Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Dawn Treader by Bernie

Yesterday morning, Bernie (age 15) asked if she could use some leftover paint from the girls' room for a painting. I consented. I didn't really understand what she wanted it for, nor why she painted the top portion of the canvas black and the bottom portion "room" color to start with. This morning she and Kate hung the finished canvas above the bunk bed and called me in to see it. I feel pretty confident that C.S. Lewis would approve. ;)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Some Science of Gratitude

I enjoy finding science-based information that confirms things I already subscribe to because of my religious beliefs. The intersections and commonality are fascinating and they help me understand a concept better and reinforce its importance to me. Today I was trying to learn more about gratitude when I stumbled upon this article.

Gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear. We can lose jobs, we can be attacked on the street, we can get sick. I’ve experienced all of those things. I remember those harrowing times at unexpected moments: My heart beats faster, my throat constricts. My body wants to hit something or run away, one or the other. But there’s nothing to hit, nowhere to run. The threats are indeed real, but at that moment, they exist only in memory or imagination. I am the threat; it is me who is wearing myself out with worry.
That’s when I need to turn on the gratitude. If I do that enough, suggests the psychological research, gratitude might just become a habit. What will that mean for me? It means, says the research, that I increase my chances of psychologically surviving hard times, that I stand a chance to be happier in the good times. I’m not ignoring the threats; I’m appreciating the resources and people that might help me face those threats.

Read the rest here... The Six Habits of Highly Grateful People by Jeremy Adam Smith 

I enjoyed this one too: Gratitude Practice Explained, from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Inside Out!

I finally got a chance to see Inside Out a few days ago. Wow, great movie but very intense in some ways. I wondered how much the younger side of Pixar fans would "get" it. There's so much to process from the movie that I almost feel like I have to watch it a second time before blogging on it properly.

I will say that I really, really liked it. So many great concepts, illustrations that line up well with our understanding of the brain and thoughtful, clever details in an engaging and believable story. Do watch it if you get a chance.

Three Books I'm Excited About Right Now...

 I haven't finished reading any of the following books yet, but felt ready to start talking about them anyway.

Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered, is written by the same team as The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.
It follows the brain science, interwoven with many personal stories, about how people learn and develop the essential trait of empathy.  Empathy is woven into the very fabric of our being, but basically, we learn empathy by being loved by our parents (and other caregivers) from the time we are tiny infants. This tends to happen naturally, as our responses as parents are also practically automatic. The consequences of not receiving this normal loving care (such as those raised in orphanages in Russia and Romania) are serious, but can be addressed to some extent. (Not only empathy, but also things like IQ, immunity to disease and physical balance are related to the nurturing most babies receive at a very young age.)

One part of the book I particularly enjoyed was about a woman who founded an organization that helps schoolchildren learn empathy. Just hearing about how this woman grew up was fascinating.

If we are all born for love, Roots of Empathy founder Mary Gordon was delivered into some of the most fertile ground imaginable. She grew up in Newfoundland, in a multigenerational  household that included her three brothers and one sister, both of her grandmothers, and an uncle who was intellectually disabled. Her parents also often took in "strays." Unmarried women who'd gotten pregnant would live with them during their pregnancies, men leaving prison would visit nightly for a free meal. Gordon's father eventually served as the Canadian minister of labor,a dn her mother was an artist. The Catholic family was deeply committed to social justice. AT the dinner table, the rule was that the conversation must focus on ideas - literature, policy, religion, philosophy - not gossip or mundane events. But the table rang out with laughter and spirited debate: this didn't produce sullen resentment.

How to Raise an Adult:  Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott Haims has been a wonderful read so far. The author is a former Stanford dean who has also experienced the challenges of today's parenting norms from raising her own children. This has led to a easy-to-read (with lots of laugh-out-loud and ah-ha moments) practical guide to what's wrong with parenting (and related issues such as the "College Admissions Arms Race"), how it's affecting our children and what we can do about it.

Her suggestions seem much more manageable than overwhelming. To give you a sense of it, here is a list of "How to Let Your Kid Play" (though, in the book, each item is detailed with information and suggestions):

  • Value free play. 
  • Know your kid. 
  • Create agreements with other parents. 
  • Offer materials and equipment that foster imaginative play. 
  • Let your kid decide how and what to play. 
  • Work on creating space between you and your kid.
  • Develop a capacity to wince but not to pounce.
  • Create a culture of free outdoor play. 
  • Get inspired. 
  • Encourage change in your community. 
  • Model play. 

