Tag Archive for children

Why I Chose a Bible as My Literacy Artifact

Last week I wrote about the process I went through to choose a literacy artifact. I was to share this object with my colleagues at the professional development workshop I was attending at Michigan State. It wasHoly Bible Pink Cover to represent some story of my literacy and educational journey. In that post I explained the various objects I considered and then ultimately revealed the artifact I chose: a Bible.

In today’s post, I explain why I chose the Bible as the artifact that best represents my story about literacy and education. Some people may not think that the Bible would have much of a role on education, learning, or literacy. It’s a book, and we know books can teach, but the Bible is not connected to schooling (at least not public schooling) and it doesn’t explicitly teach about learning to read or write. However, the Bible did impact my development as a learner, as a student.

What follows is not a straightforward, linear narrative about the Bible’s impact on me as a learner. I provide a mere glimpse into its impact on me, a few stories that contribute to some part of the story. The story is not a complete (or completely accurate) history. I do not want to share every story and experience; some things I still like to keep to myself. And I honestly can’t pinpoint all of the ways the Bible has impacted my education (or my life). Plus, this is my perspective; my parents might have a different story to tell.

The Bible is the first book I remember. I carried one to church with me. My parents read it to us as kids. My siblings and I put on drama skits for my parents and others who would watch in which we acted out stories from the Bible. We used the Bible to plan and study and learn the stories. We used the Bible as part of our weekly family devotionals. When I learned to read, I began reading the book by myself. I continued to read it growing up. It was the center of our church services, at least metaphorically. Preaching, teaching, singing, and fellowshipping were centered on this object and its meaning. The Bible was the lens through which I looked at life. It is a part of my literacy story like no other object is.

When I was around eight years old, my dad decided that it was time for me and my older sister Kim to start reading the Bible every day. He bought both of us a new Bible, one of those “Read through the Bible in a Year” ones. We were excited to get new Bibles. I remember the first one he got us: it was red and each day included a passage from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms. This Bible would allow us to read through the Bible in a year. Each day, we read the passages and then signed our name when we were finished. We couldn’t play outside or watch TV until we had completed our daily Bible reading. On some nights, my parents would quiz me over what I read for that day. Other times my dad would ask me questions about the story to see what I knew or what I had learned. These conversations often developed into longer discussions about what the passage meant or how I could apply it to my life. The Bible became relevant to me.

For at least ten years of my life, I read through the Bible in one year (I did skim some days and did not always read even when I said I did; I was a kid.). I knew the Bible. I could tell you story after story after story and where that story was found and what it might even mean. I could name random people in the Bible. I knew the generations of the Hebrew people. I knew parables and miracles and the men and women God used to tell the story. I could quote long passages from the Bible. I knew a lot of memory verses. I was proud of what I knew about the Bible. I gained confidence in myself because of my knowledge of the Bible.

The Bible became a part of me, my identity. (Of course, I didn’t know what everything meant and didn’t know how to conduct exegesis over a passage. But I don’t think that was the point—to figure it all out. I still haven’t figured it all out!)

This practice of daily Bible reading also coincided with another practice my dad instituted for me and my sister Kim (and eventually my brother, too). My father decided that we needed to take notes during church. As a kid (and maybe as an adult, too), the sermon is the longest part of church. You had to sit there, quietly (this was of utmost importance), “listening” (to words, names, and ideas you didn’t understand), and doing nothing (there was no Children’s Church or iPads or iPhones). It was the longest, most dreadful time of the entire church service. I tried my best not to be loud, not to fidget, and not to get taken out to get a spanking (this did happen more times than I want to admit). I always became excited when I could tell a preacher was wrapping up the sermon. Whew. I made it!

My dad didn’t want it to be like this for us, so he came up with a plan. He had an idea for something we could do during this time, something useful and practical. He bought us spiral notebooks, which we were supposed to bring with us to church each time, and required us to take notes over the preacher’s sermons.

This began in the third grade for me. I had to sit there each Sunday morning and Sunday night with my pen and paper in hand and take notes over what the preacher was saying. I could not sit with my friends in the youth section; instead, I had to sit with my parents and listen and take notes. What’s even crazier is that as soon as we got home from church, my dad checked over the notes (yes, checked them) and either approved them or not. He gave us constructive tips to improve our notetaking skills and helped us to better understand what the preacher was saying that we didn’t quite get. I am going to write another post in which I give more details on this practice of sermon notetaking, but suffice it to say that I believe one of the reasons I was such a good student in high school and college (and graduate school, too) was my ability to take notes.

