Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Singing together

There is nothing I love more than to sing songs with Will and Owen. We’ve already dipped into our Christmas carol repertoire, which we’ll really let loose next week. But I realized, as we watched the Peanuts Thanksgiving special with Will Tuesday night, that I hadn’t been singing “Over the River and through the Woods” with him in anticipation of Thanksgiving. It’s a song I remember singing growing up – at least that opening verse.

I went here to find the full lyrics, and hit upon some accompaniment music too. Today we sang the song several times over in the living room as we galloped around acting it out too. Owen ran back and forth and then did his speak-and-sign combo for “more” every time we finished the tune.

There’s an even fuller, more original (it seems) version of the song, which was originally published as poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, here. But the first link seems a little more simple and singable.

And if you didn’t hear it already, take time to listen to British composer and artist Brian Eno’s “This I Believe” essay, which aired on NPR on Sunday. It’s entitled “Singing: The Key To A Long Life,” and in it Eno argues that we should all spend time singing together – whether or not we have kids. He recommends a capella. He also puts in a plug for making group singing a central ritual in each school day for children of all ages. And he provides a Group-Sing song list (aimed a bit more at adults than young kids).

I definitely feel the most joy and harmony in my preschool class when we are all singing a song together, especially one that we’ve repeated so many times that the lyrics roll off the children’s tongues with supreme confidence. We swing and sway and smile at each other, enjoying our togetherness.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One little, two little, three little Indians

Today for the first time Will actually performed in a pre-school program. For him at least, 4 years old appears to be the just ripening age when it makes sense to both stand on a stage in front of a crowd full of strangers and sing songs with accompanying hand motions all at the same time. Even last spring, Will was too bewildered by the presence of the crowd and the newness of the stage to do much more than stand and look around as his peers sang around him.

Today he sang every song, pausing here and there to put his finger against the side of his head and roll his eyes up as he tried to remember what exactly he was supposed to be singing. Owen was mesmerized by it all and clapped enthusiastically for each song and poem.

Here’s Will, in Indian dress, having his Thanksgiving feast with his friends.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Local farmers find inspiration abroad

Today’s Leger-Enquirer includes a feature I wrote about Chris and Jenny Jackson, two young Pine Mountain Farmers who recently went to Italy for the biennial Terre Madre conference, which this year brought together 7,000 farmers, food producers, chefs and educators committed to promoting traditional foods, local farms and sustainable agriculture. You can watch a short video featuring Chris and Jenny and their farm, courtesy of Ledger-Enquirer videographer Joe Paull, by going to the Ledger-Enquirer home page, scrolling down and clicking on the organic farming video.

There wasn’t room in the story to include much detail about Chris and Jenny's experiences at Terra Madre, so here’s a few more details about their experience in Italy:

This year’s conference focused on young people, and about 1,000 of the participants were, like Chris and Jenny, under 30. Chris and Jenny said they were inspired by the stories of other young farmers they met from places ranging from Ethiopia to Australia. They sampled and savored cacao beans from Mexico, heirloom peaches from Sicily and a procession of other tasty rare and traditional food species from across the globe.

They listened to everyone from the Prince of Wales and the Italian Foreign Minister (albeit on pre-recorded broadcasts) to renowned American chef, author and local food advocate Alice Waters and Indian physicist, environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva, who offered, in Chris and Jenny’s opinion, one of the most the most eloquent and compelling arguments for the need to reform the global food system.
In October, to help raise funds for the 15 Slow Food Atlanta members who traveled to this year’s Terra Madre conference, Chris and Jenny held a benefit “Dinner on the Farm” and played host to some 200 guests who enjoyed a gourmet dinner with heritage hog and an array of side dishes made with produce fresh off the farm. The event was so well received that the Jacksons hope to make an annual tradition of it.

We went to this year's dinner with Will and Owen (who loved running around on the farm and enjoyed the delicious food too). And we'll hope to attend many dinners to come.

Chris and Jenny shared a couple photos from Italy.

Here they’re in Volterra, a small Tuscan town:

And here they are “enjoying an exceptional meal in Cortona” with a college friend and traveling companion:

Also, if you’re interested in reading more about how the local food movement might play into future U.S. food policy, Michael Pollan offers interesting insights in a pre-election letter (entitled “Farmer in Chief”) to whomever would become the president-elect that was published in the New York Times Magazine. As it turned out, Barack Obama read that letter and referenced it in an October interview with Time Magazine.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Experts say: Let them play

I was glad to see this article in Wednesday’s Ledger-Enquirer. It’s a report from the Wonderplay conference in New York, where early childhood educators gathered to discuss play and how to restore its prominence for children across the country.