I figured that even reading some of the crazy helicopter-parenting stories aloud to my kids would help ensure that I wouldn't imitate such behavior. ;)

I am also looking forward to reading her suggestions in upcoming chapters (I'm about half-way through) on teaching life skills, teaching them to think, preparing them for hard work, letting them chart their own path and listening to them. Good stuff!

Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children just arrived in the mail yesterday.  Looking forward to having a little downtime for savoring it. (A girl can dream, right?)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Few Great Quotes (and pictures of pretty notebooks) for Your Day

I've been collecting quotes in a lovely commonplace book (from Paperblanks, pictured above on the left) for a number of years now (and collecting quotes in places all over for many years before that). I enjoy both collecting them and reading over them occasionally. The first book contains a variety of quotes, including a lot of spiritual ones.

Recently I decided to start a separate commonplace book for quotes having to do with education, people, culture, etc. (it's a pretty wide field). That's the one pictured above on the right and in the open book picture below.

I really love these beautiful books and find that the beauty itself motivates me to write in them and read through them more often.

So I've been piecing these quotes together from all over, especially in preparation for my trip to Denver this weekend (and for use with some of my talks at the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educator's Conference there). Thought I'd share a few of the quotes here...

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.

- Pope Benedict XVI, Madrid, August 2011

The sacramental imagination gets the world into proper focus... G.K. Chesterton insisted that Catholicism was about thick steaks, cigars, pubs, and laughter. Catholicism is more than that, of course. but it's also that and to miss that is to miss something crucial in the Catholic world. The Catholic world isn't nervous about is legitimate pleasures. In fact, it's a world in which those pleasures can be fully enjoyed because they're understood for what they really are - anticipations of the joy that awaits us in the kingdom of God. And that, I suggest, is a lot more appealing than granola-and-Corona-Lite gnosticism.

- George Weigel

The most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child's home. - William Temple

If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money. - Abigail Van Buren

Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentials. - Maria Montessori

For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain. - Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

In the absence of any other proof, my thumb alone would convince me of God's existence. - Sir Isaac Newton

Children trying out new things are like plants putting out little green shoots. We must be careful not to cut them off. - John Holt

In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the creator may, as He freely wills use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass. - St. Albert the Great

With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of His own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in His creative power. - Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

It is important for us to live Christianity and to think as Christians in such a way that it incorporates what is good and right about modernity - and at the same time separates and distinguishes itself from what is becoming a counter-religion. - Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World

Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to  let him know that you trust him. - Booker T. Washington

Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas... We must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food.  Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

The virtue of truth gives another his just due. Truthfulness keeps to the just mean between what ought to be expressed and what ought to be kept secret: it entails honesty and discretion. – Catechism of the Catholic Church #2469

Respect all reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them. - Maria Montessori

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. - Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thinking and Reading

Wow, it's been awhile since I've had a chance to post here. We took a three week road trip out to California for Ria's college graduation, which was a lovely event and really a great, but crazy trip. More about that later.

I am preparing to give a couple of talks at the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educator's Conference next month. I am excited about the opportunity and grateful to Mary Machado for her gracious invitation.

Besides taking out old notes and compiling new ones, I like to do some reading to prepare for these talks and figured it would be good to come back and do the "Studeo" thing here as a way of processing what I've been reading. So here goes...

The Boy who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry

I picked up this book on a whim after noticing it at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago. I have always been fascinated by psychology, brain science, and parenting/educational theory.

This book is a little harrowing in places because the author has worked with children who have gone through some really terrible situations, but there is an awful lot to love about the book, including many stories that turned out quite well through some surprisingly simple, and at least common sense, solutions.

Possibly my favorite part was just getting a glimpse into the value of the ordinary things that most parents automatically do and give to their infants and young children, things so ordinary that we tend to not even think of them as important - such as cuddling, rocking, and talking to an infant. It is fascinating (though sad!) to see how critical this is in a child's development, through stories of children who, for one reason or another, missed out on these essential parts of growing up.

