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.

Book Report: Start with one grand old house and one evil step-mother

THEThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett DUTCH HOUSE

This is one of the best books I read this year by one of my favorite authors. As I settled in and began reading, Ann Patchett wrapped me up and carried me through decades of poignant family drama. She wove the past and present, not to mention the many characters’ perspectives into one cohesive narrative, told in one point of view. It’s simply masterful. I’m in awe.

The nature of memory, insights into the human heart, and the power of forgiveness are at the core of this story.

Here are a few quotes, just because she says everything better than I can.

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended, knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”

“But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.”

“We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it. I was sickened to realize we’d kept it going for so long, not that we had decided to stop.”

“Thinking about the past impeded my efforts to be decent in the present.”

Patchett earns all the stars. Recommend.

There’s no place like home for the holidays

This column originally appeared in the Nevada Appeal on December 5, 2001, almost twenty years ago. September 11 was still fresh in our minds.

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“We’re not going anywhere for Christmas. We’re staying home,” our younger daughter Katie asserts as she submits her Christmas list.

You may think this is a response to the events of September 2001, some fear or trepidation about airplanes falling from the sky. Actually, it’s a response to December 2000. Her list details holiday menus and how many lights should be put up outside, the Advent calendar and my almond butter cookies. At twenty-one she’s our baby, but has always been very clear about what she wants. She’s being especially clear this year.

You see, last year I made up my mind that I’d had enough of the Christmas craziness, the expectations, the stress, the shopping, the cooking, and decorating. I wanted to escape for Christmas and maybe even escape from Christmas. I wanted to discard all Schaefer traditions and go someplace warm and fun with the girls. Our older daughter Joanna would soon be graduating from college and any future Christmas vacation—or any vacation—with the four of us would likely be next to impossible. I also considered the notion that if we had one Christmas devoid of tradition, we could then add back in the ones that meant the most to us. Hence Katie’s list.

After searching the Internet for sunny winter getaways with something for everyone, we decided to spend a week doing the Disney thing in Orlando, Florida. None of us had been to Disney World, but Don and I had grown up with Disneyland practically in our backyards. We knew that no one does entertainment better than Disney. In addition, I got a great deal on a hotel and airfare package and booked it months in advance.

The trip was the gift, so the under-the-tree, hung-by-the-chimney stuff would be minimal. There would be no tree. The girls would exchange gifts. My husband and I would exchange gifts. Strict spending and size limits were enforced; after all, it had to fit in a suitcase. But remember, we were getting a great trip to Disney World.

What began however, as a way of escaping the holiday hassles will live in infamy as part of our family mythology. Eight-hour delays will grow to two days in the retelling. Being rerouted to Minneapolis will become an interminable trek to Siberia. Moreover, I will forever be remembered as the Grinch who stole Christmas.

You see, our dream trip turned into a nightmare shortly after 5 AM on December 23rd when we arrived at the Reno-Tahoe Airport an hour before our flight. Our Delta flight had been cancelled.  Wasn’t Delta the symbol for change in my high school math classes? You know, change in the x or y-axis? This time it was a change in departure times, change in airlines and change in airports. Connections were delayed because of heaven knows what. Perhaps the crew hadn’t arrived. Maybe they were traveling on Delta too. Our vacation started many hours later, in the wee small hours of December 24th.

At least we were able to make all of our connections. The family behind us missed their cruise—a family reunion/grandpa’s birthday/Christmas cruise—because of the cancellation. Yikes. We actually felt lucky for a moment. Then boarding the flight from Minneapolis to Orlando was delayed by an hour because of smoke in the cabin. What next?

The trip back home was equally fraught with problems requiring that our family be split up and that we spend an unexpected night in Salt Lake City.

I will never forget the look of utter hopelessness and resignation, the smell of defeat, the great unwashed, unshaven and unpressed masses at the numerous airports at which we waited. And waited. And waited.

And this all happened before the events of September 11 increased travel snags.

We will therefore be home for Christmas. Nevertheless, we feel torn by conflicting desires at this time of year. Our parents and other family members are still in Southern California. Don’t ask me why, but they are. Our older daughter is still in New York City. Don’t ask me why, but she is. So, we feel the tug to travel, to be with our large and much-loved family. This year, however, we have decided to stay home rather than go home for the holidays. Or go anywhere for that matter. We’ll have a merry little Christmas right here.

This year I’ll hang stockings by my own chimney and deck my own halls. Then I’ll bake my almond butter cookies while listening to Bing and Nat and Garth on my own stereo.

Yup. There’s no place like home for the holidays. My home. Sweet.ed51bcccf1469a1b3324e44dc90c1ea7

 

Claire’s one really good recipe

Novel still in rewrite, but this recipe bears repeating.

Lorie Schaefer

Another in the sometime series from “Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook.” The foods are all mentioned in my still-in-heavy-rewrite novel. Claire holds a tender spot in her heart for this recipe and for one particular member of the family it came from. Enjoy!


