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 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

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Yesterday was a big day!

Ria defending her thesis!
Ria successfully defended her senior thesis on Salvation History as the exemplar cause of every story. Wish I could have been there! Gus obligingly sent this picture. :)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Family Singing Repertoire 2: Intermediate Songs

Singing Irish songs (and performing Irish dance) with some friends for St. Patrick's Day at a local nursing home, circa 2008.
Well that was fun! It all started with our choir learning Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, which has been a tough song for them to learn. It seems to be coming together just in time to sing it for the Easter Vigil. (It is one of the psalms for Easter Vigil). But in the course of preparing for it, we discovered the series of YouTube videos that highlights one part at a time to help you learn it. (Here's the Soprano one.) It was the kids were having so much fun learning multiple parts on this that got me thinking about collecting our singing repertoire. And then yesterday, we had a great time listening to the recordings of some of the songs that I shared in yesterday's post (as well as breaking out into Rambles of Spring randomly after dinner).

It's difficult to quantify the different songs. We obviously have had kids in different age ranges all singing songs together for years, so this is just a very rough approximation.

More Challenging Rounds (or Round-ish songs):

Dona Nobis Pacem

Non Nobis Domine (from Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V) - Awfully fun and epic (and not too hard) to sing if you can figure out the two parts.

Magnificat (I'm not sure where this came from as we learned it from someone who learned it at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago. This is the best recording I was able to find, but we do not sing it this fast! It can be sung in up to six parts.)

Jubilate Deo

To Portsmouth, to Portsmouth, it is a Gallant Town (unable to find a recording of this one so far)

Great Tom is Cast (weird recording, but a good way to learn it, I suppose!)

When Jesus Wept

Per Crucem 

More Irish Favorites:

Mountain Dew

Winds of the Morning

Christmas Favorites: (many of which we can sing in parts as a family or with some friends)

The Angel Gabriel (I first discovered this via Sting's rendition on A Very Special Christmas album, the arrangement we use can be downloaded for free at this link)

O Come Divine Messiah (We first learned this via a Christmas Album by the Barra MacNeils - the version we learned as a family was the slightly different OCP arrangement)

Maria Walks Amid the Thorn

Stay tuned for more on this list as I am able to remember them!

I'd like to dedicate this series of posts to all of our family's musical mentors, teachers and choir directors, especially my mom, my siblings (with a special shout-out to Darlene!), Emma Napoli, Michael Morris, Golfredo Corradetti, William Mahrt, Mark Donnelly, Stephen Grimm, Peter Kwasniewski, Kay Moen, Ginny Smith, Deborah Coleman, Max Van Hecke, Julie Farrell, Danny Grimm and Susan Switalski.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Family Singing Repertoire 1: Favorite Munchkin Songs

Singing "The Lord's My Shepherd" with some of the munchkins, circa 2005.
Somehow I recently realized that I've never really done a lot of blogging about music, which has always been a big part of our family's life. I thought it might be fun to collect some of our musical repertoire here on the blog, especially since we have a tendency to forget and then re-discover some of the songs over the course of the years.

I'd like to start with a list of songs that were favorites among our kids when they were munchkins. It's hard to remember who exactly liked which songs, but I especially remember a number of Ria's favorites from when she was 3-6 years old or so, since I made a list at one point.

Of course everyone enjoyed the classic songs of various sorts, such as:

I'm a Little Teapot
Hickory Dickory Dock
Hey Diddle Diddle
Jack and Jill
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
I've Been Working on the Railroad
God Bless America
You're a Grand Old Flag

A great place to learn many of these classics is Wee Sing: Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies and Wee Sing: Children's Songs and Fingerplays. We also, especially enjoyed lots of songs from three other Wee Sing albums: America, Around the World and Sing-Alongs.

The kids also learned to sing the basic Ave Maria chant when they were very young (I remember Ria singing it at age 3) as we used that as part of bedtime prayers.

We also picked up a number of more quirky favorites from a variety of sources (and we never necessarily learned all the words to all of these, just enjoyed them a lot):

Powder Milk Biscuits (from the "Prairie Home Companion" radio show)
Pretty Irish Girl (from Darby O'Gill and the Little People)We're Busy Doing Nothing (from the musical, Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)
Under the Bamboo Tree (from Meet Me in St. Louis)
The Codfish Ball (from a Shirley Temple movie - we had a Shirley Temple sing-along video at one point)
Paper Moon (from Natalie Cole's Unforgettable)
Istanbul, not Constantinople (from They Might be Giants' Flood)
In the Highways (from O Brother Where Art Thou)
The Lord's My Shepherd (this recording is of the same tune, but sounds very little like the way we sang it, which was more as a folk tune with a guitar)
Edelweiss, Do a Deer, My Favorite Things, etc. (from Sound of Music)

