Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 1

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love books. Some people love reading; I love reading AND books. Those are two different things. The second means that I prefer experiencing paper pages instead of the LED glow of an e-reader. I’m afraid it also means that I have a compulsion to hold on to my books. I just… don’t let go of my books! It might be a mental condition; I don’t know, but those who’ve been to my house bear witness to this particular trait of mine.

Being a book hoarder also means that my kids get to read the actual books that I read as a child. They can open a book and see my name written in my then-still childish handwriting. More often than not, the date or year when I got the book is included. That’s something I got from my mother. It was always thrilling to me to read her old books and note that they had been with her since the ’60s and ’70s. I came to love Emilie Loring because of the stash of old romances that she herself held onto. None of my friends knew who Emilie Loring was.

So that’s the other thing, hoarding books means that I have copies of older editions or of books that are no longer being printed at all, and I’m just the kind of person who would consider those treasures. 😀

I love children’s books, and I’ve started writing and publishing my own as you might know. However, nothing beats a tale of childhood adventure during a time when children had more freedom to explore, when they had to turn to the outdoors for fun, when they had to rely on their imagination and creativity to be entertained…

I like exposing my children to this kind of childhood. It was a great time. It had its problems, of course, but I think many of the old-timers have a hankering for the good old days for a reason. I would love to let my kids experience such an era, even if only in books and movies.

But we’re talking about old children’s book series. Many great ones have remained popular through the decades such as Nancy Drew, but I think there are also many excellent ones that have slipped through the cracks. From time to time, it’ll be my pleasure to write about the more obscure old series I love and want my children to read. Today, I’ll start with three.

The Mad Scientists’ Club (first published in 1965) by Bertrand R. Brinley

Each book in the series, except for the last one (The Big Chunk of Ice), which was published by Brinley’s son in 2005, is a collection of short stories narrating the wacky adventures of this group of friends comprising The Mad Scientists’ Club. The stories were first published in “Boys’ Life,” the official youth magazine of Boy Scouts of America.

What do I love about this series?

  1. It’s straight up adventure and shenanigan. It’s a fun read that’s meant to engage your imagination and tickle bone. There’s no coming-of-age drama. It’s just a bunch of boys pestering the rest of the town with their grand scientific schemes.
  2. The science is solid. The main characters are boys who strongly practice DIY and accomplish scientific feats in the name of wholesome mischief.
  3. It’s set in the idyllic (but, of course, fictitious) small town of Mammoth Falls, which provides hills, river islands, caverns, etc. for energetic and inquisitive children committed to staying out of the house.
  4. The characters are all entertaining, the townsfolk included. Even the main villain, the rival gang of a former Mad Scientists’ Club member, is funny and not at all menacing.
  5. It’s the kind of book that will have you frequently bursting out in laughter.

*There was a two-part episode in “The Wonderful World of Disney” based on “The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake.” If anybody could point me to a copy, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

Trixie Belden (first published in 1948) by Julie Campbell Tatham (Kathryn Kenny)

Trixie Belden is kind of like Nancy Drew, except written with more levity and a younger sleuth (13) who is decidedly less of a paragon, but definitely more fun than Nancy. My mom scored my first Trixie Belden books (1 “The Secret of the Mansion” and 2 “The Red Trailer Mystery”) from, of all places, the nearby supermarket. I loved them. I loved Nancy Drew, but I enjoyed Trixie’s stories more. Why?

  1. Trixie was more realistic than the perfect Nancy. She could be rude, short-tempered, and impulsive. She also had chores and was usually short of cash. She was forever struggling with math.
  2. Again, the stories are set in a small town (love small towns!), and it’s easier to picture Sleepyside-on-Hudson than River Heights, which seemed too much like your generic suburban neighborhood (to me anyway).  The modest but sweet Crabapple Farm, which was nestled in a valley between two mansions on a hill, is decidedly more enticing.
  3. Bess and George provide humorous banter for Nancy Drew, but the Bob Whites (what Trixie and her friends, including her brothers, call themselves) definitely engage in zanier exchanges.

The Melendy Family Series (first published in 1941) by Elizabeth Enright

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver are the Melendy Quartet, siblings who had a myriad of adventures starting from their time in the Manhattan brownstone they lived in and all the way to their odd-looking home in the country. They eventually gained another sibling in the heart-warming “And Then There Were Five.” What’s so great about this series?

  1. It is set in the Second World War, and you can see how children in the States were able to support their troops in their own small ways.
  2. The books are pretty action-packed with a wide variety of adventures from building a dam to staging a show, from gathering metal scraps to nighttime hikes, etc.
  3. They are children who follow their aptitude and nurture their gifts.
  4. Their values are solid even if they are also prone to mischief and snarkiness like many children.
  5. There’s no shortage of lovably eccentric characters, including a smiling pet alligator kept in a bathtub.

All these fictional children are ones I’d love for my children to get to know and draw inspiration from.

There are more wonderful, lesser known old-time children’s book series I’d love to feature, but which ones would you recommend? Let me know. 🙂

From Vicks to Katinko to Essential Oils (Plus Homemade Laundry Soap)

I recently saw a clip of Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy joking about Filipino moms’ tendency to cure everything at home. While I don’t resort to Vicks VapoRub for every malady like his did, it was definitely a staple at home when I was growing up. It was used a lot on me as I had a running cold (allergies it turned out) for most of my… oh, why limit it to childhood – for most of my life. That’s still the case up to now. I’m snotty in the morning, and my nose is sensitive to any disturbance – external (whatever’s in my environment) or internal (strong negative emotions). The urge to follow suit in the Vicks dependence is strong, except now, there’s Katinko. It took over Vicks VapoRub’s reign. I use it for pains, cough and cold, gas, etc.