Don't have a lot of time to overview all of the individual stories present in this book (which include some high-profile cases, such as the surviving children of the Branch Davidians) but would like to pull out a few worthwhile and interesting quotes.

It's hard to imagine today, but when I was in medical school in the early 1980s researchers didn't pay much attention to the lasting damage that psychological trauma can produce. Even less consideration was given to how trauma might harm children. It wasn't considered relevant. Children were believed to be naturally "resilient," with an innate ability to "bounce back."

Our work brings us into peoples' lives when they are most despertae, alone, sad, afraid and wounded, but for the most part the stories you'll read here are success stories - stories of hope, survival, triumph. Surprisingly, it is often when wandering through the emotional carnage left by the worst of humankind that we find the best of humanity as well.

Ultimately, what determines how children survive trauma, physically, emotionally, or psychologically, is whether the people around them - particularly the adults they should be able to trust and rely upon - stand by them with love, support and encouragement.

The responses of traumatized children are often misinterpreted. This even happened to Sandy at some points in foster care. Because new situations are inherently stressful, and because youth who have been through trauma often come from homes in which chaos and unpredictability appear "normal" to them, they may respond with fear to what is actually a calm and safe situation.

The fact that the brain develops sequentially - and also so rapidly in the first years of lie - explains why extremely young children are at such great risk of suffering lasting effects of trauma: their brains are still developing. The same miraculous plasticity that allows young brains to quickly learn love and language, unfortunately, also makes them highly susceptible to negative experiences as well.

Our group and others had observed that the nature of a child's relationships - both before and after trauma - seemed to play a critical role in shaping their response to it. If safe, familiar and capable caregivers were available to children, they tended to recover more easily, often showing no enduring negative effects of the traumatic events.

In the beginning there was a push by some in our group to start "therapy" with the children. I felt it was more important at this time to restore order and be available to support, interact with, nurture, respect, listen to, play with and generally "be present"... Some studies, in fact, find a doubling of the odds of post-traumatic stress disorder following such "treatment." In some of our own work we've also found that the most effective interventions involve educating and supporting the existing social support network, particularly the family, about the known and predictable effects of acute trauma and offering access to more therapeutic support if- and only if - the family sees extreme or prolonged post-traumatic symptoms.

As a child grows, many systems of the brain require stimulation if they are to develop. Furthermore, this use-dependent development must occur at specific times in order for these systems to function at their best. If this "sensitive period" is missed, some systems may never be able to reach their full potential.

If their parents feed them when they are hungry, calm them when they are frightened and are generally responsive to their emotional and physical needs, they ultimately build the baby's capacity to soothe and comfort themselves, a skill that serves them well later when they face life's ordinary ups and downs.

Over the years Mama P. continued to bring her foster children to our clinic. And we continued to learn from her. Mama P. discovered, long before we did, that many young victims of abuse and neglect need physical stimulation, like being rocked and gently held, comfort seemingly appropriate to far younger children. She knew that you don't interact with these children based on their age, but based on what they need, what they may have missed during "sensitive periods" of development.

Fortunately, the virtuous cycle is every bit as cascading and self-amplifying as the vicious cycle.

To help create a biologically respectful home environment, parents can also do simple things like setting boundaries on media and technology - for example, having regular family meals when all phones, televisions and computers are off. In addition they can model behaviors that emphasize the importance of relationships, empathy and kindness in their interactions with people, whether they be relatives, neighbors, shopkeepers or others they encounter in their daily lives.

Schools, too, need to change. Our educational system has focused nearly obsessively on cognitive development and almost completely ignored children's emotional and physical needs... In our rush to be sure our children have an environment as "enriched" as that of the neighbors' children, we are actually emotionally impoverishing them. A child's brain needs more than words  and lessons and organized activities: it needs love and friendship and the freedom to play and daydream.

We also need to recognize that not all stress is bad, that children require challenges and risk as well as safety.

There really is a great deal more, but I think I've quoted enough already. :) It's a very good read, and a fast one, especially important for those who work with troubled children. I am looking forward to reading his other book, which is on the importance of empathy.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Movie Music Fun

There's a lot of fun and interesting movie music out there, and we've collected some on iTunes over the years. Recently, I put a bunch more together for an upcoming road trip and thought it might be fun to share some of our favorites here. (We've also been enjoying playing "Name that Tune" with some of these songs, as well as some we were able to find on YouTube.) Oh, and I didn't shy away from a few television shows and operas too.