And we need a special category for Irish music:
John and I kind of dated over Irish music and it naturally became part of the family from the beginning, especially since our home town of Milwaukee annually hosts the largest Irish Festival in the world. Here are some of the Irish songs that the kids enjoyed when they were little:

All God's Creatures Got a Place in the Choir
Waltzing with Bears
Rattlin' Bog
Rambles of Spring
Big Ship Sailing (couldn't find a recording, only the lyrics) 

Favorite Rounds for Munchkins:

Three Blind Mice
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Frere Jacque
Father I Adore You
Down by the Station, Early in the Morning
Love, Love, Love, Love or Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose (we sing both versions, sometimes mixed together!)
White Coral Bells

And so much more that's hard to remember. Lots of Christmas songs and patriotic songs and Church songs and such too. I'll see what I can keep coming up with.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Risk and Friendship

I've been thinking a bit lately about how making a step toward friendship with someone or even *being* friends with someone makes you vulnerable in many ways and can, at times be a frightening thing - or at least something where fear can get in the way and prevent you from making that step. My mind, at least, tries to put these road blocks in my way - "Ugh. Maybe they'll think I'm stupid or presumptuous. Maybe I shouldn't say anything at all." Friendship does sometimes cause extremely painful misunderstandings. There's a significant risk there, especially to someone who is sensitive about such things as relationships.

Of course the rewards of friendship are much greater and entirely "worth it", but not everyone can make it past that first big hurdle and I know, for me, that first hurdle can be very intimidating. There is also a significant sense of relief when my offer of friendship is accepted by the other.

Discussions on the Internet can be like that too. If I really share my opinion, which may not be fully formed, will I sound stupid? will some people misunderstand me or dislike me?

There's a certain degree to which the practice of humility is necessary in making such steps (at least in an act against pride which is uncomfortable with vulnerability). It reminds me of the charity and openness and understanding I should have towards others who are reaching out to me.

So I was interested to understand in a new way, in a portion of Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth, how God models for us a participation in such risks. God came down and made Himself vulnerable to us. Wow!

This is from the Pope Benedict's commentary on the Our Father, in the segment entitled "Hallowed Be Thy Name". I'll try to summarize here along with a few choice quotes:

First, he brings up the obvious connection of "Hallowed be thy Name" with "Thou shalt not speak the name of the Lord thy God in vain."This leads to a detailed discussion of God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush.In one sense God doesn't give himself a name "among other gods" as if he's one of many:
God's answer to Moses is thus at once a refusal and a pledge. He says of himself simply, "I am who I am" - he is without any qualification. This pledge is a name and a non-name at one and the same time.
Pope Benedict also points out that God didn't actually refuse Moses' request. He gave him something very significant which establishes a relationship with mankind.
God establishes a relationship between himself and us. He puts himself within reach of our invocation. He enters into relationship with us and enables us to be in relationship with him. Yet this means that in some sense he hands himself over to our human world. He has made himself accessible and, therefore, vulnerable as well. He assumes the risk of relationship, of communion, with us.

The process that was brought to completion in the Incarnation had begun with the giving of the divine name.... God has now truly made himself accessible in his incarnate Son. He has become a part of our world: he has, as it were, put himself into our hands.
This enables us to understand what the petition for the sanctification of the divine name means. The name of God can now be misused and so God himself can be sullied. The name of God can be co-opted for our purposes and so the image of God can also be distorted. The more he gives himself into our hands, the more we can obscure his light; the closer he is, the more our misuse can disfigure him. Martin Buber once said that when we consider all the ways in which God's name has been so shamefully misused, we almost despair of uttering it ourselves. But to keep it silent would be an outright refusal of the love with which God comes to us. Buber says that our only recourse is to try as reverently as possible to pick up and purify the polluted fragments of the divine name. But there is no way we can do that alone. All we can do is plead with him not to allow the light of his name to be destroyed in the world.
And so God is our true model for friendship and charity (and much more!). He comes to us in love despite fallen man's tendency to manhandling. I love the beautiful commentary on God's name too!

Originally published here on December 17, 2007, slightly updated and edited.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Online Documentaries on the White House

Good morning!

In one of my previous posts, I referenced a film on the history of the White House called National Geographic: Inside the White House (click to watch for free online). This is not the film I had been thinking about, though it is an interesting view (watch out for a few bits of mature content). It's more technical and big-picture oriented than the one I had been thinking of.

The White House Revealed, from the Smithsonian Channel, seems to be the one I was remembering. You can also click this title to watch it for free online. This one is more personal - focusing on the stories of the White House as told by the White House staff. You might enjoy them both!