Sorry for the painfully slow page load today. The Blogads code seems to be gumming up the works. I hope to solve the problem soon. I know it's highly annoying. The ad is only running for a few more days anyway, so if I can't figure out the problem it'll disappear before too long.
Also annoying: not being able to change the color of my post titles back to green without losing the fleur de lis icon and therefore having a funky indentation next to the title. That red color is the default for this template, and I changed it in the CSS, but then a couple of months ago Typepad made a change that turned subject titles to live links. That's a great idea, except that it messed up my CSS and no matter what I do, I can't get it fixed. I can either have the red titles with the icon, or green (or any color) titles with a blank space where the icon should be. Neither option pleases me. Anybody got a hack for this?
The other day I pulled one of our breakfast standbys, Favorite Poems Old and New, off the shelf. As they do every single time I so much as glance in that book's direction, the girls immediately began begging me to read "the funny poem." They were referring to Thomas Hood's undeniably amusing poem, "A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months," which has been a family favorite ever since (who else?) Alice pointed me toward it when Jane was a four-year-old.
I think I recall Liz posting this same poem on Poetry Friday last year, but we had such a funny time with it this week that I can't resist sharing it again. Because, you see, though we have read this poem together at least a hundred times, this was our first time enjoying in the company of an actual boy aged three years and five months.
Jane's the one who realized the coincidence. When I read the title, she gasped and shouted, "Hold on," then did some rapid mental calculating. "YES!" she hollered. "That's exactly how old Wonderboy will be NEXT WEEK!"
"Read it, read it!" the others chanted. Mind you, a proper recitation of this poem requires some effort. You need to intone the odd lines, which are the flowery ode the poet is writing about his son, in stentorian tones for maximum contrast to the even lines, which are the poet-father's exasperated remarks to his wife and son as the boy interrupts Dad's efforts to pen some fine phrases. The poem's humor lies in the complete disconnect between the way the father describes his child and the way he actually feels.
Any mother who has ever tried to write a blog post about her beloved children while simulateously fielding interruptions from those children can certainly relate. Ahem.
I have often used this poem as a discussion-starter in writing workshops and conference talks. Its use of overblown imagery in the "ode" lines provides a good introduction to the use (and mis-use) of figurative language in poetry, not to mention authenticity. The father-poet contradicts his own metaphors line after line.
I remember Rose and Beanie guffawing along with Jane years before they were old enough to understand any of the jokes. But none of the howling renditions we've shared over the years compared to yesterday's, with Wonderboy, who really does have the funniest Popeye squint sometimes, leaning against my rocking chair and grinning his new gap-toothed grin at his sisters' uproarious laughter.
Anyway, here it is, for your enjoyment:
A PARENTAL ODE TO MY SON, AGED THREE YEARS AND FIVE MONTHS by Thomas Hood, who was obviously a real dad
Thou happy, happy elf!
(But stop,—first let me kiss away that tear)—
Thou tiny image of myself!
(My love, he's poking peas into his ear!)
Thou merry, laughing sprite!
With spirits feather-light,
Untouch'd by sorrow, and unsoil'd by sin—
(Good heav'ns! the child is swallowing a pin!)
Thou little tricksy Puck!
With antic toys so funnily bestuck,
Light as the singing bird that wings the air—
(The door! the door! he'll tumble down the stair!)
Thou darling of thy sire!
(Why, Jane, he'll set his pinafore a-fire!)
Thou imp of mirth and joy!
In Love's dear chain so strong and bright a link,
Thou idol of thy parents—(Drat the boy!
There goes my ink!)
Thou cherub—but of earth;
Fit playfellow for Fays, by moonlight pale,
In harmless sport and mirth,
(That dog will bite him if he pulls its tail!)
Thou human humming-bee, extracting honey
From ev'ry blossom in the world that blows,
Singing in Youth's Elysium ever sunny,
(Another tumble!—that's his precious nose!)
Thy father's pride and hope!
(He'll break the mirror with that skipping-rope!)
With pure heart newly stamp'd from Nature's mint—
(Where did he learn that squint?)
Thou young domestic dove!
(He'll have that jug off, with another shove!)
Dear nurseling of the hymeneal nest!
(Are those torn clothes his best?)
Little epitome of man!
(He'll climb upon the table, that's his plan!)
Touch'd with the beauteous tints of dawning life—
(He's got a knife!)
Thou enviable being!
No storms, no clouds, in thy blue sky foreseeing,
Play on, play on,
My elfin John!
Toss the light ball—bestride the stick—
(I knew so many cakes would make him sick!)
With fancies, buoyant as the thistle-down,
Prompting the face grotesque, and antic brisk,
With many a lamb-like frisk,
(He's got the scissors, snipping at your gown!)
Thou pretty opening rose!
(Go to your mother, child, and wipe your nose!)
Balmy and breathing music like the South,
(He really brings my heart into my mouth!)
Fresh as the morn, and brilliant as its star,—
(I wish that window had an iron bar!)
Bold as the hawk, yet gentle as the dove,—
(I'll tell you what, my love,
I cannot write, unless he's sent above!)