As a true Katinko fan, of course, I got the ointment, the liniment, and the stick, but I’ve relegated them to the second line of defense. As much as I love Katinko, I know its ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms. In looking for a more natural alternative, I came across essential oils. This was about a decade ago, before the essential oil hype raged around the world.

I’ve always been interested in botany and herbalism. I can attribute the interest to various factors. First and foremost, plants and fungi are just so fascinating (right? *uncertainly* :D). Second, I was exposed to plant-based home remedies growing up.  I drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd) leaves for my asthma, lagundi (Chinese chastetree) for coughs, calamansi (calamondin) for colds, and coconut water for UTI. I used acapulco (candle bush) for my dog’s episode with mange (it was an airborne problem, not mites), and you can safely assume that I squatted over a steaming pot of guava leaves tea in the days after giving birth. Third, my great-grandfather was an herbolario (herbalist, although many herbolarios were also witch doctors), so you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve always flirted with the idea of running an apothecary myself. Yes, in this century/millennium. I like the idea of making healing salves, balms, ointments, poultices, tinctures, teas, and (my daughter’s preferred term) potions all from natural ingredients. I know I have to do formal studies to run an apothecary. I don’t think my degree in foreign languages will cut it, lol. When I finally learn how not to be distracted, maybe I will formally study herbalism. In the meantime, however, I’m building my own FARMacy and using items from my garden for immediate remedies.

In any case, I thought essential oils fell right in with this lifestyle choice. When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I got even more into it. I came across various articles extolling the benefits of essential oils for special needs individuals. I started using oils to influence mood, encourage sleep, and stimulate mental clarity. Still connected to our autism diagnosis, essential oils figured as well in my bid to detox the family. Apparently, the commercial hygiene and home products that we use are rife with toxins, so I endeavored to start making my own from scratch, using oils and other natural, wholesome ingredients.

Considering my interest in essential oils, you’d have thought I immediately signed up with one of the dominant brands. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the idea of multi-level marketing, so I didn’t for a long time. I used different brands for years until I detected the better efficacy and general superiority of a couple of brands. It came down to two options, but I eventually chose Young Living as my essential oil brand of choice. I really liked doTERRA too, but most of the people I know were signed up with Young Living, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up too. I figured if I was going to be using YL oils for virtually everything, I might as well get them at member rates.

Now, I likely won’t flourish much in the business side of YL because, first, I suck at selling; second, I suck at recruiting; and third, I don’t really have the time to devote to building a business. That’s not going to stop me from making a half-pantsed effort now and again though. You’re obviously getting a sample of some such effort right now.

All I can do is write about my experience with oils, how delighted I am with the benefits, how thrilled I am to be able to make my own products and know with certainty what’s in the stuff we use, how excited I am to share the oils and the knowledge with my loved ones, etc.

For now, I’d like to show you some of the essential oil blends I recently made. These are mostly rollers, blends I use for helping boost the immune system, for soothing itches, for repelling mosquitoes, and for combating allergies. There is also the spray blend I use to discourage aphids or to freshen up the smell of the room, plus a jar of homemade laundry detergent.

For the roller blends, it’s just fractionated coconut oil (which I prefer to virgin coconut oil, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin, doesn’t clog pores, and stays liquid no matter the temperature) as carrier oil and drops of essential oils. The spray, on the other hand, consists of distilled water and essential oils. For the laundry detergent, here’s the recipe.

You can make this by the gallon, of course, but it doesn’t have preservatives or other stabilizing agents, so I only make what I’ll be using for a week or two and then make another batch.

It gives me such fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, to make things from scratch. Essential oils make the endeavor better for all the benefits they offer. You can count on me sharing more recipes for essential oil-based products here from time to time.

As wonderful as essential oils are, there’s a learning curve to using it. It’s important to know the basic safety protocols before you even start. For instance, use of certain oils is discouraged for certain ages. There are also important diffusing guidelines you should know before you start. What about pets? Are essential oils safe for them? Arm yourself with the fundamentals and you can reap the benefits of essential oils without courting risk.

If you’re interested in getting into essential oils, or you’re curious and want to know more about them, or you’re a fellow enthusiast and would like to chat about them, reach out to me here. Or we can chat in the comments section. Your call. 🙂

Our Journey to Pet Ownership (Scam and Benefits)

I’ve always wanted the kids to grow up with a pet or two. Knowing, however, that the responsibility of housebreaking and other necessary pet training would fall on my shoulders, I thought it would be best to wait until all my own kids were already potty-trained before we got one. I hadn’t figured on autism, however. I should know better than to make conditional clauses that tempt fate. 

My daughter Marguerite has wanted a cat for the longest time. Her lovey as a toddler was a stuffed toy cat she very originally called “Kee Cat” (her way of saying “kitty cat”). When she outgrew her dependence on Kee Cat, she naturally nurtured an interest for the real thing.

Through the years, she has expressed her desire to have a pet cat, and I could definitely relate. I had also distinctly identified myself as a cat person early on. However, she had two brothers who were still in diapers. Based on my own condition, it wasn’t the right time, so I had no choice but to simply  assure her that we would eventually get one for her. Fortunately, she reacted very well to the idea of waiting.

A couple of years ago, however, after reading about the benefits of a dog companion for autistic kids, my husband and I were convinced that the sacrifices and inconveniences of pet ownership would be worth it if our boys were to have significant gains from the experience. We thus visited a pet shop to see how our sons would interact with a Yorkie (our chosen breed at the time). While there, Marguerite got to hold and pet a super cute Persian cat. A few minutes later, she had hives on her arms and red, watery eyes. 

