Monday, July 25, 2011


For the past months, I've been looking forward to our upcoming family vacation.  We are having a reunion of sorts; we are meeting my niece and her family, my nephew and his wife, my sister (mom to those two)\my parents, and my brother's son and daughter  in Colorado.  It's "in the middle" -- about a thousand miles for each of us -- but still a journey of some considerable distance.

We have a family tradition of slow travel.  Dear hubby and I were both raised on the "road trip."  I flew on a plane perhaps twice in my childhood; our trips were taken by car.  I believe in the togetherness a car trip promotes.

In fact, our vacations tend to be slow ones.  I think it's good for kids to be bored on occasion and to learn to make their own fun.  On one long trip where we headed due west and only turned north when we hit central California, I admit I was dreading the long miles of desert.  The girls, then 7 and 5, taught me something on that trip;  they had many conversations about how the desert was changing as we traveled west.  By the time we spent a night camping in tiny Brenda, Arizona surrounded by the towering saguaro cactii, I was in love with the desert.

Like so many of our family trips, this one will also be a camping trip.  Many years ago we bought a pop-up trailer to ease the workload a bit, but it is definitely still camping!  From our first day out, our lunch stops will be at state parks with a picnic.  Our suppers will be around the picnic table in our campsite.  Both the big girls, camping veterans by now, are already anticipating grilled fajitas, s'mores, apple cobbler, and sloppy joes. 

I am looking forward to something else.  I'm looking forward to seeing our kids running around in the trees.  I can't wait to see what kind of games they invent given a media free gift of time outdoors.  I am curious about how "the littles" will enjoy this new freedom and anxious to see everyone playing with my great niece and nephew.  I will relish the opportunity to sit around and talk over the world's troubles with my family.  I look forward to waking with the sun and being happy to fall in bed once the stars are out.  I can't wait to look at those stars and to see the "littles" be amazed by how many stars you can see once you are in the real wilderness. 

Pepper on a cool morning in Big Bend, 2005.
When my kids are grown up, I want them to know the crackle of a campfire, the taste of a cold morning in a pine forest, the smell of coffee and canvas, and the warm cocoon of a flannel lined sleeping bag.   I want them to remember romping in the forest, the smell of dinner cooked on the grill, and the beauty of a protected wild place.  These are the sights, sounds, and smells of my childhood and the blueprint for our slow-cation.

My kids live in the modern world, as I did growing up.  They hang out on Facebook, play sports, watch TV and talk endlessly on the phone.  I do not think these things, in moderation, are inherently dangerous or evil.  Yet I do think that at times we all need to unplug.  We need to lose the laptop, the alarm clock, and the world of virtual friends.  We need to play like kids in open spaces and wash our face in a cool stream.  We need to learn about bugs and bears.  For me, the slow-cation is my opportunity to reclaim a part of American life and in so doing, reclaim myself.  Can't wait!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rewards, Bribes and Incentives, Oh, MY!

For some time now, I have been reading the book Punished by Rewards:  The Trouble with Gold Stars, Inentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn.  In short, the author throws the book at behaviorism and suggests that the above named methods actually ruin kids in school and shatter productivity and creativity at work. 

It has taken me forever to read this book because it reads like the research compilation it -- in fact -- is.  Kohn is a fine writer; there is just a lot of information in this book.  Nonetheless I cannot seem to give up on it because even the title begs the question, "So what is the alternative?"

I agree in principal with Kohn's statements.  As a parent, a homeschooling educator, a former employee, a former boss, and a long time student, the assertions in the book ring true.   Most educational institutions can defend grades, yet I've known educators who put little stock in them.  The best learning of my life came in a university program that allowed me to choose subjects of interest to me and to passionately pursue them.  I was awarded grades at the end of these contracts, but I did not care about them; the experience of learning provided the true value.

On the other hand, as the mother of three young children who do not seem prone to reason, it seems impossible to leave out the bribes, rewards, praise and-- let's face it-- punishment.  I notice a lack of creativity  in me at times when it comes to the little kids and how to survive without these things.  While I understand Kohn's research and conclusions, it all seems a little "pie in the sky."  I think most teachers would agree. 

We survived our first two kids with very few timeouts, bribes and rewards, but that was due -- I now realize -- as much to their personalities as to my amazing facility as a parent.  This group of youngsters is cut from a different cloth.  I am not saying I've given up on finding another way.  To the contrary, I am simply admitting that I sure haven't found it yet.

I am still struggling through the end of this book but since it's focus is not young children, I think I am going to have to find the answers within myself.  In fact, I have an inkling about them already.  When the "bigs" were little, we had an unhurried life.  We spent long hours at home, we played a lot, we cleaned little and life was simple.  We cooked, we learned, we dabbled, we sang, we had leisurely hours with friends.

Life with 5 children including two teens, two toddlers with attachment issues and a suddenly clingy 2-year-old  is no longer simple.  We spend long hours away from home and cleaning . . . well, it's a major focus.  Some of this, though, is in my control. We can plan more time before events so we can hurry less.  We can build in extra fun and extra relaxation when we are at home.  I can be more cognizant of keeping the stress on my side. I can take the time to explain to my youngsters the issue at hand.   I can practice saying "no" a little more often.  I can take time every day for prayer and meditation, time to be quiet and remember my purpose and let that flow into our days.  I can't quite reach that pie in the sky but I sure have time for pie on the table.  I'll go for that this week!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ponderings of a Patriot

Happy Independence Day!  It's a day for picnics, parades and patriotism. I am grateful to be an American and proud to be a patriot

I am grateful for the freedom I enjoy as a result of the spilled blood of countless heroes, most of whom will never be celebrated with medals or parades.  I am aware every day that my freedoms were not free, and I mean to make the most of them.  I am inspired by the fact that even though as a nation we have made some mistakes, we continue to strive for the freedom and equality of all our citizens.  We have a lot to be proud of . . . and a lot of work to do.  This work is not the job of politicians, it is the responsibility of every citizen.

The world is changing.  New powers are emerging.  How will we continue our proud traditions of freedom and democracy?  What is my role in this changing landscape? 

Today my role is to teach my children of our nation's history to ensure it is not repeated.  It is my job to fly my flag and remind my neighbors that it is indeed a land worth fighting for.  It is my responsibility to protect the rights and freedoms of all whose paths cross mine.  It is up to me to exercise my considerable rights so they are not lost; I will vote, I will serve on juries, I will celebrate my religious freedom.  I will honor and learn about the tapestry of cultures that makes up our country and respect our differences.  Perhaps most importantly, I will not take for granted that as a woman, I enjoy equal rights that many other women in the world only dream of: the right to be educated, to vote, to worship (or not) as I choose, to dress as I please, even to drive a car. 

On my favorite television show, Sunday Morning, British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered an essay on, of all things, American Independence Day.  A couple of phrases stood out to me:
". . .the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.
. . .It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing.
That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. " 

[Click on the words "Tony Blair" to see the essay for yourself.] 

I agree, Mr. Blair.  That "American ideal" has created my reality.  I will do my part to carry it forward.

Photo credit:  Graphics Fairy