Reading, like riding a bike, takes practice

This column first appeared in The Nevada Appeal, February 19, 2003 while I was still working as a literacy specialist at an elementary school.

#teaching #readtoyourbabies #children

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How is learning to read like learning to ride a bike? Recently my fellow literacy coaches and I pondered that question at a class on the importance of motivation in learning to read. I took lots of notes as my colleagues talked about what they know best: children and reading.

First, learning to read and learning to ride a bike can both be a little wobbly at first. You make mistakes; you lose your balance. You don’t go very fast. You stop and start a lot. There is a certain level of physical readiness and integration of systems necessary—eyes and ears and other body parts must work together. You must pay attention to things like left and right, forward and backward, up and down. Many actions are going on at once and none of them is automatic yet. Not every child learns to ride a bike (or read a book) at the same age. Some learn as early as five, some at ten. Or later.

Training wheels are necessary. Having a grown-up there to catch you really helps. Training wheels for young readers are things like repetitive patterns, rhymes and pictures that support the text and carry meaning. Or someone whispering in your ear as you point to the words.

Riding and reading are also cultural. There are probably neighborhoods or families where bicycles (or books) are rare. Perhaps you only ride a bike (or read) at your grandma’s house twice a year. If so, it may take you longer to learn. Consistent practice is important.

Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, when someone thinks it is time for you to ride a bike, he or she does not start out by giving you one piece at a time, a wheel, a seat, or flashcards naming the parts of the bike. They give you a whole bike and put your seat on the seat, your feet on the pedals, and your hands on the handlebars. And as you start off, they hold on to you, and give you little instructions and words of encouragement. Maybe they even give you a little push. Nevertheless, you are riding the bike. Likewise, beginning readers need to have their hands on books.

Understanding the physics of motion and balance is not critical to riding proficiently. After all, whether it’s balancing on two little wheels or making those little squiggles on a page tell stories, the whole idea is pretty incredible. Some things you learn by feel. You take them on faith.

In both reading and riding, you learn the rules of the road. You slow down or speed up depending on the conditions of the road or the purposes for reading. You watch for traffic, stop signs, bumps in the road. When the going gets tough, you slow down and concentrate. Good readers watch for punctuation, bold print, illustrations, and captions.

Riding a bike and reading can take you places. They give you freedom to investigate new places and new ideas. Some of them are off the main highway; they might even be dangerous. We all take a wrong turn now and then. We stop, look around and start again.

Furthermore, there is a wide range in our ability to, and our interest in, riding a bike. Most of us learn to ride a bike, but few of us ride like Lance Armstrong. We ride to the market or to work. Maybe we ride to be with friends. Some of us love the exertion of powering up a mountain trail and the thrill of roaring down the other side. Some of us only ride on level, paved streets. And some of us haven’t ridden in years. Similarly, we choose to read what we enjoy or what we find useful.

But what keeps you practicing? What makes you try again, even after skinned knees and stitches? Perhaps it is because—if you were lucky—someone gave you a ride when you were little, maybe on a baby seat behind a bicycling parent. Or you’ve seen your older brothers or sisters pedaling like the wind, laughing. You want to be like the other kids, wheeling around, having fun, escaping boundaries, exploring the world. Yes, it’s hard at first, but you keep at it. You know you can do this. The faster you go, the smoother the ride and the more pleasurable. It gets easier.

Finally, both reading and riding are best learned when you are young and once you’ve learned you never forget. Both stay with you forever.

So, how about a ride? Don’t forget to bring the kids.

Scrapbooks turn the pages of our lives

This column appeared in The Nevada Appeal in 2002, when I was DEEP into scrapbooking. I am no longer. While I still have the huge kit of supplies, I haven’t made a book since the one documenting our granddaughter’s first year. She’s almost ten. I have pretty much decided to scan all the remaining photos. Then I’ll organize them into those lovely little photo books I can assemble from the computer and without the huge mess that actual scrapbooking entails. 