Oh, right. I forgot that I was allergic to cats as well when I was little. I developed a rash on my arms and neck, prompting my parents to rehome the kitten they’d gotten me. My allergies seemed to have eventually gone away as I had cats again when I was in college, also bunnies, and a dog. 

I started reading up on cat allergies and whether there were breeds that were hypoallergenic. There are none despite what some people may claim. There are less allergenic breeds, however, and I became partial to two breeds, the SIberian and the Russian Blue.

I first contacted a Siberian kitten seller I found through an online ad site. It turned out to be a scam. Basically, they would tell you that they’re giving the kitten away for free, complete with a questionnaire to ensure that you would give the kitten a good, loving home, and then when you’re about to close the deal, they say, alas, I’m abroad right now, about to have surgery and the kitten is with me. If you’d send me 15k, I’ll arrange for an international pet shipping service to deliver the kitten to you. I played along with this fishy arrangement until I got their Gcash number, and then told them that I’d just wait for them to get back to the Philippines. Now, I have the Gcash number, but I don’t know how to go about reporting it or if that would even help stop these people from trying to scam others. And they have been successful in some instances. I’ve read in a local FB cat group a woman’s post about how she was still pet-less after paying for several deliveries that didn’t pan out. She said that after she’d sent the money, she never heard from the seller again. Unfortunately, some members were not very kind in pointing out her gullibility.

Anyway, long story short, I tried again, this time on Facebook. The deal went through and we got ourselves two Russian Blue x Scottish Straight kittens. Scottish Straights aren’t known to be low-allergenic, but the former owner assured me that she herself had asthma and skin sensitivities, but the kittens or their parents had never triggered an allergic reaction from her. It has been a week since we got the kittens and no flaring allergies so far. 

It’s early days yet, but I’ve made up my mind not to regret doing this. I’m not a fan of scooping up their waste and cleaning the litter box, but it has been really wonderful having the kittens around. In any case, studies have shown that having a pet offers multiple benefits for the family.

Here are some of them:

  • Health-wise, findings indicate that pet owners are less inclined toward depression and hypertension (Pet fish owners count!). They also tend to have stronger resistance against pathogens. In many cases, the presence of pets is downright therapeutic.
  • Pets give comfort and unconditional love alongside the companionship they provide. They embody a ready confidant free of judgment.
  • Animal care sparks the instinct to nurture, planting the seeds of good parenting. It teaches selflessness, sympathy, sacrifice, and service. 
  • Owning a pet reinforces both responsibility and confidence. Pet owners are helping another living thing remain happy and thriving. It gives them a sense of control and boosts their self-esteem.
  • Growing up with pets provides cognitive support and helps learning in many other ways. Animals can provide lessons in socializing, behavior, emotional management, empathetic insight, and natural progressions.

Anyway, I’m very happy to be the person (one of them) of these kittens, and I’ll probably bore some of you by going on and on about them. If you do want to see more pictures, head on over to my Instagram. Hasta luego. 🙂

Giving This Another Whirl – Third Time’s the Charm!

And we’re back. Again. Hopefully, I can keep this going this time around. 

So, what’s new? My last post was in 2017. Since then, we’ve moved houses. My daughter became a teenager. I now have two sons on the autism spectrum. I’ve written and published books under a pseudonym. I’ve started pushing (not just using) essential oils. I started teaching Spanish and French again.

I’m sure that many more changes transpired in the three or four years that I failed to update this blog, but that should give you an idea how different of a place I am in now. My ideals remain more or less the same. I’m still a Christian who wishes to glorify God with her life. I’m still hankering after a healthy, natural, and sustainable lifestyle. I’m still leaning on God’s grace to help me through everyday challenges. 

These days, I’m just older, more susceptible to exhaustion and aches. Thankfully, my children are also older and not as demanding of my time and attention or as dependent on my presence as they used to be. That means I can take a minute to look after myself, which I’m finally doing with some consistency after a series of fits and starts.

As you can appreciate, I’ve also dusted off the old blog and posted. Did it take a global pandemic and a nation-wide quarantine order to get me to resume blogging? Nah. I’ve been meaning to take it up again for some time now. I didn’t get any extra free time being forced to stay home. Except for the not going out part, my activities and daily schedule stayed pretty much the same. I think, after posting on my author blog, I remembered to post here as well. It’s as simple as that.

…Except that I had to pause and continue on another day.

What can you expect from me going forward? More of the same, I suppose. I’ll be posting about topics that are relevant to the lifestyle I’m pursuing. It would be a combination of hacks, tips, observations, and ideas about homeschooling, parenting, homemaking, autism, creativity, naturalist activities, spirituality, frugal living, etc.

For the time being, I leave you with this picture.

No, we haven’t moved into our VW Kombi. We’re not living the van life, although Mark and I occasionally talk about doing a bus conversion. This picture is from a camping trip we took in January when 2020 was brand spanking new and we were all so hopeful of what’s to come. As we enter the next half of the year, let’s pray for things to turn around. As we pray, let’s also be grateful for the blessings that persist in spite and because of this immensely trying time. 

On that positive note, I bid you au revoir and hasta la próxima.

Having an Herbarium (an Emily Dickinson Inspiration)

Emily Dickinson is my people. I first came across her poetry when I was about 12 or 13, reading the height of ‘80s teen romantic literature, a series called “Sweet Dreams”. Anybody else remember those books? Did you read them with New Kids on the Block muzak coming from your cassette player? Anyhow, I’ve lost my copies of those along with many other books from my youth, which really makes me sad and explains why I don’t lend books anymore.