Butternut Squash with Apples

from the kitchen of Claire Jordan

Auntie Claire isn’t much of a cook and I was surprised when Mom told me this favorite fall recipe was hers. When I asked Auntie Claire about its origin, she got a faraway look in her eyes and said it came from the mother of an old college friend. Somehow I got the feeling that there was more to the story.

  •  About 1 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped.  About 5 cups. Many produce departments now carry peeled and chopped squash.
  • 4 medium tart apples, chopped.
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, cherries, raisins, or combination
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or…

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My husband’s latest obsession? Dishes

Nearly fifty years ago, as my Darling Husband (DH) and I were planning our wedding and life together, I tried to involve him in many of the details. I didn’t want to cut him out of what at the time was a traditionally female process. But, as a twenty-one-year-old man, he was disinterested to say the least. Go figure. I especially wanted his help in choosing the everyday dishes that he’d be eating from–and washing up–for the foreseeable future.  I dragged him to a local department store where we selected a very simple design—ivory, with a thick band of olive green and thin brown stripe. (Earth tones were very big in 1973.) Not my first choice, but in the interest of compromise, we registered our pattern.

Weeks later my mother began displaying wedding gifts on the dining room table, as one does. Or did. Is that still a thing? Anyway, DH remarked that he liked the dishes.

“You should like them. You picked them out,” I said.

“Huh. I don’t remember ever seeing them before.”

Henceforth, I was a little less worried about involving  DH in those kinds of decisions. And in the intervening years, as our needs and my tastes evolved, I chose kid-proof Corelle or beautiful Pfaltzgraff dishes with minimal input from him. Over time our earth tones were replaced by blue and white china, white enamelware, and lovely cobalt blue glass. Pretty, right?

Fast-forward forty-six years.

My much-loved Pfaltzgraff collection was showing signs of thirty years everyday use. I mentioned to DH that I might get some new dishes, but not all at once. I’d merely incorporate the new, little by little. DH said he’d always like Fiestaware. Me too. It’s been around since the 1930s and fits right in with our vintage-old-crap-from-every-dead-relative decor. So, I chose a few Fiesta place settings that coordinated beautifully with the remaining unchipped pieces of Pfaltzgraff. Even the transition would look fine. Slowly, I’d add more pieces I found at thrift shops and yard sales. Keyword: Slowly. The hunt would give me pleasure. Not to mention the thrill of serendipitously finding a bargain. Remember, I didn’t really need new dishes.

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My starter sets of Fiestaware in Lapis, Ivory, and Meadow

Conversely, DH is very much an instant gratification sort of guy. Always has been. That hasn’t changed. Hence, he soon became dogged in his search for pieces to replace every single item in the cupboard and others that were somehow iconic to the Fiesta brand. Now. Watch lists on eBay. Wish lists on Amazon. Email alerts when new pieces arrived. He ordered things without telling me until they are on their way. He even bought me a Fiestaware encyclopedia.

All to show he loves me, of course. Bless his heart.

While I am donating my discarded Pfaltzgraff to a local charity that helps needy families furnish their homes, my material footprint has not shrunk in the least. And I’ve lost control over what had been my purview for decades. Granted it’s only the color scheme for our dinnerware–and the pace at which it changes–but still.

Furthermore, we once again needed to have that little chat about how the ways in which he shows his love don’t always match the ways I feel that love.

So, where is that oblivious young man I married? At the other computer, checking to see if the cute miniature pitcher is available in Cobalt. Or maybe Scarlet.

 

Book Report: Fetch this book, then sit and stay in to read it

In the Doghouse: A Couple's Breakup from Their Dog's Point of View by [Case, Teri]IN THE DOGHOUSE is loaded with what I expect from author, Teri Case–heart and hope. But DOGHOUSE contains a lot of humor too. Skip, a rescued Wolador (a wolf-lab mix), reacts to the breakup of his pack with his own brand of well-articulated dog logic. He feels sad and lonely and worries that he is to blame for the breakup of John and Lucy. Darn that Bunny, anyway.

While a couple’s undoing after ten years together is naturally fraught with emotion, telling the story from poor Skip’s point of view—along with his efforts to help Lucy cope–make it particularly sweet and poignant. Remember, a dog lives in the bow-now.

When Lucy finally stops crying, she decides to move forward and not go under. She and Skip step outside their comfort zone and get to know a few new people, together. Lucy starts a rewarding new job at an assisted living center. She and Skip connect with colorful, well-drawn neighbors in their building, including the mysterious but handsome hoarder next door and a young Harry Potter fan who also happens to be on the autism spectrum. She and Skip attend doga (dog yoga) classes. Slowly–and by fits and starts–they build a new and much larger pack.

Lucy changes, becomes a new and improved version of herself. Does she really want John back now? Skip’s not so sure that’s a good idea.

After reading two heavy, sad, dark novels peopled by dysfunctional families with abused and neglected children (you know, typical literary fiction fare) I was in need of a palate cleanser. IN THE DOGHOUSE was the perfect antidote. Sure, there is some grief and loss, but also so much light and love. And if you are a dog person—or know one—I can’t recommend this feel-good book enough.

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