Although the Bible has been an important object in my life, my relationship to it has changed. The object itself remains the same, but my relationship to it has changed. I look at it differently. I read and understand passages differently. I no longer “read it like a child”; instead, I read it understanding that I am reading it through a certain lens, coming to the text with my own assumptions, biases, and perspectives. Instead of learning the “right answer” (or how to find it), I have learned, instead, the importance of asking questions. Of pondering the text, responding to it, questioning it, just like I do with other texts I read. When I struggled with doubt or faith, I went back to the Bible and interpreted it differently. When I went through graduate school, I began to notice much more about social justice, women’s rights, and compassion. I begin to see how my own perspective and beliefs impacts what I find in the Bible.

The Bible has impacted my educational journeys in profound ways, and it continues to do so today. These are just a few stories how. What I didn’t know back then is that one day I would marry a preacher and become a preacher’s wife. I wonder if my preacher husband is going to make our preacher’s kids take notes over his sermon. If he does, I will be the one to check them.

This is my story. Do with it what you will.

The closing line of this post comes from the beautifully eloquent (and unconventional) CCCC talk given by Malea Powell from MSU. This line was stated at least 10 different times by the various participants who spoke, and it had a profound impact on me in terms of thinking about story, both telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. Isn’t that statement brilliantly provocative?


Going Vegetarian: A One-Week Experiment

Vegetarian Animal Meat CartoonGrowing up, I was a meat-eater. I never knew any different.

I am a Texan. Cows and chickens and pigs meant about the same thing to me as a ribeye steak, sausage biscuit, hamburger, or chicken tender. I knew the food I ate came from animals. That’s all I needed to know. Meat (and potatoes) is the staple for every meal, even breakfast. Meat was a part of the norm of everyday life.

It wasn’t until I left Texas that I realized I had a name. I was a “meat-eater.”

I first became conscious of my own identity as a meat-eater in graduate school, when I was the outsider, the “meat-eater.” Most of my friends were vegetarians or vegans (a term I learned for the first time).

I was intrigued by these non-meat-eating people. Why would someone choose not to eat meat?

I soon learned that they did so for a variety of reasons: some moral, some environmental, some out of concern for the animals (And I thought I was the Christian!), some for health reasons. Other chose to not eat meat because they could. They pointed out that in America, there is opportunity and means to live this way. They were quick to point out that not everyone in the world could choose to go without meat.

They didn’t seek to change my meat-eating habits; I didn’t seek to change their meat-free habits.

But, when I went out to eat with them, I watched what they ate. Lentils and hummus and edamame—foods I had never heard of. I asked endless questions about what foods they ate and what their favorite foods were. I even collected their favorite vegetarian recipes. When I had a party at my house, I provided both meat and meat-free options.

Soon, I began to try small bites off their plates. I tried food I had never tried before, food I had never even heard of one year prior. I tasted flavors I had never experienced.

I began to order vegetarian entrees on occasion.

I even liked to eat a few meals here and there without meat. I tried cooking a few vegetarian entrees (like a lasagna or a soup), but my husband was very, very resistant to the idea, so I only ate this way with my graduate school friends.

Then I moved back to Texas. Back to the Land of the Cow, and the Home of the Steak. Back to big stomachs and meat, and lots and lots and lots of it. Back to where “vegetable” equals “potato.”

I began to notice something. I had changed. My relationship to food and with food had changed. I no longer looked at food the same way. I no longer thought of animals the same way. Instead of lingering at the meat counter, I often found myself lingering in the produce section, examining fruits or vegetables I had never cooked before, like artichokes, beets, butternut squash, and parsnips. I began to buy organic foods on occasion. I even shopped at a different grocery store, the one that sold nuts, grains, and beans in bulk bins.

I was different.

Some viewed me as crazy. Others looked at me oddly. Others didn’t care. I was called a “hippie,” a “granola,” and a “liberal.” I was different from most Texans (except my colleagues at Baylor and other academics around the state, but most of these aren’t from Texas anyway). My environmentally-friendly, health-conscious lifestyle labeled me.

I was OK with that.

Now, I often eat vegetarian meals when I am by myself—at conferences, at work, at restaurants in Waco. But not all the time. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with eating meat (many vegetarians and vegans do); I just choose to eat vegetarian on occasion. Doing so has made me more conscious, more aware of the world around me.