Certain movers and shakers in the U.S. chocolate industry want to
change the basic formula of chocolate in order to use
vegetable fat substitutes in place of cocoa butter, and to use milk
instead of milk.
The FDA is considering relaxing the current rules that require chocolate manufacturers to use a certain percentage of cocoa butter in chocolate in order to call it chocolate on the package. (Under currect regulations, even white chocolate must contain a certain percentage of cocoa butter in order to be labeled by that name.) This FDA is considering this because Big Chocolate is asking it to. It seems the Grocery Manufacturers Association has petitioned the FDA to change the chocolate standard, and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association is on board. They're calling the move "thinking outside the chocolate box," according to an LA Times article.
Hershey Co., which supports the Grocery Manufacturers' petition, said
the standards were created decades ago and should be modernized.
By adopting the proposal, the FDA would be providing "flexibility
to make changes based on consumer taste preferences, ingredient costs
and availability and shelf life," said Kirk Saville, spokesman for the
Hershey, Pa.-based company.
It's worth noting that not all chocolatiers are in favor of the move. Some of the smaller manufacturers, such as good old See's Candies, oppose the change, and they are encouraging consumers to add a voice to the conversation.
The FDA has been holding an open-comment period this month, and they just extended the period to May 25th. So if you have an opinion, now's the time to speak up. Personally, I don't care what they put in their candy as long as the package explains that the brown stuff isn't real chocolate. I want to know that when I buy something labeled "chocolate," it's real chocolate, full of cocoa buttery goodness. Do you know—I learned this when I was doing research for The Cocoa Commotion ten-odd years ago—that the fats in cocoa butter are of a sort that causes chocolate to slide over your teeth rather than cling to teeth and cause tooth decay?
Candyblog, my favorite source of confectionary news, is holding a raffle to encourage people to talk to the FDA. Since the public-comment period was extended by a whole month, I'm guessing that means the FDA is hearing from a lot of consumers on the issue, and that's great. If you love chocolate, real chocolate, speak now or forever hold your piece of mockolate.
I've been so immersed in my Waldorf books this week as prep for this series of posts that I haven't had any time to read blogs all week, and now I see what I've been missing. I love this passage by Willa:
There will be slow days, thorny days, miraculous days. But if you are
there, they will be good days. They will balance themselves out in the
long run. You will see what needs to be done, and do it.
is an art more than a science. Knowledge helps make the art better, but
it is not the art itself. The art is in actually living like a
homeschooler, in season and out, trying to do your best but keeping an
openness to the not so good days. Learning from them but not letting
them ruin what you ARE doing.
That's just what I was getting at yesterday with my lists of what we did and didn't do in the course of the day. Charlotte Mason talked about narration as a technique for discovering what a student actually knows about a subject, as opposed to various testing strategies that in effect show what the student doesn't know. She wasn't writing from a self-esteem-boosting, "focus on the positive" standpoint; she talks about the subject in a very pragmatic manner, suggesting that the positive information (what the student knows) is far more useful for both student and teacher than a paper full of wrong answers, because in looking at what the student remembers about a subject well enough to narrate it, we see how the student connects with the knowledge, forms a relationship with it.
I think the principle applies perfectly to how a homeschooling mother might assess the "success" of a day of learning. It's all too easy to get hung up on the deficits, the weaknesses, the miles yet to go. But that information is really only useful insofar as it relates to the somewhat arbitrary timetables slapped on skill sets and knowledge categories by external parties.
More useful, in my opinion, is a good look at what the children do know, what they have connected with, because this view gives me the opportunity to strew the path with books or experiences that might expand the connection even further.
I think this also keeps me looking at who my children really are instead of viewing them as sort of shadowy figures behind a superimposed amalgam of the accomplishments, habits, and knowledge I would like them to possess.
On the topic of rhythm, Jeanne Faulconer has shared an excellent article she published in the Virginia Home Education Association newsletter a while back.
Despite not being able to figure it all out, I continue to try to hit any homeschooling challenges with my rhythm hammer. A lot of times, it works. I can attempt to organize our time with attention to rhythm, and I can counsel myself to be patient with a child who learns in a "two-steps-forward, one-step-back" rhythm. And when the cobwebs mount in our brains I can walk my boys down to the river to catch crayfish and skip rocks. Even if I ultimately have to use another tool to resolve a particular homeschooling challenge, considering rhythm gives me insight and helps me generate alternatives and potential solutions.
In my almost twelve years of motherhood, my kids have had head lice twice. Oh, the agony. The combing, the vacuuming, the laundry, the shampooing, the endless rounds of nitpicking, morning and night. Beanie's head alone is a nitpicker's worst nightmare: all those glorious curls sproinging away from the teeth of the comb!
Please, please, never again.
The shampoos don't work all that well anymore, you know. American lice have developed a resistance to the chemical in over-the-counter lice shampoos. And the more potent prescription stuff? That drug may be more effective, but it's a potent neurotoxin. I didn't care how many hours I had to spend battling the infestation the hard way, removing each individual nit with a pair of tweezers; there was no way I was going to swathe my children's heads with poison.
