could have made plans with a friend, but instead, I stayed home — to write. The next day, they went out again, and I stayed home — to write.

The result of staying home on those days, is that, from the inside of some where, small chunks of time for writing have started falling into my lap (top). The more I risk facing my blank or sloppily organized page(s), the more time I find. The more I stop myself from saying, “yes” to  things I’m used to, and instead answering that small tug that whispers, “Here’s an hour, take it,” the result is a new routine.

Last week, I read a book (well, actually a chapter) about another writer’s routine, the kind I long for, because it’s orderly. She wakes each day to meditate, workout, say mantras, read some soulful pages, eat oatmeal and grapefruit, plan and pencil in this and that, until she’s ready to write — five pages…

For me, for today, it’s “Time appeared, grab it, sit, write,” or “Everyone’s going out Friday, don’t make plans,” And I don’t, so that I do – write.

So here’s a novel, so to speak, question, is there a schedule you need to shake down so you can do what you want to but don’t cause you haven’t asked your self a routine question? Maybe it’s time.

 

Seduced by Paul

After nearly 13 years of holding strong, I gave in to Paul. I still can’t decide if’s wrong.

I rationalize that I’m not so bad, and that at long last, I have joined the 21st century.

After all lots of people do – buy Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing, and a host of other prepackaged this and that.

Still, I struggle with the pre-made. But equally, I tire of researching recipes for homemade, making it, and then hearing my kids still want his ranch dressing.

What is wonderful about store bought? Is it the buttermilk fat solids?

A mom friend once told me her then 5-year-old son requested store bought hot chocolate. He didn’t want real chocolate mixed with sugar and milk. Paraphrasing, he told her, “Mom, I like corn syrup.”

Boxed macaroni and cheese was the favorite in another friend’s family. Researching the secret ingredient, she learned it was whey, bought some, and made her own. She succeeded.

About mac and cheese, my kids like the real thing, but offer homemade rice or chocolate pudding over the stuff in a pint container in the dairy section, and the pint container wins, chicken tenders from the barbecue restaurant star over a home collection of spices to bake it at home.

Is it wrong to buy foods containing soybean oil, buttermilk solids, natural flavor, and xanthium gum? Possibly not. Even so, I struggle. In the end, I buy them once in a while. What foods do you give in to? Any once-in-a-while-foods in your refrigerator or cabinet?

 

Orange Twist

orangesOut of the blue, I bring my friend an orange. Grab it from the fruit bowl on the way out the door. We meet for a chat, and as we part I tell her, “Oh, I have something for you.” She’s just moved, and her new home is in boxes. Life is busy. Her eyes light up when it hand her the piece of fruit, “Just yesterday, I wanted an orange, and I didn’t know how I’d get to the store.” How did I know? Did I?

Continuing my orange jag, one Wednesday, I pack three in my lunch bag; one for me, and one for each kid. But that’s where the story twists. While one kid leaves for class, the other stays in the car to study. Hearing a muffled mutter, I turn to find a man near my door.

Covered in hair, many layers of clothes, and packs, and dirt-crusted nails, he is holding an empty cup. I sense he wants money. My purse is in the trunk, and I’m reluctant to locate it. Trying again to see if I can afford this homeless man any dignity, I ask my question, “How can I help?”

But he’s too far gone and cannot articulate, so I assist, “Would you like a piece of fruit?”

He cannot say. Choosing for him, I hand him my orange.

Later I tell my son a wish. “What if I could bring him a sandwich every day, and leave it at the edge of the parking lot. He could come to trust that lunch would await him. Maybe that could change his life somehow.”

“That would be cool mom, but you better be careful he doesn’t tell his friends about it,” he cautions. I smile thinking about a line of homeless folks gathering to capture my row of sidewalk sandwiches.

But what if each of us who can brings an orange, or a box of crackers, or an extra sandwich to share? When I hand that piece of fruit to that man, I wonder if it shines a very small light in his life. I know that his crusted dirty hand looked a bit brighter holding that sweet piece of orange fruit.

Like the orange I gave my friend, I don’t know why I carried them with me that day. Not sure it matters, more important is that I had something to give away and I did.

Anything you need to bring along today? Anything you need to share?

 

 

Catch Me

IMG_8370A coach once asked, “Describe games you enjoy.” Playing catch topped the list. Why?

It’s the smack in the glove;

The successful clasp of the disc between the fingers;

The rush of the fast push of the playground ball into both hands;

The happy, he chose me to throw to;

The connection of one to another across an arch of gravity;

The smile when your partner leaps and catches the near miss.

“I’m sorry,” you casually mumble when the Frisbee veers up and back in an embarrassingly unintentional curve.

“Oops, he confesses when the thrown ball meant to move one direction and landed in the weeds instead.

But catch is not all fun and games.

I have noticed it takes courage to play. At the beginning the game is orderly. The first throws to the right. Then that receiver tosses to her right and so on around the circle.

Then in one unplanned moment, there comes a curve. The player with the ball, switches the pattern and throws across the circle. Standing seemingly alone in my small group of family or friends, there’s a game change. Perched there, half wanting to make eye contact to say, “Yes, I’m free to catch,” the other eye says, “Don’t seem too eager to receive.” Holding back I look away aloofly so I don’t convey, “I’m waiting,” or “I hope you’ll throw one this way.” or worse to not care too much when left out two times around the circle.

Growing up, every year some in my family made a pilgrimage to the vacation home. Leaving the city house, my dad packed a Frisbee and ball in the car. Once we’d moved into our new place, dad got the toys and we’d play catch in the driveway or street.

I loved the tricks. My dad staring me down while throwing to my sister. Thinking the ball was for me, I’d reach to receive while my sister was thrown for a surprise. Fast balls, quick ones, high tosses, over the head, under the legs to me, to me to me.

In those moments, I am caught and nothing beats being part of the game. Included. Participating. When someone throws a ball or a Frisbee, all is good. And when the ball smacks into your hand or lands firmly in your fist, all is right.

Here’s a few questions: What do you enjoy? If it’s catch, are you throwing or receiving? Chosen? Participating? When in the game, all is good.

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the World

shower-curtain-world-map-4Before throwing away the world last week, I almost saved it. Thinking I could make things from it, I considered cutting up the continents and boxing them for a future project. I contemplated snipping those seven islands into sections and using them right away. How about pasting them onto cardboard for a geography lesson? Heck it almost became a drop cloth for a painting project.

For a second, I considered donating it to Goodwill. Thankfully in light of the battered plastic and missing grommet holes, better sense moved in.

Yup, a shower curtain almost got stored in a crate surrounded by a lot of pressure to make something new from it.

Instead I took that old plastic sheet and, not as my kids might quote from a currently famous YouTube spot, “I took it and I threw it on the ground,” I took it and I threw it in the trash barrel. The should-guilt lasted for a tiny New York City apartment minute. “Keep it, reuse it, recycle it,” my packrat self counseled. But like the bits of food left in my refrigerator that mold, decay, and eventually need to be composted or chucked, the shower curtain left my house the first time.

I still believe I can act each day to help our planet stay clean and clear, but I, unfortunately won’t be able to save this old world by saving and storing my old shower curtain. Thus, I let it go.

Here’s a; question:  Anything you’re saving these days that it’s time to let go of? Is it better to toss it now rather than letting it rot in the fridge or collect dust in a box?

Raising a Passionate Reader

Please welcome Alina Sayre, my guest blogger for today. Here’s her post.

IMG_0189I’ve loved books since I was old enough to chew on them. I learned to read early and sometimes got in trouble for reading while doing chores or reading under the covers by flashlight. But not every kid has the love of reading so hard-wired into them. As an educator and middle-grades author, I’ve worked with some students who find reading prohibitively difficult, and others who just find it boring or pointless. But I believe that with guidance, encouragement, and strategy, any student can learn not just to read well, but to love reading. Here are ten tips I’ve found effective for baiting, hooking, and reeling even the most reluctant kids into a lifetime of passionate reading.

  1. Start them a little below their reading level. A student may technically be capable of reading a 5th- or 6th-grade-level book, but if you want to get them to love reading, there’s nothing like the experience of mastering a 3rd-grade-level book to encourage them to repeat the experience.
  2. Find books on subjects that interest them. If your student can forget about the vehicle of words and get lost in a fascinating story, they’re well on their way to passionate reading. I start a lot of my reluctant-reader students on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl because really, who wouldn’t be interested in a lifetime supply of chocolate? Some other popular choices, especially for boys, include Holes by Louis Sachar, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
  3. Read aloud with them. Almost every kid loves being read to—even if their personal reading level is low. It gives you an opportunity to dramatize the story and help grow their imagination. It also offers auditory learners a leg up in content retention.
  4. Bring books to life with firsthand experiences. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came to life in a whole new way when I bit into a piece of real Turkish Delight. One of my students took a trip to Europe, during which her highlight was seeing the real Baker Street of the fictional Sherlock Holmes. Try visiting the ruins of Jack London’s Wolf House near Napa or making Laura Ingalls’s maple syrup candy.
  5. Let them see you reading. Recent research shows a correlation between a child’s attitude toward reading and how much they see their parents reading. If you want to raise a passionate reader, be one.
  6. Have books available in your home. Stock up your bookshelves and your Kindle library. If money is tight, check out a little red wagonload of books from the library. Research also shows a correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and their attitudes toward reading.
  7. Read books with movie adaptations. Read the book, then watch the movie. Discuss the similarities and differences. This works especially well for visual and auditory learners, who process the sense stimulation of movies differently than they do books.
  8. Remember that all reading is reading. While comic books may not be your ultimate goal for your student, they can be tools for growing language skills and sparking interest in reading (see tip #2). Imagination is a muscle that must be developed, so there’s no shame in starting small.
  9. Try audiobooks. Auditory learners and kids with learning challenges such as ADHD or dyslexia may fall in love with a story once the bothersome impediment of the visual page is removed. (For more resources specifically for dyslexia, check out https://www.learningally.org/). Audiobooks are just different vehicles for communicating the same stories.
  10. Take your student to see a real live writer. Author events abound at libraries, bookstores, and schools. (I’ll be a guest at Village House of Books in Los Gatos on 12/13! http://villagehouseofbooks.com/) Meeting the person behind a book can inspire a student to dive into reading—or maybe even to try making up their own stories.

 

About Alina:

Alina Sayre is a Bay Area author and educator who began her literary career chewing on board books and has been in love with words ever since. Her fantasy series, The Voyages of the Legend, helps kids ages 9-14 (and sometimes their parents) get excited about reading! Book 1, The Illuminator’s Gift, was a silver medalist in the 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and has been a guest at a number of schools and literacy events. On December 1 it was joined by Book 2, The Illuminator’s Test, now available on Amazon.com. To invite Alina to speak at your school, homeschool group, or literary event, please visit her website: www.alinasayre.com. When she’s not writing, Alina enjoys photography, collecting crazy socks, and reading under blankets.

Ebook cover small

 

Let’s connect!

Website: www.alinasayre.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alinasayreauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlinaSayre

E-mail: alinasayreauthor@gmail.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Illuminators-Test-Voyages-Legend-Book-ebook/dp/B00QDDOA18/

Take Your Seat White America

8850-lOnce, in a city, on the way to an appointment that was “not in my neighborhood,” I boarded a bus when whammo. Immediately I felt it. “What did I feel?” you ask?

“My skin color,” I say, prominent, exposed, obvious, but not unprotected.

Usually I don’t notice my skin. I rarely notice it has color. My skin is just, well, there. I’m just, well, me. But that moment on the bus shined a spotlight. All eyes on me, I was the only white person on the bus.

There was a seat. Was it in the front or at the back? Not sure. No need to think about that. Probably, after a moment, no one was looking at me. But in my mind, my skin color wore neon lights.

Embarrassing to admit, but, when I see an African-American person in, say, a Whole Foods market near me, I have the impulse to smile, as if to say, “I’m one of the nice ones.” And I wonder what planet I think I live on that the person passing me by really gives a hoot whether I’m smiling or not.

I just watched the video of Eric Garner who died after being placed in a chokehold by a white police officer as he struggled to breath. “I can’t breath, I can’t breath,” his voice panicked as he lay on the city cement. Remember how when you were little and you’d wrestle with your siblings  or your dad, and you’d get in a hold and say, “I can’t breath.” And they knew to stop sitting on your stomach. They didn’t hesitate. They got off. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Mr. Garner in a chokehold did not stop. And now Mr. Garner is dead. I want to panic, hold my head in disbelief, but I must do more.

I struggle about what to teach my children about racism and their place “on the bus,” and “in their neighborhood.” What do my two kids, my two white boys growing into white men need to know so they can be part of a solution to eradicate racism in the United States of America?

They need to know their history, deeply. They must know what we did. I’ll stop for a minute to define we. Who are we? Any white person whether we explicitly did something or not. Just  being white in America makes us responsible for our history. Here are a few subjects:  Slavery — African Americans were enslaved by white people in our country for 400 years. Did your eyes just roll. Did you think, “You’re bringing that up again?” Until tangible reparations are made, we aren’t done dealing with slavery. Further, my kids must know that African Americans fought slavery. There’s more; I want them to know about reconstruction; that for a time after the civil war, many black men were in elected office. I want them know about suppression of voting rights, Jim Crow, the KKK, lynching, mobs, job discrimination, racism on sports teams, among many subjects.

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  History is repeating. Consider the new version of disenfranchisement in Texas where laws require Texans to show identification to vote. I explain to my kids why this is discriminatory. I want them to know this is a new form of the voter suppression that occurred in the 1960’s when African Americans in the south were not able to vote unless they passed a history test. I want them to know.

I want them to know how many African American men are in prisons today. I want them to know that the cost of incarcerating someone is greater than the cost of attending college.

Seated at dinner last night, we discussed the protests against the grand jury’s decision not to indict a Police Officer Pantaleo in the death of Mr. Garner. Peaking their interest, my kids asked questions. They need to know.

We all need to know, and we need to feel uncomfortable. White Americans are not entitled to  live without acknowledging ourselves and our history. When one day one of my kids says, “I felt uncomfortable because I was the only one, “ I will reflect to him, “Yes, I know that feeling.” We all have a lot to talk about. Dear White America, what would you like to discuss today? Let’s start, again, and again, and again.