Now, instead of just plowing into the food, I thank God, genuinely, for the animal who sacrificed his life so that I could eat him.

I linger over food, over the meat and vegetables. I savor my bites. I eat more slowly.

I think about how the food was processed and the workers who spent time prepping the animal and the meat so that I could eat it “without getting my hands dirty.”

I talk with my children about where meat and vegetables and cheese and milk come from. I encourage them to try exotic foods.

Even though I have a different relationship with food, I did not become a vegetarian. Living in Texas, being married to a man who loves his meat, having young children, eating at our weekly church potlucks, and living in a small rural town is not conducive to living a meat-free lifestyle. In fact, I can’t think of one single restaurant in my town that serves a vegetarian entrée. Sure, some of them serve salads, but the entrée salads all have meat (grilled chicken, shrimp, or fajita beef). Even the single-portion salads often have bacon bits. Mexican restaurants serve cheese enchiladas, but that is not my idea of a healthy, fulfilling meal.

It is difficult to eat vegetarian in a rural Texas town.

If I lived in a bigger city in Texas, I would have more access. But, I would still be married to my meat-loving husband. And I would still eat meat. In fact, other than a few Meatless Mondays here and there with my family, I have never gone longer than two meals without meat. Seriously. I eat meat at least once a day. I don’t want to be a vegetarian. I still like meat and want to eat it on occasion.

So, I have decided to challenge myself. I have decided to participate in a week-long experiment: to see if I could go meat-free for one full week.

I am in Michigan this week, away from my family and eating in a cafeteria for almost every meal. I have seen signs that there are vegetarian and vegan options at various campus cafeterias, so I have decided that this week is a good one to do it. I will attempt to take pictures and blog about my experiences each day this week (depending on how much time I have; If not, I’ll do it when I get back.).

I hope you’ll join me on my journey.


How I Planned a Teacher Appreciation Banquet and What I Cooked

A few months ago, I had an idea to honor the teachers at our church. Our teachers sacrifice so much of their time, not just on Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Wednesday morning, or Wednesday night when they actually teach, but also in the time they spend outside of class planning and preparing and praying. I wanted them to know that I—as a parent of three children and as a student in several adult Bible classes—appreciate them.

I thus decided to host a Teacher Appreciation Banquet for all the teachers in our church—from cradle roll to youth to adults to men’s and women’s classes. I had been to one of these dinners before at a different church when my husband was invited to be the guest speaker, and I thought it was a great idea then. Nothing like this had been done in the almost three years I have been at this church, so now was the right time.

Without talking to anyone except Shane, I put together a proposal for the elders at our church (yes, I teach technical and professional writing and must practice what I preach when it comes to ideas and suggestions). This proposal was complete with a rationale, budget, and agenda. I then distributed it to the elders who discussed it, thought it was a great idea, and approved it. They even told me they would like to help serve the food. Great!

One thing that surprised me through this process was when I learned that nothing like this had ever been done before at this church (at least according to the people I talked to). I’m not sure why, but I can only guess that it didn’t happen because the people who would have done this are all teachers themselves. Most (not all) of the really involved people at our church teach and would not have planned this for themselves.

I began taking pictures and shooting video footage of all the children and youth. I decided on music for the video (it’s hard to beat Ray Boltz’s “Thank You”), and then our youth minister put the video together. I mailed invitations to all of our teachers, planned the menu, bought the food, ordered gifts, and bought lovely rose bouquets for the tables.

The day of the event comes. I had originally intended to ask parents of children and youth whose kids are blessed through these teachers to help me prepare the meal. I thought that was a great idea, but the dinner ended up falling on Memorial Day when many of our young families were busy or out-of-town. So, it was just me and two other people.

Terrie, a sweet woman who is always quick to volunteer to help out.

And Terrie’s daughter Hollie. I did not know Hollie very well beforehand because she currently lives in another town a few hours away, but she just took a teaching position here and will soon be moving back and wanted to help out.

My Helper!

Hollie, and I had a great time preparing the meal. We blabbed the whole time and the six hours we were there went by very quickly (The only way I knew how long I had truly been up there cooking was by how badly my feet hurt!). Here’s Hollies blog post about the event.

Here was the menu:

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Applewood Smoked Bacon Pork Tenderloin and Dinner Rolls

Applewood Bacon Pork Loin Roast

Twice-Baked Potatoes
I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. It is definitely the best recipe I’ve ever tried. A healthy-minded person cannot have these

Twice-Baked Potatoes by Pioneer Woman

Green Bean Bundles
Hollie wrapped at least 200 of these! The Green Bean Bundles I make have butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Yum.