The Sweet Dreams stories I distinctly remember as the ones that sparked my fascination in Emily Dickinson are called “The Right Combination” and “Love Lines”. I remember the titles and the story lines like I read them yesterday. I would give anything to own traditional copies of these books again… okay, maybe just a hundred pesos each, so if you have them, please consider selling them to me.

This post isn’t about Sweet Dreams, but about Emily Dickinson and how, decades after she grabbed me with lines like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (fodder for my reclusive, angst-ridden, popularity-loathing teen self), she’s still finding ways to remind me that she’s a kindred soul.

Consistent with my fangirl leanings, I already know a lot about Emily Dickinson. I did my high school senior year research paper on her (my teacher actually groaned at the breadth of the folder I’d turned in), as I did my Comm 2 research paper in my first year of college, with focus on Emily’s love life (the professor was amused and delighted with my enthusiasm, saying that I’d actually already created a mini-thesis and I could just develop and expound on what I had for my actual thesis – yeah, that was three years away and I couldn’t connect the topic with my actual major, which was Spanish).

So, the recent pleasurable fellow feeling I’ve had in relation to Emily stemmed from an article about her herbaria. I knew she studied botany and was an avid gardener, but I failed to home in on that information as something of significance when I was young. I’m very much interested in botany, but have never actively pursued the study, except casually in gardening and reading for the purpose of gardening and homeopathy. I figured it was time to put some system and structure into the interest.

With the feature on her herbaria, I found another way to not-so-subtly re-introduce her to my homeschooler (of course, my daughter is already familiar with some of Emily’s poems, thanks to her obsessed mother). With the poet as inspiration, we started working on our own herbarium.

We basically took a scrapbook, onion paper, and white label stickers (all of which were already in our supplies and miscellaneous drawers), and then we started clipping from our own garden. Let me tell you, our herbarium smells lovely. It’s not limited to our own garden plants, of course. When we see something pretty or interesting in our nature walks, we clip a sample and put it in a baggie to be researched and added to the herbarium later. Don’t worry; in our foraging and wildcrafting jaunts, we’re always careful not to overharvest.

What information do we usually jot down in our herbarium to accompany the cuttings?

  • Common name, location where it was found
  • Scientific name
  • Description
  • Practical function

Doing this reminds me of the 100 Species Challenge I participated in on my other blog, which was kind of like working on an online herbarium, using pictures instead of actual clippings. Virtual or actual, I find creating an herbarium fascinating and really fun. Now, I understand how this interest can leave others cold, but if you like botany and find pursuits like this incredibly satisfying, make your presence known in the comments section. Do the same if you love Emily Dickinson. 🙂

Introducing the Joy of Friluftsliv to Our Kids

Last year, the word du jour was hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). Everybody was hygge-ing it up with their warm drinks, home-baked goodies, and candles, trying to create the sense of coziness that the philosophy embodies.

I personally embrace the concept. I’m an introverted, albeit family-oriented homebody, so my personality is pretty much designed to revel in all that warm, intimate togetherness. In the-ber months here in the Philippines, it can be cool enough so hot cocoas, frequent cuddles, and a perpetually steaming, cinnamon-scented kitchen become even more enjoyable.  Take note, I said more enjoyable – that means we’re a people who are used to hot dishes and drinks as well as cozy snuggles in varying degrees of tropical heat.

This year, however, another Scandinavian word is working its way into popular consciousness. Friluftsliv, an ancient Nordic philosophy that literally translates to “free air life”, is about spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

Unlike hygge, which is easy enough to say even for my untrained tongue, friluftsliv is quite the mouthful, and it will trip my tongue and tangle it up if I say it without proper preparation. It also takes similar effort for me to get behind it, not because I don’t agree with it since I wholeheartedly do, but because my mental conditioning tries to limit me to comfy, air-conditioned, wildlife-free interiors.

It’s all a lie, though, I’ve discovered. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. The problem is that I have a tendency to be lazy and finicky, an inclination I used to frequently indulge, which unfortunately led me to turning down opportunities to get out there and choosing to stay comfortably ensconced within the confines of my home. I’ve found though that when I did step out of my comfort zone, my effort was always rewarded. Being out there in nature never failed to enrich me.

Being a parent in this day and age, I have to be even more diligent about making that conscious effort to spend time outdoors. It was author Richard Louv who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder”, and it’s a truly alarming condition, considering so many children are happy to vegetate at home, staring at a screen for hours on end. This activity, and I use the word with irony, is something that has been associated to the exacerbation of mental and emotional disorders, so parents really have to be vigilant in qualifying and quantifying the exposure that their children get. In my opinion, and I’ve been to known to have reasonable ones, the natural world is as fine an exposure as children can get.

Spending a lot of time in nature, as what friluftsliv advocates, is important to a person’s wellbeing. Human beings were meant to live in it and not in the artificial setting we’ve come to fashion for ourselves. Something integrally within us seeks out the natural world and connects with it. That’s why when we give ourselves a healthy dose of nature, we feel revived. We get that kind of energy from a living, breathing world.

They might not have called it friluftsliv, but the experts have been pushing us to ingrain it into the lifestyle of our families. It is quite easy and cheap to do too. Contrary to popular expectation, outdoor recreation does not have to be extremely rugged. You don’t have to go rappelling, spelunking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, etc.

You don’t have to travel a long distance either to experience nature. Where I live, a stroll around the neighborhood is sufficient. There are nearby parks that also serve quite well. Nearby university campuses have also nice offerings in the way of greenery. Graveyards have also been known to work for us. When we want to be in the thick of wildlife, we fortunately only need to go for a short drive. We live in a river valley and the mountains surrounding us have plenty to offer that bears exploring.

What do we hope to gain by observing friluftsliv? The benefits include increased physical activity, lower stress levels, and seriously quality time spent either alone or with company. And you get to achieve all of them amid the beauty of God’s creation, which is unparalleled.

Do you feel the lure of nature? What do you do to make sure that you and  your family regularly get to connect with it?

Valuable Old School Life Skills to Gift Our Kids with

You can probably tell that digital dependence is a favorite gripe of mine, so let me clarify right off the bat that I’m not against the technologies enjoyed today. They’re extremely helpful. I actually use them a lot. I just don’t want my family to feel debilitated without them. I don’t want our daily vista to mostly consist of a digital screen. I don’t want my children to think that they’ll be bored without a gadget. I don’t want them to choose phones and tablets over people and forget common courtesy while they’re at it. I don’t want us to think that we’ll flounder and sink without our digital tools and the ability to connect to the virtual world.

We’re a homeschooling family, and it’s easy to rely on digital devices and the Internet for our learning and entertainment needs, or, even, for contact with other people (We’re socialized just fine!). For this reason, I’ve convinced myself to make a better effort to turn to other options for these, such as crafts, imaginative games, practical arts, snail mail correspondence, etc. I’ve also decided to ensure that my husband and I impart traditional life skills that do not require the aid of a digital tool. What are some of these?

  1. Navigation skills. You can’t always count on your car’s GPS. There have been a few times that we lost signal going through a remote mountain or country road. When I was growing up, my dad always had at least two maps in the glove compartment, and I know that they served him really well both in his job and in his ministry. Being able to read maps is invaluable even in this day and age. If I were visiting a new place, I’d be quick to get a map from the tourism office or from a kiosk, if the town or city is a popular destination.
  2. ‘80s phone skills. It’s not just about phone manners, which are important, of course. The phone was a huge thing when I was growing up. A math-phobic, I used to say that the only numbers I was good with were phone numbers. I had all my friends’ (and then some) numbers memorized. Sadly, the only one I have down to memory these days is my own mobile number. I even have to check my contacts for our land line number. That has to change. I’d be in a pickle if I have to call somebody and can’t check my contacts for the necessary information. I should go back to jotting down phone numbers in my planner as well.
  3. Handwriting skills. This covers a few sub-skills. I love a beautiful, elegant script. Mine is a lovely pseudo-Spencerian, if I do say so myself. It’s not exactly Spencerian, but it has a Spencerian air. Okay, that sounded just as dumb in my head, but I still went ahead and wrote it. Many people might think it’s pointless to learn script, but it says a lot about a person who took the time to develop a nice cursive. It’s not a genteel time, so things of refinement are even more special. It’s an uphill task thus far with my daughter, but we’ll get there. I remember a meme on Facebook saying “Us old folks will use cursive writing as a secret code.” I certainly hope it never reaches that point. Of course, handwriting is also associated with composition skills. There’s no spell and grammar check to count on.
  4. Offline research skills. It’s so easy to just google everything, but I’m teaching my kids how to consult the dictionary and other reference books, including the phone directory (have I got some stories for them about my use of phone directories when I was young and stalker- stalkerly? Stalkerish?) and the yellow pages, as well as how to use the index and glossary. We love libraries and are fortunate to have a librarian cousin, so we can spend time learning in a nice one.
  5. Mental computation skills. They’re not only necessary for when we don’t have a calculator handy (dead phone), but they’re great for keeping our minds sharp and logical. No matter how skittish I am about math, I have to accept that it’s important and extremely useful in practical life.
  6. Face-to-face social skills. This involves learning to take turns in conversation, actually listening, and reading social cues. I’m afraid my daughter has a tendency to keep on talking as long as she has something to say. Since she never runs out, she’s usually full-speed ahead. It may not seem as obnoxious in online chats, but she has to moderate herself in real life. That’s something that she’s working on. Children are also usually sensitive to emotions, but they won’t be able to hold on to this keen sense if they start looking to emoticons for clue.
  7. Self-entertainment skills. Children, for the longest time, have complained about being bored, and parents, for just as long a time, have either threatened to give them something to do or urged them to think of something to entertain themselves with. Back during my childhood, it was either watch TV, which had all of five channels, or go out to play. Good thing I loved to read and daydream. We weren’t allowed to read in a moving car, so for long car rides, my sister and I had to come up with games to play or content ourselves with singing along to the radio. These days, children have a tendency to depend on a mobile device to keep entertained. It’s important to me to show mine that they have the ability to come up with many other choices for enjoying themselves, especially out in nature.

EXTRA: Scouting skills. Reading a compass, building a campfire, foraging, setting up a shelter, tying proper knots… These are all basic survival skills that I’d like my children to acquire. I was a girl scout for several years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’d love for my kids to join the scouts as well. A fellow homeschooler told me that the national scouting organization is open to homeschoolers joining, provided they have a trained and certified scoutmaster lead them. I’m looking into the options we have here.

These are skills we were fortunate to develop growing up in a less high-tech time. It would definitely benefit our kids to acquire them too.

Can you think of any more old school life skills that would diminish the inclination toward digital dependence?

10 Effective Tips on How to Relish Parenthood

As parents, we tend to get bogged down by responsibilities and worries that we forget what a gift parenthood is. Consequently, we often fail to enjoy the privileges that come with it. Such tendencies could very well lead to a loss so great, it’s tragic.