Experts cited in the article say children on average spend 8 to 12 hours fewer engaged in free play than they did in the 1980s. It’s a good reminder to limit television and video games and to consider whether, when we haul our kids around to umpteen organized activities, we may actually be doing a lot of work and spending a lot of money in order that they can learn less and have fewer opportunities to be creative and independent.

Here are a few quotes in case you don’t make time for the article:

Among the speakers at last week's Wonderplay conference Y was Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Temple University psychologist who contends that lack of play in early childhood education "could be the next global warming."

Without ample opportunity for forms of play that foster innovation and creative thinking, she argues, America's children will be at a disadvantage in the global economy.

"Play equals learning," she said. "For too long we have divorced the two."

Psychologist and author Michael Thompson contends that diminished time to play freely with other children is producing a generation of socially inept young people and is a factor behind high rates of youth obesity, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and depression.

Many families turn to organized sports as a principal non-school activity, but Thompson noted that this option doesn't necessary breed creativity and can lead to burnout for good young athletes and frustration for the less skilled.

Vivian Paley, a former kindergarten teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and now an author and consultant, argues that the most vital form of play for young children involves fantasy and role-playing with their peers.

"They're inventing abstract thinking, before the world tells them what to think," Paley said in her speech to the conference. "It gets them thinking, 'I am intended to have my own ideas.'"

She worried that preschools, in the drive to prepare students for the academic challenges ahead, are reducing the opportunity for group fantasy play - and thus reducing children's chances to learn on their own about fairness, kindness and other social interactions.

Also in the article, Thompson cites some key factors that are robbing children of some of the playtime they once enjoyed:

-Parents' reluctance to let their kids play outside on their own, for fear of abduction or injury, and the companion trend of scheduling lessons, supervised sports and other structured activities that consume a large chunk of a child's non-school hours.

- More hours per week spent by kids watching TV, playing video games, using the Internet, communicating on cell phones.

- Shortening or eliminating recess at many schools - a trend so pronounced that the National PTA has launched a "Rescuing Recess" campaign.

- More emphasis on formal learning in preschool, more homework for elementary school students and more pressure from parents on young children to quickly acquire academic skills.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What to expect when you're not expecting

Yesterday, I got the question from an acquaintance as I stood holding Owen on my hip: “Are you expecting?” she asked, a glimmer of excitement in her eye.

“No!” I laughed. “We’re not having any more.”

I’m sure she was mortified. But I had it coming.

A couple years back, I asked someone I’d just met at the park who looked fairly obviously pregnant to me, when her due date was. Turned out it was nine months prior. I’ve made a habit ever since of not mentioning someone’s pregnancy until she’s eight months and bursting, unless she brings it up first.

Of course I regretted my comment at the park much more than my friend’s from yesterday. Heck, she kind of inspired me. I came home and started doing those crunches my midwife ordered immediately after Owen’s birth. (Actually she ordered a vast array of tummy exercises, all printed out on a handy leaflet I long ago misplaced and all of which I've forgotten by now.)

I also stood at a mirror, looked at myself in profile as my friend had seen me: hips jutting forward, pooch belly that I’ve never lost since Owen’s birth projecting out even further than usual, fairly low-on-the-hip jeans and overly long shirt making it all the more conspicuous…

And my unbiased assessment of me in that stance?: Obviously pregnant.

I swear I’m not. But I have had this sort of unnerving awareness of my little pooch belly for the past 30 hours or so – kind of like it’s a little third person I’m toting around.

I’m going to get down on the floor and do some more crunches now. (Actually I’ve read that aerobic exercise does more to tone tummies than sit-ups – but right now I’m too tired too jog. Here's one article with a regimen for losing belly fat that I have absolutely no plans to follow. Show me the mother who can spend 60 minutes a day alternating between weight training and aerobic exercise? It's not going to happen in this house... So I may just stay apparently pregnant for some time to come. There's also this mom-oriented beat-the-belly blog site . I have no plans to buy the video and no illusions that I'm about to get on a regular exercise regimen, but for a night or two I might try the crunch-free "bird-dog" and "medicine ball wood chop" exercises that Fit Yummy Mummy recommends. Mostly because I like their names. )

Monday, November 17, 2008

First hair cut

This weekend, we gave Owen a spur-of-the-moment first hair cut, before a bedtime shower with dad. I was still waiting for Owen to grow enough hair to make it worth cutting, but Rob persuaded me that it was time for the wispy bits behind the ear to go.