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“Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left of you.”  ~Simon & Garfunkel

My name is Lorie and I am a scrap-aholic. I admit my scrapbook hobby may be getting out of control. I’m also something of a pack-rat, although that’s another, oddly related topic.

The roots of my problem go deep. In the late fifties my mother gave me a large maroon scrapbook with fleur-de-lis adorning the cover. I filled its now crumbling and yellowed pages with black and white class photos of smiling schoolchildren. The names and numbers of some of those children are still in my address book nearly fifty years later. That book lives in the cedar chest with my wedding dress.

In college I made another scrapbook. It includes a photograph of me sitting in on the lawn at Fullerton College, protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was in that book that I began writing little stream of consciousness notes so that I wouldn’t forget the people and moments that were so important at the time.

Around 1970 I started another kind of scrapbook. I bought one of the first little blank books and began copying quotes from favorite authors, poets, and songwriters. Walt Whitman, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry David Thoreau, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon. That red book is filled with handwritten entries in bright Flare pen colors. I also began entering bad little angst-filled poems and other pieces I’d written. It wasn’t exactly “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but you get the idea. A diary or journal might have contained a complete chronicle of every thought, every feeling. A scrapbook allows some perspective and perhaps a little editing. Maybe even other voices.

Later I included the poem and Bible verse from our wedding and a letter I wrote to our unborn child when I was pregnant. Nearly twenty-five years later that letter opened the scrapbook I made for Joanna. I also recorded a few stories about each girl so that I wouldn’t forget what funny, wondrous, insightful little beings they were.

I guess that is the point of a scrapbook—remembering. But like most people my memory needs a catalyst, a phrase, an object, an image, a fragrance, or a song that sparks a long-dormant memory. That’s probably why I save all the things I do—that pack-rat thing I mentioned before.

Furthermore, significant events need to be framed with words for me. And while spoken words are gone in a flash, writing makes the moment permanent. I try to hold on to the moment, so I can revisit it or share it across time and distance.

Both happy and sad memories are important. One gives perspective to the other. All those experiences and choices brought me to this place. So, if I ever question who I am or how I got here, I have my own personal database.

Evidently millions of others have joined me in this scrapbook obsession. There are support groups meeting all over the country under the guise of scrapbook parties and workshops. There are entire stores dedicated to its products. I admit I own the enormous suitcase full of materials and tools, affectionately known as the “my husband’s going to kill me kit.”  If you’ve been to a scrapbook party, you know what I mean. The kit is filled with an album, extra pages, decorative paper, page protectors, pens, cutting and mounting tools, and way too many stickers. All archival quality, of course, and acid free.

In the last two years I have completed Joanna’s album and the two identical family histories that I gave my father and brother last Christmas. I also compiled a book about my trip to visit New York City after September 11.

Now that I’m working on Katie’s graduation album, I’ve gone back to the little blank book to remind me of her stories. I spent some time rereading and remembering. Look what I found:

“All my life I’ve been a collector of things—theater tickets, wedding napkins, notes passed hand-to-hand in seventh grade English class. Love letters written but never sent. The last flower to bloom in the weed field before it became a parking lot. Things are saved for a special reason and, if you are a collector, you know that you save many things even when you’ve grown away from the reason you saved them. Like old corsages that have become faded and brittle.” 

I told you that the roots of my problem go deep. That paragraph came directly from that old blank book. I wrote it in 1970.

 

 

 

Book Report: Motherhood is like playing with fire

51kgOTJWNXLLittle Fires Everywhere

Notions of motherhood and parenting play a central role in Celeste Ng’s second novel as they did in her first, Everything I Never Told You.  She explores this basic question: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” And what do we do for (and to) our children in our efforts to fulfill that duty. The book starts with a fire that destroys a home.

“The firemen said there were little fires everywhere. Multiple points of origin. Possible use of an accelerant. Not an accident.”

A sample of the author’s words about parenting:

“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.”
“All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches…. a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and asps it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it like and eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never—could never—set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.”
“Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed: if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.”
“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less…. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

Recommend.

Personal note: Although I have enjoyed talking about books with you, I will be taking a break from writing about every book I read. In the new year I want to focus my efforts on a major rewrite of my novel. <heavy sigh here> Ties That Bind needs my full attention if it’s ever going to get done. There may be an occasional blurb about something I’ve LOVED, but that’s it.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and productive New Year! XO

Book Report: Secrets can kill

515uxhpBakLEverything I Never Told You

This is easily the most powerful book I’ve read in a long time. The author chose an omniscient point of view–God’s eye view—and begins: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

The suspense comes in finding out just how the teenage Lydia Lee died. Every member of this family has a theory and each has left things unsaid for years. Their unvoiced everyday desires and concerns resonated with me. I’ll offer Celeste Ng’s own words to give you a taste of this haunting novel.

 “How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mothers’ and fathers’ mothers and fathers. Because long ago, her mother had gone missing, and her father had brought her home. Because more than anything, her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father had wanted to blend in. Because those things had been impossible.”

“At the time, Marilyn had laughed. What secrets could a daughter keep from her mother, anyway? Still, every year, she gave Lydia another diary. Now she thinks of all those crossed out phone numbers, that long list of girls who said they barely knew Lydia at all. Of boys from school. Of strange men who might lurch out of the shadows. With on finger, she tugs out the last diary: 1977. It will tell her, she thinks. Everything Lydia no longer can. Who she had been seeing. When she had lied to them. Why she went down to the lake.”

“Little bumps pocked the page all over, as if it had been out in the rain, and Lydia stroked them like Braille with her fingertip. She did not understand what they were until a tear splashed against the page. When she wiped it away, a tiny goose bump remained. Another formed, then another. Her mother must have cried over this page, too.”

“And Lydia herself—the reluctant center of their universe—every day, she held the world together. She absorbed her parents’ dreams, quieting the reluctance that bubbled up within. Years passed. …Lydia knew what they wanted so desperately, even when they didn’t ask. Every time, it seemed such a small thing to trade for their happiness. So she studied algebra in the summertime. She put on a dress and went to the freshman dance. She enrolled in biology at the college. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, all summer long. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

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Author, Celeste Ng

I’ve just begun reading Ng’s well-reviewed next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

Were you raised in a barn? I was.

ranch before
See that barn behind the baby? The baby is me and the barn became my house.

My younger brother and I often laugh at the fact that we were indeed raised in a barn. Or what used to be a chicken shed at the edge of an orange grove and next to the railroad tracks. No brag. Just fact.

You see, in the late 1940s, my grandparents purchased the remnants of the Valencia Dale Ranch on East North Street in Anaheim, California. The ranch included a few orange trees, a rundown farmhouse, and a large, albeit even more rundown chicken shed. My Irish grandmother always noted, even when viewing the most derelict and dilapidated of buildings, “Well, it’s got possibilities.” And she was stubborn enough to set about proving her point.

When I was born in 1950, my dad joined the Marine Corps Reserves for the little extra monthly income it provided. Little did he know that a few months later, war would break out in Korea. He was called up to serve for a year, until the regulars arrived. In preparation for that year of separation, my mom and I moved into a recently finished little room beside the barn, just across the driveway from my grandparents’ farmhouse.

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Mom and I lived in the room on the right while Dad was in Korea. When he returned, the conversion of the chicken shed began.

A year later, when my dad came home, my grandparents offered my parents what they could–that barn. And over the next decade, that sad shed became a warm and cozy home for me and my little brother, born nine months after Daddy’s return.

Both my parents and grandparents exhibited resourcefulness and inventiveness, converting what they had into what they wanted.

So, no. I don’t consider being raised in a barn an insult.

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That’s me, at the front door a few years later. That bird on top of the porch lives in my kitchen now.
Christmas card 1953
One of many Christmas card photos taken at the Dutch door my dad and grandpa installed. The door later became a perfect stage for our puppet shows.

 

 

Book report: The “good old days” weren’t all that great for women

51Ja3naWT8L._SY346_Frequently we hear folks of a certain age bemoaning progress and the passage of time. They wish for bygone days when life was simpler. Not me. Especially after reading  Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times  by Jennifer Worth.