While we never stop being parents, our children don’t get to be young forever. Their childhood is so precious, so special, and, unfortunately, also so fleeting that it’s important to remember to relish this stage of our life as parents. Unfortunately, when we’re living from paycheck to paycheck, facing a mountain of tasks, and fretting over the choices we’ve made for our family, it’s easy to lose the joy.

When we feel like being a parent is more of a burden than a gift, we should take the time to step back from our routine pursuits and remind ourselves how much we love our children and how important it is not only to ensure that they always feel that love, but that we enjoy their presence in our lives. Here are some tips for stirring up all the right sentiments about parenthood and spending meaningful moments with our children:

  1. Do “Hug Time”. The trolls had the right idea. While it doesn’t have to be scheduled, make sure that you make time for hugs several times a day. Especially enjoy it now when they’re cuddly and willing. Hopefully, they don’t outgrow the habit and will continue to welcome hugs and cuddles all their life.
  2. Inhale their baby scent. That doesn’t last very long. Soon, they’ll be smelling of sweat, sun, and, well, whatever else they’re exposed to. If your nose doesn’t appreciate this particular scent of childhood, then time breathing their scent in for after baths.
  3. Savor their gestures of affection. When she was a toddler, my eldest child used to go on walks with her Nannie (my mom) and come back with flowers she’d picked along the way for me. When she was learning to write, she also loved leaving me notes to find around the house (I miss that!). Of course, everything is cherished and preserved, the flowers, tucked between the pages of my Bible, and the notes, in a special box.
  4. Indulge in silliness. Have a dance-off, teach them funny songs (yes, I was the one who taught my kids the infamous “Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit” and “Great Green Globs”), switch roles for an hour, tell jokes… Just laugh, laugh, laugh with them.
  5. Snuggle in bed together. You could read books, watch a movie, tell stories, or just be. Forget the heat! Warm fuzzies in your chest that cozying up with your kids brings aren’t just for cold weather. They might not be interested in doing that anymore when they’re bigger, so do it as much as you can now.
  6. Capture the mundane. Fuss over the milestones, sure, but make the time as well to enjoy the daily details. For instance, when watching videos on my laptop, my youngest lies down on his tummy with his lower legs up and kicking in time to the music and his fingers drumming on the frame of my keyboard (and picking at the keys when I’m not looking). It’s really cute and I always pause to take the adorable image in. I’ve since committed it to memory, so I can summon it up in my mind when he’s all grown. While he still does it, I watch and feel my heart swell.
  7. Regularly spend unplugged time with them. Being fully conscious of each other without the disruption of electronics amps the quality of time spent together instantly and significantly. You tend to listen better, make better and longer eye contact, and, thus, connect more deeply.
  8. Share something you really enjoy with them. It’s good for them to see you cultivating your interests, and it’s even better when they can share your likes with you. Be it gardening, fishing, reading, or even just eating, you get opportunities to bond with your children on the kindred level, a truly delightful feeling.
  9. Experience new things with them. As fun as it is to impart your standing interests to them, it’s even more fascinating to explore new territories together. You would be starting out on even footing, something that they would probably find intriguing and appreciate.
  10. Break one of your own rules with them. These are truly special moments that usually serve you well when you really need to lighten up. When you’re weighed down by all that you require of yourself to be a good parent, allowing yourself to flout one of your own rules is a way for you to satisfy any urge to rebel, to take things a little easier, and to give the kids a break or a treat in case they had a particularly stressful day. For instance, if I had enough of my day, I’d tell the kids that we’re having cake for dinner in the bedroom while watching a movie (even though it’s not movie night) or if homeschooling was rough that day, I’d let my daughter experiment with my makeup; she’s usually not allowed beyond a bit of tinted lip balm.

I find that I need to consciously set out to do these things or I might end up simply going through the motions, resenting the overwhelming list of tasks that need to get done while taking care of hearth and home, and consequently failing to enjoy the infinitely precious blessing bestowed upon me.

The love is always there in our hearts, but it might fail to manifest, consumed as we are by all the daily details. That would definitely be regrettable.

What do you do to steer yourself away from a path of negativity and wasted opportunities as a parent?

The First Time I Share About Our Autism Experience

Puzzle ribbon

Now that Autism Awareness Month is over, I wonder just how much more aware people are of the condition. I have a feeling those who bothered to read posts and watch videos were mostly those who were already aware and probably dealing with it in some capacity. Those who shared a witty slogan or two were likely happy to leave their contribution at that. Did you wear or decorate with blue? Yeah, that was supposed to mean something.

I don’t know that I’m ready to write about autism. I don’t know that I have anything sensible, let alone helpful, to say. When it comes to my son’s condition, I still have no answers, no Eureka moments that other families dealing with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) have been blessed with.

You can say that I’m still floundering. It’s not even being back to square one. At square one, I thought the solution was definitive. The developmental pediatrician had made her diagnosis and subsequent prescription, so I expected to see significant results in time. That was very naïve of me. Autism does a magnificent job at confounding the most logical and learned minds. Is it neurology, nutrition, genetics…? I don’t know. Nobody actually knows. Experts, non-experts, and people with barely a nodding acquaintance with the subject all have their theories, but autism remains an enigma. I’m still not comfortable with that. I don’t think I ever will be.

But it’s my reality and I’m learning how to cope. I still alternate between acceptance and anger. And guilt. There are people who are great at playing victims, and then there are people like me, who would claim responsibility for causing the decline of modern civilization. My natural inclination is to spend an unhealthy amount of time blaming myself for the ills of my personal world.  These days, my son’s autism is almost always at the top of that list. At the end of the day, however, no matter my frame of mind, I have no choice but to take things a day at a time.

My second child was diagnosed to be on the spectrum two years ago. He had just turned three. He’s a handsome boy with a charming cleft chin and a gorgeous gaze that snared you whenever he deigned to bless you with eye contact, which was a rare treat indeed.

It just seemed like he was too cool for us, something that didn’t fit with toddler behavior. He didn’t want to listen to you. He didn’t respond to his name. Nonetheless, he didn’t walk on tiptoes. He didn’t exhibit any propensity for stimming. His verbal communication was minimal, but there were enough bursts of language to make us hope that it couldn’t possibly be.

Still, there were very clear delays in speech and social interaction, so my husband and I decided to take him to a developmental pediatrician. No blood was drawn. No lab test was conducted. There was a checklist though. My husband and I were interviewed, and then, finally, the doctor assessed our boy through play. An hour or so later, we had a diagnosis: he exhibited developmental progress of a 1.5-year-old and manifested autistic behavior.

When I finally had that official confirmation, I spent a whole lot of time in denial and in ignorance. I thought we could beat autism. We would therapy the heck out of our boy so he’d get caught up in areas wherein he exhibited delay. I would make it my main mission in life and would not rest until my son was developmentally caught-up.

Them’s fighting words. The fervor, however, fizzled as my plate teetered with all my other responsibilities. I was working, nursing an infant, homeschooling, doing what I could so the house didn’t completely fall apart… The solid effort I imagined putting in to power through the challenge I had such a laughably simplistic view of never materialized.

It wasn’t just my pitiful effort to the initial intent to railroad autism out of our lives; it was autism itself. There’s a name for it, but, oh wow, what an unknown entity it remains. The more you try to understand, the more you see that you can’t really fully know. That spectrum is a jumble of overlapping variables. The compartments are but an illusion. Expectations are not encouraged.

Still, we had to do something. We followed expert instruction and sent our boy to occupational and speech therapy twice a week for over a year. Unfortunately, results were minimal. While it’s true that we sucked at supplementing therapy at home, I just felt in my gut that this wasn’t the right approach for helping our son.

He had some good therapists, usually the older and more experienced ones, and he had some who were unsatisfactory. For instance, one was always rushing through the session and ending it with 10 to 15 minutes more to spare. That was obviously a great way to not give us value for our money, so I requested a different therapist after I’d noted the pattern.

Another therapist frequently gave negative feedback on my boy’s performance. When I got to observe a session with him, I noticed that he spent a lot of time on massage that was supposed to calm my son down. That showed itself to be a problem. First, I’m not comfortable paying occupational therapy fees for sessions that were half-massage. Second, he was using a product that I hadn’t approved of. My son has very sensitive skin and many products, even the hypoallergenic baby variety, make him itch. Third, all that massage made my boy sleepy. No wonder he was cranky and reluctant to perform.

This same therapist also asked me about play, and I replied that my son was really taken with straws. That gave him a pause, and with a look of concerned censure, he informed me that that was not developmentally appropriate. At that time, all I could do was shoot him a confused WTH look. “Duuuuuuuude, are you aware that you’re dealing with kids who were sent to you precisely because of their developmental delays?” In retrospect, there were other red flags I’d caught from that conversation. He just didn’t seem to know much about autism, so we decided that one wasn’t getting our hard-earned money either.

And then there was the front desk clerk. There was a time when I picked up my son a couple of minutes late. Unfortunately, this was during the time of the therapist who liked to cut her sessions short, so it’s possible that my son had already been waiting 10 or more minutes. I was amazed to see my boy sitting quietly beside her. That’s pretty much unheard of. He’s not one to sit still without something truly fascinating engaging his attention, and even then, he’d still feel the urge to move around. As we walked to the car, I noticed that my son was upset – not meltdown-upset, but more timid-upset, something also quite unheard of. The alarm bells began clanging in my head. I didn’t know how to find out if she’d bullied my child in any way to make him stay put, but I resolved to keep my eye on her and to never be late ever again.

After more than a year in, we didn’t see any marked difference in our child. His therapists would eagerly report his progress, saying now he could do or say this or that, and I’d have to pop their excited bubble and say that he could already do those things even before. I don’t mean to deprive them of any credit at all because there were some new things he did learn, but in my mind, I’m wondering if they could be attributed more to natural progression than anything else.

In the end, we decided to pull him out from the center and regroup. It was temporary at that time, but now I’m pretty sure we’re not going to use that place again. While in therapy hiatus, I’m researching all I can and trying out different approaches that speak to me. ABA, which was what the center practiced, didn’t feel right to me. If it were a medical treatment, I’d call it invasive. I’m always one for a more holistic and gentler approach. In autism, Son-Rise seems to fit that bill. The program’s crazy expensive, but I plan to order the starter kit. If it brings forth signs of the miracle I’ve been praying for, then we’ll try to raise funds for the intensive program, which includes staying in Massachusetts for a short period of time.

Besides therapy options, I’m also looking into diets we could try. GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) seems to be easier than the Feingold one. All those natural salicylate restrictions threw me, but I might give it a whirl if others don’t make any difference. I’ll probably begin with the easiest diet and hopefully it will already work wonders so I don’t have to try anything else.

For now, this is my contribution to the autism awareness cause. Some contribution. It’s purely anecdotal.  It’s rough and random. Any comfort or enlightenment derived from it is unintentional. I don’t want to pretend any wisdom on my part. I don’t want to pretend to have already come to terms with my son’s autism. I still want it gone.

I know the “right” attitude to have, but if I’m not feeling it, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Does this mean that I’m not fully loving my son because I want his autism gone? No. He is loved and cherished no matter what, but it’s because I love him so much that I don’t want him to suffer through the challenges the condition brings. If your child had a disorder, wouldn’t you just rather he didn’t have it, whatever it might be? It’s not about being realistic, but about your heart’s desire. After all, I believe in a God who makes all things possible, so I’m not going to put a limit on what I can hope for. In the meantime, we do what we can to make the best of our situation.

Through it all, I pray. Despite the emotional and mental roller coaster ride, I find rest in the fact that nobody loves my child as much as the Lord does. Autism is just another symptom of this fallen world, but I trust God’s love for us to be perfect despite our imperfections. His hand is on our family. I don’t know what to expect from our journey with autism, but I know to expect goodness, faithfulness, and wonderful works from God.

Seven Wonderful Ways You Benefit from Having Penpals

pen pal letters

My grandmother used to subscribe to all the weekly women’s magazines, which, of course, I voraciously read. On the last page of most of these magazines were ads. Two of the staples were an ad for international correspondence courses and an ad for an international pen pal club.

Sometime when I was thirteen, I learned that my friend Michelle had signed up with the pen pal club and was already exchanging letters with a fourteen-year old boy from Germany. She let me read one of his letters, and I found the idea fascinating. There was this kid all the way on the other side of the world telling my friend about himself and his life where he was. I checked out the photo he enclosed. He was pretty cute too.

I didn’t waste any more time. I joined the club, got a list of names and addresses, and penned off a few letters right away. The first reply dismayed me a bit. I was expecting to hear from a kid like myself, but the writer was a 55-year-old woman from Sekiu, Washington.

I thought that was weird. She was the same age as my grandmother, and, apparently, I was about the same age as her granddaughter who also liked New Kids on the Block. She had been married two times, had grown children, and several grandchildren. She liked to knit and fish! How was a 13-year-old brat like me supposed to relate to that?

She sounded really sweet though and definitely fascinating. She wrote back to me even if I had written a lot of silly juvenile things. I decided to pursue that correspondence, and that was definitely a smart decision. She was funny, wise, thoughtful, and very good about answering letters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good about that myself. By the time I was 15, I was going through some pretty severe growing pains (mental and emotional) and gradually stopped writing.

In the years I did write though, I really enjoyed exchanging letters with my pen pals. In hindsight, I could also see better how the experience benefitted me. This is why I encouraged my daughter to give it a whirl a year and a half ago when she was 9. As her mom, I can see how the exercise benefits her even more than it did me. In any case, she’s still at it and gaining more pen friends as she goes.

different US stamps

What are these benefits that I’m talking about?

  1. You experience delayed gratification. There is the thrill of anticipation in waiting for a letter to arrive, after which, there is also the excitement, of course, of getting something in the mail. The experience means so much at this time when practically everything is done electronically and the end desired is achieved almost instantaneously. Email has its purpose, but engaging in snail mail actually helps build character. Writing by hand takes longer. Mailing (especially here where we need to go to the post office to send letters) takes longer. Transit definitely takes longer. You get a better grasp of having to work patiently toward results.
  2. You learn to express yourself with care and sensitivity. The written word can so easily be misconstrued since the reader doesn’t have facial expressions and vocal inflections to work with. Without hearing the intonation, a teasing phrase meant in harmless fun could be taken as something mean and snide. You become better aware of what you’re saying and how you can be misunderstood. In relation to this, you also learn to practice cultural sensitivity. You register that there are different people in the world and that they operate according to different values and standards.
  3. You improve your penmanship and composition skills. There’s just more satisfaction and joy in creating a neat and interesting letter. You want your recipients to have an easy time reading and understanding your letters. You become adept at following the introduction-body-conclusion sequence and you hone your thought organization and development process without even registering it.
  4. You become more creative. You want your letters to have a nice appearance. You also want them to be more substantial. You want to decorate accordingly either with drawings or stickers and, from time to time, maybe even enclose a poem you wrote, a picture you drew, a little craft project you worked on, etc.
  5. You develop a healthy form of curiosity. Your interest in your pen pals will lead you to find out more about their background and, in the process, learn lots of new things. If someone said that she’s a member of the Church of England, you find out what that means. It’s easier now with the Internet, but, back then, we had to turn to the encyclopedias. You also learn to read between the lines since letters are all you have. If your pen pal wrote, “I’m making a kippah for my brother,” and you have no idea what that means, then you might want to look it up and then, from there, make some logical inferences, such as their family is Jewish, she knows how to sew, she’s nice to her brother, etc. You get lots of exercise for that probing mind.
  6. You are compelled to start collections. You invest in stationery because you acknowledge the convenience of having different writing implements, pretty paper, greeting cards, stickers, rubber stamps, etc. That practical consideration soon develops into an outright collection. Also, from getting different postcards, postage stamps, mementoes, etc. you can unintentionally start new collections as well.
  7. You make true friends. They may not be near you but your pen pals are happy to get to know you, and as you continue exchanging letters, you’ll grow to care about each other. Soon, you’ll be sharing confidences, gaining precious insight into each other’s personalities, becoming a part of each other’s lives, and providing each other encouragement and support.

different European stamps

Did/Do you have a pen pal? What has it been like for you?

Do you want to get started on a pen pal exchange? You might be interested to watch this video of my daughter sharing pen pal tales and tips.

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