I ran for the camera and took a quick before and after shot, which could become a sort of vision test (Can you tell the difference between the boy’s hair in photo A versus photo B?). We were rushing bedtime too much to wait for a cute smile so we settled for these baby mug shots – featuring Owen with a deer-in-headlights look sporting just a smidgen of snot beneath the nose and drool beneath the mouth (Vision test 2: How many glistening spots of bodily fluid can you detect on this neglected baby's face?). No glamour here, just documentation.

Now that I have time to reflect on it, I'm feeling a bit sentimental about those little wisps (which have of course been safely stowed in an envelope to be inserted in Owen's baby book). I kind of miss them already.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Until now, playdates for Will have been mostly joint affairs – get-togethers for moms and kids all at once. I realized yesterday, when we had Will’s friend Creight come over by himself, how much I can accomplish around the house during a kids-only playdate and how much more I notice about the kids’ play when I’m not flapping my own mouth with another mom or two.

The highlight from yesterday afternoon was when I eavesdropped from the kitchen on this conversation that the boys were having in the next room. For over an hour, Will, wearing his spiderman costume, and Creight, dressed up as Batman, had been concocting various superhero adventures around the house. Their teacher had talked with them earlier in the day about how the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower from England after deciding they didn’t want to live under their king anymore, all of which managed to inspire this dialogue (which I quickly started transcribing):

Batman: I’m glad we’re here to protect each other.

Spiderman: Me too. And when we kill bad guys we protect the whole world too. So there’s no more bad guys except in England. Because the people want to do what they want to do, so that’s why they sailed to America, so they don’t have to live under the king.

Batman: I think we should go to England and kill the king with our guns.

Spiderman: Ok, let’s go!

And the boys gathered some plastic pegs, which they were using as guns, and ran into the next room.

For me, fresh off reading Vivian Paley’s “A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play” (which I recommend to early childhood teachers and parents alike), it was a fun scene to overhear.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Redshirt preschoolers

I’m preparing to get myself motivated to seek out school options for Will next year. Beyond having no clear sense of where he’ll go to elementary school, we’re also still wrestling just a bit with whether to have him repeat pre-K this year. Ever since he was born on his August 31 birthday, I’ve been leaning towards two years of pre-K. Even Rob, who was once a proponent of sending Will on if he seemed intellectually ready, is hesitant to send our not-at-all-tall son into the daunting world of kindergarten, where he would be about 2 years younger than some of his “redshirted” male peers who would doubtless look something like giants next to him.

Will’s got plenty of maturing to do, but at least so far, he’s kind of a do-gooder at school – focused during circle time, careful in executing written work, happy to sit very still for just about any book – all of which sort of complicates the issue. He’s not necessarily one of those jumping-off-the-walls-boys for whom school is a cruel punishment inflicted way too soon. Still I’ve heard many stories from mothers and educators who regretted sending their son too soon (some of whom didn’t come to regret the decision until their sons were in high school) but I have yet to hear from someone who regretted holding their son back. And there’s a good part of me that likes the idea of protecting Will from that grueling 8:00 to 3:00 day that is public school kindergarten for an extra year. I may wind up holding him back a year just to keep him playing creatively and moving around for several extra hours per week. In the end, maybe he’ll learn more?

We’re still mulling it over though. If you’ve got any advice on the matter or your own personal story, I’d love to hear it. Here’s an interesting article on the subject from Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It’s a…… turkey??

So here’s a Thanksgiving edition of what I’m thinking should be a series entitled “What’s That????? Crafts.” (Go here for What’s That??? Halloween crafts.) This one was fun and simple – if slightly unrecognizable -- and part of a test run for an art project I’ll do with my preschool students later in the week.

Here Will, my guinea pig artist, displays his small-bodied turkey:

You can make a much-improved version with your kids at home:

Give your child a coffee filter and have them color away with Crayola markers. Let them know they’re coloring the feathers of a turkey. When they’re finished give them a tub of water and a small paint brush and let them paint over the marker with water for a watercolor effect. Then draw a body at least twice as big as the one I drew for Will (not sure where my turkey proportioning skills ran off to today) and let them attempt to cut the thing out. If it looks a little rectangular so be it. Let them draw on eyes, beak and wattles – or do more construction paper cutting for these features – and glue to the filter. And voila! -- it’s a tie-dye turkey.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Visiting Westville

We’ve been living in Columbus for five years now, and finally made our first trip to Historic Westville, “Georgia’s working 1850s town” yesterday – partly inspired by the fact that they were hosting a fall festival, complete with some bluegrass music by the Bibb City Ramblers. I wasn’t sure how much Will would appreciate a living history museum, but it turned out to be a perfect adventure for a 4-year-old.

Will and his friend Charlie enjoyed touring the historic homes, where they found the spinning wheels, the wells and the old fashioned cradles fascinating. “Can we go into another house?” they’d ask.

At one stop, we looked at a butter churn, which Will remembered learning about in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods.” I hadn’t considered how the Wilder books had prepared Will to think about what life must have been like “in the olden days.”

We also sampled some ginger bread, cornbread biscuits and cane syrup juice – all concocted by costumed “townspeople” in their various old fashioned ways.

The boys, Owen included, enjoyed playing with the crude wooden toys of a pre-plastic, pre-battery era...

and communing with the farm animals.

Here’s a final photo by photographer Will:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Watching history

Before the presidential race was called, the highlight of my election day was a trip I made a few hours before the polls closed here to an apartment building near our house. A few weeks ago I’d helped a handful of residents there register to vote and apply for absentee ballots because they were either elderly or had no transportation to the polls. One man was 87 and had hands too shaky to do much more than sign his name. I helped him fill out forms and promised to return to help him with his ballot. When I went back over a week ago I learned that he’d been hospitalized with pneumonia. I wondered if he might be dying.

On Tuesday I went to the apartment building once more to check on whether two of the other voters whose absentee ballots never came in the mail were able to make it to the polls. (One woman, in her 60s, had found a ride, and carted her oxygen tank along with her.) And there standing and smiling on his front porch was the 87-year-old-man, recovered from his pneumonia. He went into his apartment and found his ballot, and we sat down together as I read the ballot to him and bubbled in his selections, then watched as he labored to sign it with his shaky hand. As I drove the ballot to the elections office, I thought about just how much history this man had witnessed over his life and how it must feel to him to have traveled through the decades from a time when he was denied the right to vote to a time when he could watch a black man become the 44th president of the United States of America.

I wrote those first couple paragraphs as the election results were still coming in. And then when in his victory speech, Barack Obama spoke eloquently about the even longer journey through history of a 106-year-old Atlanta voter named Ann Nixon Cooper, I thought again about my 87-year-old neighbor and about how all of us saw our world change last night.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


We managed to squeeze in a brief stint of coastal trick-or-treating with Will, the knight, last Friday while sick Owen, who never donned his dragon costume, stayed at the cabin with my parents. We procrastinated about the whole affair and as we drove through the 7 p.m. dark toward the little town center at Seaside, an obviously nervous Will asked, “Mom, why can’t we go trick-or-treating in the morning?”

Note to self: Next year trick-or-treat before dinner. Some four-year-olds get spooked in the dark even when they're wearing protective armor.

We learned at Seaside that we’d missed the business-sponsored trick-or-treat session, which catered to more responsible parents who got their little ones out between 4 and 6. But a semi-nearby Methodist Church was hosting a trunk-or-treat, we learned, and tourist-stragglers like us were welcome.

So we drove through the dark up a highway to a church in the middle of nowhere, where the trunk hosts generously dropped handfuls of candy and Cliff bars and packs of gum into Will’s jackolantern pail. He was only brave enough to approach about four trunks and he still came away with a hefty load.

“What do you say?” I’d ask him as we approached a new car.

“You say it,” he'd say shyly, pointing to me.

So we compromised. I’d count to 3 and together we’d chant “Trick or Treat” with Will speaking in a barely audible whisper.

I was grateful to the church for saving Halloween for Will – but part of me felt like we were trick-or-cheating. I thought about the days when I had to work for each bit of candy in my pail, going door to door and earning one little piece at a time, until I’d covered the whole town, walked a mini-Halloween marathon, worked up a sweat and filled my bucket with candy that I would count and organize and then savor, one piece at a time, until about a month later when I’d finally finished the stuff off. Will has apparently inherited that penchant for counting and organizing candy rather than simply wolfing it all down. He’s held candy arranging sessions every day since Halloween.

Here he is working up the nerve to approach his first trunk.

And here are a couple shots of the boys enjoying the beach with Grammy on Halloween morning, the one day when neither of the boys was nauseated.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If that's a vacation, I need a vacation from it

Our vacation to the beach over the past half week turned into a vacation from good health. In the middle of the night, maybe 6 hours after we arrived with my parents at the cabin at Grayton Beach State Park, Will came down with a nasty stomach bug, which lasted just 8 hours for him, but which Owen then managed to catch and keep for the rest of our stay. That left us one morning and afternoon with everyone happy on the beach -- and the rest of the time Owen and I, especially, were mostly in survival mode. Since Owen decided to get well just in time for our return trip, this is one vacation I’m pretty glad to be back from. I’ll post a couple photos from our happier moments when I recover my sanity.