Green Bean Bundles

Green Bean Bundles and Twice-Baked Potatoes--Yum!

Dazzle Berry Pie (a light and tart raspberry dish that my sister gave me and I have adapted somewhat)

Dazzle Berry Pie

Here I am holding one of these yummy pies (notice my Sonic drink in the background!).

Holding one of the TEN Dazzle Berry Pies I made.

The tables with the flowers (beautifully arranged by Terrie)

Teacher Appreciation Banquet Tables

Each teacher also received this pitcher as a gift. (I got a great deal on the pitchers, thanks to Jessica Turner at The Mom Creative).

Simple Graces Pitcher Given to All Teachers

I end this post in the same way our video did: In the words of 3-year-old Mallory, “I love you, teachers.”

I hope you have been blessed by a teacher.


Twelve Tips for Saving Money

I am a saver. I like to save money. I like a bargain.

When I was growing up, my dad required my three siblings and I to keep three jars: one labeled Saving, one labeled Spending, and the third labeled God. When we received money of any kind, Three Money Jarswhether it be our meager allowance ($1.00-$3.00) or birthday or Christmas money, we were required to divide the money evenly between the three jars. He wanted us to know how important it was to save, only spend what was available, and give away a large portion of our money as well (33%).

Two of my jars were always full. Can you guess which ones? If you guessed Saving and Spending, you would be correct. I even saved my spending money.

I guess my dad discovered I was a saver early on because by the time I was eight, he put me in charge of balancing the family checkbook (some of you young people don’t even know what that means!). This was a big responsibility and I took it seriously. My husband thinks it is hilarious that I balanced the checkbook because of how poor my math skills are. Balancing the checkbook taught me some things about money. I learned the true value of a buck. I learned how important it is to only spend what you have. I learned the importance of organization.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become even more of a saver. I especially like it when I can save money in one place (electricity, gas, housing, groceries, etc.) so I can either save it or spend it on something I really like spending my money on, such as traveling with my husband or kids.

For today’s 12 Series, I give you twelve tips for saving money.

1. Cook (and eat) at home. Buying food, cooking it, and eating it–at home–is much cheaper than eating out, especially when you have more than two people to feed. Eating out drains the budget and you will save money if you eat at home. The more people you have to feed, the more expensive it gets to eat out.

Eating at home may not save a single person much money (I can’t speak to this anymore). But I do know that it can be quite cheap (even for one). If you’re scared by cooking, just try it. Begin with a recipe that takes 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed how quick you pick it up. After ten years, I now like to cook and feel confident in my skills. Plus, the food I make at home is much healthier than the food in restaurants around here. There are many reasons to eat at home.

People often say it’s more expensive to cook healthy food. I don’t really agree with this assumption, especially when you compare how full you get when you eat healthy food versus how much more you eat when you eat junk food. But, even if you think healthy food is more expensive (which I don’t), I think it’s one area worth spending the extra money on. Good food equals good health, and paying extra for things that are good for my body and my spirit and my family is fine with me.

2. Don’t be enticed by marketing ploys that promise “the best sale ever.” Seriously, don’t. Resist the temptation to sign up for emails from Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft, Pier One, Children’s Place, Old Navy, and all those other stores that offer big sales and discounts.

The goal of these emails is not to save you money, contrary to the subject line in the email. Their goal is to get you in their store so you will spend money.

If you hadn’t gotten that email saying, “Everything at the store is 40% off!!”, you wouldn’t have gone to the store anyway! Unsubscribe from these email alerts. Even when places offer coupons through email (like Bealls or Target), you can often find them on their websites, or, when you are at the counter checking out, just ask if they have any coupons you can use and they will most likely give it to you or just apply the discount to your purchase.

Emails aren’t the only place retailers get you, though. TV commercials are another way they do it, especially with our children. If you have DVR, skip through the commercials. If you don’t, tell your children to get up and go do something during the commercials so they aren’t manipulated into wanting more “stuff” that just clutters your house and your life.

Do not be enticed. Resist temptation. Flee from it…quickly. When we give in, we always end up spending more money than we would have had we not known about these “sales” in the first place. Less is more.

3. Buy from Amazon. I have a lot of friends who refuse to buy from Amazon (or Wal-Mart) for moral reasons or for fear these big companies will destroy small, local businesses. I respect those positions. I have thought them at one time or another.

But, ever since moving to a small country town, I have become Amazon-obsessed. Here’s why. Their stuff is competitively priced. I can get new and used stuff for low prices, probably the cheapest on the planet. I also live in a small town that doesn’t always have what I need, which means that I would have to drive 45 minutes to one hour to get what I need. Gas is expensive and driving that far takes up a lot of my time. So, I use Amazon. They deliver right to my door.

I also have a Prime membership, which one of my college roommates convinced me to get, and I’m so glad I listened to her advice. Prime offers free two-day shipping on almost everything (even big, expensive things like playground equipment and furniture), free returns, and free streaming on thousands of movies and TV shows (saves rental fees). I encourage you to check it out.

I also shop at Amazon because of “Amazon Mom” (they also have Amazon student for college students) and “Subscribe and Save.” I use Subscribe and Save to buy diapers, wipes, oatmeal, paper towels, and many other household items. With the Amazon Mom discount added to the Subscribe and Save discount, you end up saving a lot of money.

One last reason I use Amazon is because they are tax-free in Texas. I feel a bit guilty admitting this as a reason because I think we all have a responsibility to pay taxes to live here, but I also want to save money, so I still buy from them. This will all be changing soon, though, because starting July 1, Amazon will no longer be tax-free in Texas. We can thank the Lone Star State for that! (Note the sarcasm.) They sued Amazon over back-taxes and reached a settlement, so now we all have to pay taxes. I guess I’ll be buying a lot of items at our state’s annual tax-free weekend.

4. Buy in bulk. I try to avoid eating a lot of non-perishable food items (see #2 above), and I eat food that is fresh, refrigerated, or frozen as much as possible (food located in the U-shape of the grocery store). However, there are some items located in the center aisles that I do buy, and I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. I buy bigger bags of cereals, canned goods, snack foods, pasta, beans, and household items like toothpaste, shampoo, and paper towels. We don’t have a Costco nearby, but there is a Sam’s Club in Waco where I buy most of my bulk items. I also buy a lot of these bulk goods at Amazon through Subscribe and Save.

5. Conserve in your home. Turn out the lights in rooms you are not using (better yet, use natural light). Adjust the thermostat according to your comings and goings (and don’t forget to do it!). Buy a programmable thermostat that won’t let you forget. Weatherproof your home. Don’t use as much water. Wash dishes by hand. Use more cold water.

6. Set a budget. Setting a budget and sticking to it has helped our family immensely. It also keeps me sane and lets me know where our money is going.

7. Don’t purchase books (printed or digital) unless absolutely necessary and, if necessary, buy used. I’m sure this advice seems odd, given I’m an English professor, but I believe spending less on books is an important way to save, and it’s an easy expense to drop when you want to save money. Instead, check out books from the library. Most libraries now offer digital lending services where you can download books to your Kindle. And all of this is free. LibraryIf you have an Amazon Prime account (and a Kindle), you can check out Amazon’s Lending Library where you can check out a variety of books. They also have a variety of free Kindle books for purchases–new ones are added all the time.

You can also ask your local library if they have an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) department.

If you live near a university, see if you can get a library card there. You’ll have an even greater selection to choose from and most of them have wonderful ILL Departments where you can order any book you want from other libraries (and it’s free!). You can also borrow books from friends or buy used books.

I am somewhat hypocritical when it comes to children’s books and scholarly books for my work. Although I use the library extensively in both of these cases, there are some books that I must own.

8. Shop consignment stores. I buy my children clothes from consignment stores (The only new clothes they get is given to them by their grandparents.). I’m not at all ashamed of this because not only does it save money but it is also good for the environment. I also shop in the off-season when everything is on clearance. It’s getting a bit harder to find used clothes for Elizabeth. She’s in a size 7/Medium and most clothes in her size are worn out because of how long children stay in one size. I can still find dresses and jeans, but t-shirts and shorts are much more difficult.

There are places that sell cheap kids’ clothes (i.e., Target, Wal-Mart, Kohls, Ross, Marshalls), but I am somewhat hesitant to buy from these places because if it is THAT cheap to consumers, then most likely the person who made it was not paid a fair wage and that bothers me (but that’s for a different post).

9. Spend less. Spending less doesn’t seem like it should be an entry on ways to save money because it’s so obvious, but I think it’s an important one. If you spend less, you will save money. We live in a materialistic, competitive culture that tells us to find our identity in material things and stuff, but this doesn’t bring true fulfillment or happiness. Spend less. Just do it.

10. Garden. Our garden is beginning to produce vegetables, and we are so excited. We’ve already eaten cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and peppers from the garden and tomatoes, onions, and watermelon are almost ready. Last year, our garden produced so many tomatoes that I was able to make marinara and pasta sauce for the entire year. We just ran out in March. That saved us a lot of money.

11. Pay bills online. I was a latecomer to online bill pay, but I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now, and I find it fast, convenient, cheap, and easy. No stamps. No envelopes. And it’s free (if you’re paying for it, find a different bank).

12. Spend only what you have. Here at Casa de Alexander, we use the Cash System to help us spend only what we have. We take cash out each month (it’s all electronic, so we don’t have all that cash lying around in our house, but it’s the theory). We have been able to get out of almost all of our debt by spending only what we have in the bank.

These are just a few of my tips. I know there are hundreds of other ways to save money. I’d love to hear ideas of how you save money or spend less.


Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent article in Time magazine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blogosphere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image courtesy of http://themotherlode.wordpress.com

Some authors have addressed the title of the article and all that it implies (competition, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sexism, identity issues, etc.). Others have commented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is sucking on his mother’s bare breast while looking at the camera (how it is going to scar him forever, how public breastfeeding is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a helicopter parent, etc., etc.). Most discussions have addressed the topic of the article, attachment parenting.

I’ve read many commentaries on and responses to this article. (I particularly liked what my college roommate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provocative post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Motherless Child?“.

I have my own opinions on all of these matters. I obviously do not choose to do attachment parenting. I stopped nursing my children when they were between 8-10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any circumstance, allow my children to sleep with me and my husband in our bed. I also work outside the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the movement, discourages women who want to incorporate attachment parenting philosophies from doing.

I don’t love my children any less. I love them a lot, actually. I believe it’s important help my children feel loved, safe, confident, self-assured, and independent. I let my children play for long periods of time without getting involved or interjecting my own agenda. I let them work out problems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be creative. I challenge them.

Most mothers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many different ways to mother. There are different ways to be a mother. And there are different definitions of mothers and motherhood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expectations. Our culture and the media (and sometimes religious organizations and people) send the message that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pinterest images attests to the pervasiveness of societal expectations and norms.

But who are we to judge other mothers? Aren’t we all just trying our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the children in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.

 


My Favorite Children’s Books

One of our favorite things to do during the long summer days at home is to read. We like to read throughout the year, but we designate more time during the summer for reading because we are home almost every day, we like it, and it’s a good skill to practice and learn. It also fosters bonding, confidence, and independence.

One thing we did for the first time last year was participate in a couple of summer reading programs. Our local library always has a summer reading program. They participate in the State of Texas’ Library Association’s reading program. This year, the theme is “Get a Clue…at the Library.” Last year the theme was “Dig Up a Good Book.” Both Peyton and Elizabeth, with my help, read 100 books during the month of July. I don’t know about you, but that is A LOT of books to read for one month (25 per week), and since I was helping both of them read, that was double for me! But, we all persevered, (somewhat begrudgingly by the end), and the kids felt so much pride in having read so many books and completed the program. They especially liked the celebration at the end where they earned certificates and prizes. They were successful consumers of literacy, or “literacy winners” as I call it in a recent article published by CCC.

Other companies like Barnes and Noble and Scholastic also have summer reading programs that often offer free books or incentives for kids who participate. All in all, these programs can motivate kids to read, encourage parents to read with their kids and older siblings to read to younger siblings, and get you through the “I’m bored” talk of the long summer days.

For today’s 12 series, I am going to list my favorite children’s books. Children’s books are both visual and verbal, beautiful in words and in art, and I really, really like them, especially as a teacher of writing and multimodal composition (using words and images and other modes together to make meaning). I have a lot of favorites, but these are the ones that top my list right now.

1. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You by Jane Yolen. This book is silly and fun to read. It’s also poetic and clever, especially for rambunctious children. My son Peyton had it memorized after the 4th or 5th reading and loves reading it as we go to bed. (Also, check out How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and other titles int he series)

2. There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. I discovered Mo Willems last summer during our reading extravaganza, and I enjoy many of his books. My kids laughed out loud at this book and most of the others we read. This specific title is part of the Elephant and Piggie series about two friends experiencing life together. He has another series about a pigeon, and the kids liked those, too. I highly recommend this witty author. Both the words and pictures will crack you up.