Well, now it looks like there's a solution that trumps both poison AND tweezers. My friend Sarah, who witnessed the nightmare of our first infestation and, afterward, still let my kids play dress-up at her house, which is one of the highest marks of friendship, if you ask me, knew I would be interested in this recent development in head-lice treatment.
University of Utah
biologists invented a chemical-free, hairdryer-like device – the
LouseBuster – and conducted a study showing it eradicates head lice
infestations on children by exterminating the eggs or "nits" and
killing enough lice to prevent them from reproducing.
The study – published in the November 2006 issue of the journal Pediatrics –
"shows our invention has considerable promise for curing head lice,"
says Dale Clayton, a University of Utah biology professor who led the
research and co-invented the machine.
"It is particularly effective because it kills louse eggs, which
chemical treatments have never done very well," he says. "It also kills
hatched lice well enough to eliminate entire infestations. It works in
one 30-minute treatment. The chemical treatments require multiple
applications one to two weeks apart."
Thirty minutes! Good grief! That's less time than I had to spend calling around and warning friends and neighbors when my kids got infested. (Not a fun series of phone calls to make, let me tell you. Ugh, this whole post is giving me itchy flashbacks.)
Of course, it'll be a while before this magic machine hits your local pediatrician's office:
Patents are pending on the LouseBuster technology, which Clayton hopes
will be on the market within two years for use in schools and
So don't go swapping hats just yet.
The end of the article cracked me up:
Some of the scientists' relatives got infested during the study.
Clayton's kids, Mimi and Roger, volunteered to be infested with lice
and then were treated successfully.
"They like to shock their friends by telling them they served as
guinea pigs in their dad's research," Clayton says. "I'm waiting for
the authorities to show up. They haven't yet."
Another researcher had a relative participate involuntarily. In the
study's acknowledgements, Atkin says he "wishes to apologize to his
wife (again) for accidentally giving her head lice.
I don't know what's funnier: the dad infesting his kids ON PURPOSE (what an expression of faith in one's father—Sure, Dad, release a horde of bugs on my noggin!) or the other guy infesting his wife by accident. "Um, honey, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, if my invention works, it's going to make us a fortune. The bad news is, you'll have to be next in line to use it, because, um, that little itch? It could be telling you something..."
The other day I included Donna Simmons's kindergarten book in my list of favorite Waldorf resources, and talking about it made me want to re-read it, so that's how I spent my Sunday afternoon. I mention that because this book is worth recommending twice. You know, I really think this is the best resource I've seen for working with children under seven—even better (I can hardly believe I'm going to say this) than Charlotte Mason's Home Education, because Donna's book speaks directly to challenges facing 21st-century parents, such as television, computers, toys, and playgroups. Even if you aren't interested in Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired education, even if you aren't (as I am not) an anthroposophist, Kindergarten with Your Three- to Six-Year-Old offers a tremendous wealth of insight and practical suggestions.
The title might seem a puzzler to those of us who come from a mainstream background, where kindergarten is for five-year-olds. A Waldorf kindergarten brings together children from a wider age range and aims to present a very different experience from the phonics-scissors-glue scenario that you might find in most schools. In working with Waldorf ideas in a family setting, Donna Simmons looks at the broad picture of a young child's day, week, year, and that's where I see the usefulness of her book to people outside the Waldorf umbrella. She discusses family rhythms, mealtimes, discipline, electronic media, sibling relationships, handwork, painting, household chores, nature walks, storytelling, singing, movement games, handwork, drawing, modeling, play, bedtime routines, and (believe it or not) more. What Donna presents in this book is a portrait of early childhood as a rich, unhurried, joyful, imaginative, affectionate time of life, with the child held close in the heart of the family but not being placed in a contrived or overly child-centered situation.
So you see this is not a kindergarten curriculum per se, but rather a discussion of the needs of the very young child and how these needs can be beautifully, wholly, lovingly met at home. Donna is matter-of-fact about the challenges that face modern families, including the challenge many homeschoolers face in juggling the needs of a large family and making sure the youngest children don't get lost in the shuffle.
Also quite useful are Donna's audio downloads on early-childhood topics; I have listened to her Pre-K and Kindergarten talks, her Discipline and Sleep talks, and the wonderful "Talking Pictorially" download, which is the first place I've heard someone articulate a truth that I (like most mothers probably) discovered quite by accident when my oldest was a toddler—that you can get a little kid to do almost anything if you turn it into a story. Okay, that's not how Donna describes it, but it's what I learned myself through trial and error. Child doesn't want to put on coat? Mother says, "Honey, put on your coat NOW" and wham, the power struggle commences. Child doesn't want to put on coat and Coat starts to flap arms, crying out "Oh, pleeeeease put me on! I want to hug you!" and wham, child is laughing hysterically and holding out eager arms to poor lonely Coat. Donna calls this technique "Talking Pictorially" and discusses how much more effective a means of communication it is with young children than overly intellectual reasoning, or stern commands, or, you know, desperate pleading.