"Main Title" from The King and I
"Overture" from Lawrence of Arabia
"Jeeves and Wooster" (from the album The World of Jeeves and Wooster)
"Downton Abbey - The Suite" (The Chamber Orchestra of London)
"One Small Fact" from The Book Thief (by John Williams)
"Theme from Jurassic Park" (by John Williams)
"Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter (by John Williams)
"Still Dream" from Rise of the Guardians (with Renee Fleming)
"Calling the Guardians" from Rise of the Guardians
"Overture" (Prelude) from Carmen (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein)
"Special Order" from Ratatouille - Michael Giacchino
"Theme from the Magnificent Seven" by Elmer Bernstein
"Main Title" from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein

"Driving" from Driving Miss Daisy by Hans Zimmer

The Bridge on the River Kwai - "Colonel Bogey's March"

Ben-Hur - "Parade of the Charioteers"
"The Pink Panther"
"Somewhere in Time"
Raiders of the Lost Ark - "The Raiders' March"
"Le Festin" from Ratatouille
"Down to Earth" from Wall-E by Peter Gabriel
"He's a Pirate" from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
"Captain America" by Alan Silvestri
"The Avengers" by Alan Silvestri
"Kingdom Dance" from Tangled by Alan Menken
"Band of Brothers Theme" by Michael Kamen
"Non Nobis, Domine" from Henry V by Patrick Doyle
"Now We Are Free" from Gladiator by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard
"The Hanging Tree" from Mockingjay by James Newton Howard
"Jessica's Theme" from The Man from Snowy River by Bruce Rowland
"Married Life" from UP! by Michael Giacchino
"Gabriel's Oboe" from The Mission by Ennio Morricone
"Test Drive" from How to Train Your Dragon by John Powell
"Main Title" from Singing in the Rain
"Who is She" from Cinderella by Patrick Doyle
"Bistro Fada" from Midnight in Paris by Stephane Wrembel
"My Father's Favorite" from Sense and Sensibility by Tony Hymas et al.
"Around the World, Pt. 1" from Around the World in 80 Days by Victor Young

Plus, I forgot some of our all time favorite albums of movie music:

Meet the Robinsons Soundtrack
Sleepless in Seattle Soundtrack
You've Got Mail Soundtrack
Disney/Pixar Greatest

It's funny how some of the songs bring back many memories besides just those of the movies themselves.

My parents like to affectionately refer to me and my six siblings as "The Magnificent Seven", so of course that soundtrack is our theme song. :)

Also, Golfredo Corradetti, my amazing high school music teacher at Kolbe Academy, had us watch part of Somewhere in Time during class one time because he liked the theme song, which I think is based on (or mostly composed of?) Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini: Variation No. 18".

And I just noticed that ClassicFM.com has a whole section on film music.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Our New Family Tree Wall

Our New Family Tree Wall
I've been dreaming of doing a photo-family-tree-wall for a number of years. When the kids were little, we made photo boards that we called cousin charts, so they would have some visual memory of the cousins who live far away and are easy to get confused about over time. Well, that same problem hasn't gotten any easier over the years, especially as those cousins have gotten married and had kids of their own!

I found a picture frame wall cling set at Target a year or so ago (bought three sets). Most of the frames were too big and there were more leaves than frames for my liking, but I finally just started cutting things up and using leaves to hold pictures and it seems to be working just fine. Also, it's a narrow hallway, so I like not having frames hanging on nails.

The whole thing still needs some work, but, I think, it includes everyone but the latest Van Hecke great-nephew who was born just last week. I put the Lawlesses (my side of the family) on one half of the wall and the Van Heckes on the other - my parents and my husband's parents all the way down to their great grandchildren.