3. The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg. Creative, suspenseful, and fun to read. It will keep your kids attention and keep them guessing throughout the entire book about what would happen next.

4. The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain. We like so many of the Berenstain Bears books, but I listed this one because of our recent emphasis on simplifying and de-cluttering and “less is more”. Last summer, Elizabeth only wanted to check out these books.

5. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall. I had the joy of hearing Donald Hall give a wonderful presentation a few years ago when he came to Baylor as part of the Beall Poetry Festival, which the English Department here puts on every Spring. My children love this book. It’s a sweet story about a hard-working family who lives on a farm and makes their living by working with their hands. It’s simplicity at its best. The images are evocative and the message is simple, yet profound. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

6. The Runaway Garden: A Delicious Story That’s Good for You, Too! by Jeffrey Schatzer. This book is about a garden that runs away and what happens to the individual vegetables as a result. This book contains a lot of literary devices, including homonyms and puns, which make it fun for older children as well as adults. And I always like books about food.

7. Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander. What a fascinating, original book. The author has several books in the series and I recommend them all. This book teaches math terms (radius, pi, circumference, diameter) in a very creative way. You definitely should check it out (my daughter didn’t like it as much as my son because “it’s a boy book”, but I disagree with her!).

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Classic book about imagination and dreaming. I didn’t read this book as a child (probably because I was almost a teenager), but I highly recommend it. Beautiful pictures.

9. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. My sweet mother-in-law gave this book to Peyton recently, and it’s a wonderful book about taking care of the planet and being good stewards with our resources. Big change starts small, and this book emphasizes this throughout. The artwork is amazing.

10. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Marjorie Priceman. When I give someone a book, this is the book I give them, especially younger children because it emphasizes counting and music. But older kids like it, too. You must read this at least once. Great story about an opera.

11. If I Ran the Zoo (and many more…) by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is, by far, the most often read author in our house. Between The Lorax, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Cat in the Hat, we feel like Dr. Seuss is a member of our family. What an amazing talent he was. His legacy lives on in kids and adults all over the world.

12. Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman. I tend to be a little bit of a prude (I was raised that way), but having sons has changed me. Boys like to talk about pee and poop and underwear and penises and all other sorts of things that used to make me very uncomfortable (the fact that I even wrote the word penis shows how far I’ve come!). This book is wonderfully hilarious and great fun for boys (at least for my son) who like to talk about these things at the dinner table.

Well, there’s twelve of my faves. But I do have one more, so here it is, just because…

13. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This book is a classic. I always liked it, but as an adult and a parent, I like it even more. I understand the story differently, and I think it teaches a lot of good lessons for children.

What children’s books would you add to this list? What were your favorites as a kid? What are your favorites as an adult? A parent? Will your kids be participating in a summer reading program? I look forward to seeing what you come up with.


We Were Swinging

Some family visited us this weekend. City folks. My mom and younger sister Kellee and her adorable daughter Olivia.

Olivia at 17 months

Sweet Olivia

My mom is from Houston and my sister is from Dallas. We live about halfway in between the two cities, so they met in the middle at my house for the weekend. We enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t “do” much–not as much as we would have had we gone to one of their homes, or to my other sister Kim’s house in Austin. There, we probably would have taken the kids somewhere to do some activity (i.e., a museum, a splash pad, a well-known park, a great restaurant, the movies, shopping). The activity would have been a lot of fun, but it would probably have cost a lot of money and we would have been on-the-go the whole time.

In this small town, we don’t have as much access to these kinds of experiences. Sure, we could have driven to Waco, which is about an hour away, but Kellee’s house is only an hour and fifteen minutes away. Why would we do that? And our small town does have some enticing places to eat as well as a wonderful state park just a few miles away.

But, they didn’t really come here to spend more time in the car. They came here knowing we probably wouldn’t do very much. They came to rest. To relax. To take things slow. To get away. To enjoy the slow pace.

And it was the simplicity of our weekend that they seemed to enjoy the most. This says a lot coming from my mom who likes to be busy and “doing” things. She is constantly on the go and likes it that way. But not this weekend. She was the one who kept insisting that we just take things slow.

Friday night, we did have one event. We went to Elizabeth’s t-ball game. She played the best game of her (3-year!) career, and it was a lot of fun.

Elizabeth at t-ball game

My mom with Levi

Nana with Levi

Saturday morning, we watched the kids swim in the kiddie pool and play on the jungle gym.

My mom, Kellee, and I sat in one of our porch swings for much of the day, drinking our Sonic drinks and talking.

Kellee and Olivia

My sister Kellee and niece OliviaLevi (9 months) playing in the pool

Swinging awaySaturday afternoon we walked over to our church to attend a Fish Fry. None of us really knew what to expect and, to be honest, we were a bit skeptical of how the food would taste or what it would be like.

I guess some people from my church are reading my blog because one woman was very surprised that I had never attended one before because “it isn’t a country thing; it’s a lake thing.” My family went camping two to three times a year when I was younger, and we would fish. We caught perch and catfish, but we always threw it back. Even if we were to catch something worth eating, my dad didn’t have the supplies to clean and fry the fish, so we always threw it back.

But there’s just something about fresh fish. It is scrumptious. The fish we ate was breaded with flour and coated with a delicious mix of spices. It was flaky, yet crispy and so very tasty. We also ate our fill of hushpuppies (which Peyton kept calling “cheese balls” because they were so soft in the middle), cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and all kinds of desserts. I hope I can attend many more fish fries while I’m in the country (And it was really nice not to have to cook it but to enjoy someone else cooking for me for a change!).

After the fish fry, we went back home, put the kids to bed and sat in the backyard on the swing for the rest of the evening. The breeze rustled the trees. The birds tweeted and chirped. Our dog Shiloh ran around and licked our feet (they did not like that). It was even cool enough that my mom wore a lightweight jacket. We enjoyed the smell of the night air and the cooler weather, knowing it would not last much longer. Summer heat and humidity would be coming soon.

And we kept swinging. Even long after it got dark. We were swinging, back and forth. Enjoying the quiet of the country.

This was a relaxing weekend for us all. It was peaceful, restful, and simple. If you were to ask us what we did all weekend, I would say, “We were swinging.” I was glad that my family got to experience a little bit of my life, to see why this city girl likes the country.

 


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three vivacious, spunky, independent kids. I like being a mom. It’s difficult to define and articulate what motherhood means to me and how much of my identity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feeling, an emotion, and words are often not enough to explain my feelings about motherhood.

That being said, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this holiday. So many women (and men) experience pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Someone is thinking about their own mom (perhaps she has died, she gave him/her up for adoption, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or something else that brings them pain).
  • Someone is thinking about the loss of a child–through a miscarriage, an abortion, an adoption, a death, a kidnapping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Someone is thinking about not being able to conceive or still being single and not having a child.
  • Someone is thinking about how they do not measure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some comments on this issue).
  • Someone who is grieving the choices their children have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for everyone, contrary to the predominant narrative greeting card companies, retail stores, businesses, and corporations are selling us. Many people have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a federal holiday in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson instituted it. I do not know the history of this holiday, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became synonymous with materialism, with giving and receiving gifts (just like Christmas). This holiday equates love to gift-giving.

It promotes motherhood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our mothers. Our mothers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite consignment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom's Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.

Materialism.

But it belittles mothers.

This image, and most other marketing that surrounds Mother’s Day, equates loving your mom to giving her expensive gifts, or, at worse, not giving her expensive gifts and thus not loving her.

The consumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are supposed to experience Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buying and giving and getting more stuff. Even if showing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the marketing of this holiday takes the focus off honoring your own mother or (being honored yourself as a mother) to focusing on the buying and selling of products. It equates love with giving expensive gifts.

Corporations have decided that they can manipulate dads and children and spouses and mothers into making this event–motherhood–all about materialism. They send the message that the only thing mothers really want is “stuff.”

They diminish motherhood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew mothers at all–sitting from where they are making a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as mothers (or sons or daughters or fathers or husbands)–then they would understand that we do not want this. No, motherhood is more than materialism. Much more. And if these corporate powers tried to understand mothers at all, they would realize this truth. Instead, they belittle and degrade us and treat us like children in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more complex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other values besides gifts. Our hearts are with our children, not with what they do or not give us.

If corporations really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t market to our children on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and commercials about “the perfect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no capitalizing on mothers.

Honor us by refusing to coerce and manipulate our husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and grandchildren. Honor us by leaving our families alone, by leaving us alone.

Motherhood is much more than their minimalization of it.

Dear readers: I hope these posts about motherhood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my perspective as honest and real, and a little mad, too.