The author first gives us a little history of maternal healthcare before 1948 and the advent of Britain’s National Health Service.

“It is hard to imagine today that until the last century no woman had any specialist obstetric care during pregnancy. The first time a woman would see a doctor or midwife was when she went into labour. Therefore, death and disaster, either for mother or child, or both, were commonplace. Such tragedies were looked upon as the will of God, whereas, in fact, they were the inevitable result of neglect and ignorance.”

“In the mid-nineteenth century, maternal mortality amongst the poorest classes was around 35-40 percent, and infant mortality was around 60 percent. Anything like eclampsia, hemorrhage, or mal-presentation, would mean the inevitable death of the mother.”

Worth graphically describes— in sometimes intimate and cringe-worthy detail—the conditions and very real life and death struggles of the residents of the London Docklands just after WWII.

“Children were everywhere, and the streets were their playgrounds. In the 1950s there were no cars in the back streets, because no one had a car.”

Many of those children were born into two-room tenements without a toilet–or even running water–where four or more other children were already present. Some lived in ruined buildings left standing after the Blitz. Domestic violence and mental illness were common and mostly untreated. A girl “in trouble” was ostracized and–after surrendering her child for adoption–was many times forced into a life of prostitution. And while races bumped into one another frequently and companionably in the streets and at work, a mixed-race baby was unthinkable.

Those were the “good old days.”

What difference did reliable birth control make?

“The Pill was introduced in the early 1960s and modern woman was born. Women were no longer to be tied to the cycle of endless babies… Women could, for the first time in history, be like men, and enjoy sex for its own sake. In the late 1950s, we had eighty to a hundred deliveries a month on our books. In 1963 the number had dropped to four or five a month. Now that is some social change!”

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Fans of the television series, Call the Midwife, will enjoy becoming acquainted with the real-life Jenny, Trixie, Chummy, and Cynthia, as well as Sisters Julienne, Monica Joan, Evangelina, Bernadette. Dr. Turner and Fred are here as well.

But mostly this book is a reminder that things have gotten better. We know that access to affordable healthcare—especially birth control—matters. And to the most vulnerable women and children among us–the poor and the sick–it is a matter of survival.

Book Report: Can you make room for hope, faith, and opportunity?

tiger drive

Three cheers for Carson City, Nevada author, Teri Case on her debut novel! I was lucky enough to receive it as a gift from a friend.

Teri gets deep and personal in this family drama set in a trailer park very similar to the one in which she and her siblings were raised. The voices of the mother, father, sister, and brother are both vibrant and heartbreaking. Each character demonstrates the damage that poverty, abuse, and addiction can wreak on human beings. To protect themselves, they inflict further damage by keeping secrets from one another. While readers may not like the characters, they will find it hard not to empathize.

“Do you ever think we all would just be happier if everyone worked together and supported each other? I feel like my parents…and my older siblings only take care of themselves. It’s like my family doesn’t think there is enough of a good thing to go around, so they all scrap for the best of the worst, climb over each other, fight over rations, and then boom…they vanish when someone needs them. And that leaves me no better than them and looking out for myself…”

The author successfully paints each character into a corner, where neither they nor the reader can see any way out. Could these characters ever find redemption? Each of them will need to find resilience and the fierce drive of a tiger if they are to survive much less succeed.

More importantly, I believe Tiger Drive reinforces one of the reasons I read–to experience lives outside my own. The characters’ desperate lives and blistering responses to the chaos swirling around them are so foreign to my own life, that I was at first taken aback. Their struggles caused me to reflect on the assumptions and judgments I may have made when I encountered troubled children and families not only in my teaching career, but also in my life. I hope I have at least been kind. As a human being, kindness and compassion should be my first response. My prime directive. It costs us nothing to “make room for hope, faith, and opportunity” in our hearts. Having one person believe in us can make all the difference.

Thanks for a compelling read and the lesson, Teri.

Teri case
Author, Teri Case