Some day, I would also like to put historical family trees up somewhere. Family history is something I've long been fascinated by.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Love Your Enemies, Do Good To Those Who Harm You

Pope Francis washing feet
I've been stewing on this post for awhile, and I think it's particularly timely as we enter the celebration of the Easter Triduum. Let's look for a minute at the traditional washing of feet that is part of the Holy Thursday Mass. God came down to earth and became man. He chose as a symbol to teach his disciples how to minister to others, to do the most humble work of washing their feet. This was so lowly that it embarrassed them. Feet can be gross and dirty. To wash them, one must get down on one's knees. Jesus is God and He humbled himself in this almost unbelievable way. Our priests tonight, in re-enacting this, put themselves in a similar position. Even today many are embarrassed by the idea and we have these crazy squabbles about whose feet are worthy to be washed by priests. But what is the point of this symbol for us today? Yes, it is in part a lesson in being a servant, especially for the priests who are called in a particular way to be Christ to the world. But it's also a display of the crazy radical unfathomable love that Jesus has shown for us and calls us to imitate. It should humble us into the realization of how petty so many of our squabbles are and how many of the things that show up in the news or in the latest armchair political debate are just distractions from the stuff that really matters.

I think that we have a hard time realizing today what a radical call it is from Christ to "Love your enemies." And by the way, I know that I only became aware in recent years, that the oft-quoted biblical phrase "Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." is said in the context of "Love your enemies."...
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the ta collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:43-48
It is evident to me in the way many Christians (on both sides of the political aisle) talk about politics, about politicians, about those who disagree with them in the political realm or really any realm, that this is a teaching that is widely ignored.

There's a lot to worry over in our world, a lot of evil and a lot of problems and we should try to do the best we can to be people of Christ in the midst of that world. I think politics and the concept of fighting evil are aspects of it, but we have to be aware that they have a way of sucking us into not so great ways of making the world a better place, especially when we let them supercede the more important aspects of bringing Christ to the world. For example, it's a good thing to support companies and schools and politicians and whatnot that uphold our moral values, but this can easily devolve into the Pharisaical problem of watching what others do and judging them according to things like where they do their shopping, where they choose to educate their children and who they vote for.

If we look at the Gospels, it is clear that love and being the salt of the earth and the light of the world come first in making the world a better place. I really like the reminder that the following quote (haven't read the book, by the way, just stumbled on the quote) provides to the idea that our job as Christians in this world is primarily to do good, rather than to fight evil...
For thousands of years the sages have taught, both by precept and example, that evil is only overcome by good, yet still that lesson for the majority, remains unlearned. It is a lesson profound in its simplicity, and difficult to learn because men are blinded by the illusions of self. Men are still engaged in resenting, condemning, and fighting the evil in their own fellow-men, thereby increasing the delusion in their own hearts, and adding to the world's sum of misery and suffering When they find out that their own resentment must be eradicated, and love put in its place, evil will perish for lack of sustenance. - James Allen, Byways of Blessedness
I do think that in our day and age, there is a strong temptation to think that our primary focus should be on fighting evil and that doing good is somehow kind of an extra, maybe just for extraordinary people. The greatest example of this truth in my experience is the witness Mother Teresa gave to the world about what love means. What she taught me is that love is our most powerful weapon against authenticates our beliefs in the eyes of the world.

On a personal level, I would like to suggest that we have to stop assuming that we understand the intentions of people we are in conflict or disagreement with, even in the small conflicts within our own families and circles of friends. We do not know what is going on inside their head or their heart. In addition, the emotions involved in conflict - hurt, fear, anger, etc. - can often lead to serious misunderstandings, even on the most basic level. We need to fight cleanly over important concepts and ideas, but without animosity. We need to ask questions, avoid presumptions, and slow down and have enough quiet time (particularly in prayer!) to sort things out, especially before reacting to situations and causing further hurt and misunderstanding. And really, what we should aim for, especially on a political level, is understanding what those opposed politically have in common, and fight for the good together wherever possible. I truly believe that if we follow Jesus' example of love, we can do a lot of good together, even with those whom we have strong disagreements with.

Some time ago, I came across a study that is worth taking a look at, in order to be aware of the spiral effect that judging people's intentions can have on escalating conflicts. It also perhaps sheds some light from a new angle on the biblical exhortation to "Judge not lest ye be judged." It concludes that we tend to assume that those in conflict with us are motivated by hate. This tends to lead to unwillingness to negotiate and often leads to increased conflict. While our enemies may not always have good motives, knowing that we are likely to have biases in this area can certainly help bridge some important gaps. The whole thing can be read at this link, and I think it's well worth reading: Study finds intractable conflicts stem from misunderstanding of motivation. 

Have a blessed Easter Triduum!
If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow