Some Old and Some New: September Book Reviews

This month I read two books that were new to me and two I’d read before but didn’t remember well.

36 Children by Herbert Kohl

Mr. Kohl was a white, Jewish graduate of Harvard and Columbia who agreed to teach sixth grade in a public school in Harlem in 1962.  The school was only 29 blocks from his apartment, but it was in a different world.  His 36 students were all African-American or Hispanic.  He says, “It is one thing to be liberal and talk, another to face something and learn that you’re afraid.”  He faced it, but it took him a while to rearrange his approach.  His first breakthrough moment came when he asked the kids why they used the word psyches to insult each other: What did it mean?  “Like, crazy or something.”  Why?  Mr. Kohl showed them the word’s unusual spelling, explained that it is Greek, told the myth of Cupid and Psyche, and listed some words derived from those names.  The students became fascinated both with the concept of root words and with ancient myths, and these interests helped to guide the whole year.  Read more of this post

Some Plants Are For Eating

Happy Earth Day!  Before I get to my main topic, I’ve got some special offers to tell you about…

  • First, instead of buying anything, check out the beautiful photographs in the Capture Conservation photo contest sponsored by the Student Conservation Association!
  • UPDATE: The sale on PlanetBox stainless steel lunchboxes has ended, but check out our review of PlanetBox–Nicholas is now finishing fifth grade and still using the same PlanetBox he got at the beginning of kindergarten!
  • Grove Collaborative is having a one-day sale on 42 different Earth-friendly cleaning and hygiene products.  UPDATE: The sale is over, but if you’re new to Grove (formerly ePantry), you still can start your order here to get an additional $10 discount, and I’ll also get a bonus!  Here’s my article explaining what Grove Collaborative is all about, with reviews of many of the fine products they carry.
  • GreenLine Paper Company will donate ALL profits from today’s orders for paper products toward the planting of trees.  UPDATE: That special is over, but still, check out their wide selection of office paper, household paper products, and janitorial paper products.  Buy by the case and save!  (If you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, or nearby, note that GreenLine is in York, PA, so the shipping distance is short–better for the environment than shipping a long distance.)

As spring settles in and you begin to spend more time outdoors, you may have access to some edible plants.  It’s fun to graze on fresh food that happens to be growing right there in your yard!  But if there’s a young child with you, doesn’t that set a bad example?  You don’t want the kid to think that we can just grab parts off of random plants and eat them–he might eat some nightshade berries or poison ivy and get sick or poisoned or itchy!

P1020014Here’s my daughter Lydia on her first birthday, last spring.  Our yard was at just about the stage it is now, with spearmint poking up through the mulch of autumn leaves as the tulips, lilacs, and dandelions are blooming.  Lydia was very interested in all the new, colorful things, and once she had seen me break off some mint leaves and eat them, she wanted to do that, too!

I was surprised how easy it was to teach her that some plants are For Eating while other plants are Not For Eating.  In our yard, spearmint, chives, sourgrass (yellow oxalis/wood sorrel), dill, and purslane come up every year.  Lydia was very pleased with the mint and chives, which are abundant, and within a month was showing us that she recognized “mihtt” and “hifes” as she named them while picking them.  She was rarely incorrect in her identifications, even at first.  Apparently recognizing a particular leaf shape is not so difficult a skill as we might think.

Being able to recognize some plants that are For Eating didn’t stop her from wanting to experiment with others, though!  We did have to watch her carefully and redirect her many times.  It’s a lot like learning to stay out of the street–which has required surprisingly fewer reminders than I expected, actually.
Read more of this post

Books from Other Cultures: Japan, Sweden, Louisiana…

I didn’t specifically plan to read about foreign cultures in 2016, but the books I got for Christmas happened to include three translated from Swedish, one translated from Japanese, one set in rural Louisiana, and one about houses around the world–so these are what I’ve been reading!  I reviewed the other two Swedish books last month.

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, translated from Japanese by Dorothy Britton

This is the best-selling book in Japanese history, but I had never heard of it until Cocoon of Books reviewed it.  Totto-chan was the childhood nickname of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, who grew up to become a popular television personality in Japan.  In the 1980s, she wrote this memoir of attending an alternative elementary school in the early 1940s.  Totto-chan started first grade at a typical elementary school but was considered an incorrigible discipline problem.  Her mother took her to visit Tomoe School, where the headmaster believed that children learn best from following their own interests and having plenty of field trips, conversations with adults, real-world projects, exercise, and music.  Totto-chan thrived in this unusual school, held in a cluster of retired train cars.  The book is a series of sweet anecdotes of childhood, many of which make serious points about educational practices and social norms.  Tragically, Tomoe School was destroyed by American bombs during World War II and was never able to reopen.  Kuroyanagi concludes the book with an essay about how the Tomoe experience shaped her into a successful person rather than a lifelong troublemaker (the core issue I’ve been studying in my work), and she gives updates on what some of the other alumni were doing in their forties.  This is a very charming book that really made me think.  It would be suitable for children over age 8 or so.

The Natural House Book by David Pearson

My partner Daniel picked up this used book, published in 1989, as a Christmas present for me because of my interests in architecture and environmentalism.  It’s dated but still interesting.  It explains how “natural houses” traditional in various parts of the world utilize environmentally-friendly principles and how the same ideas can be adapted in new construction.  It also promotes the idea that a more natural house leads to a more natural life that’s more comfortable and healthy.  I didn’t learn a whole lot from this book, but I did enjoy looking at it.  It’s funny how the traditional stuff is as true as ever, while some of the advice about how to avoid toxins in new construction is outdated.

Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells

This novel is related to the well-known Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I’d started to read a few years ago but abandoned after a couple of chapters because the protagonist seemed like such a whiner, her mother seemed like such an evil bitch, and I just couldn’t stand people with terrible names like Siddalee and Necie y’alling each other all over the place.  Daniel got me this book because, at a glance, he saw that part of it is about Girl Scouts and the author’s name is Rebecca and it seemed pretty well written.  Well, it is–there are some exquisitely vivid passages, and everything seems very real, and at times that’s sweet and wonderful.  The book is made up of interconnected short stories with different narrators, giving you a series of perspectives on a central Louisiana white Catholic family and their black maid and hired hand, first in the mid-1960s and then in the early 1990s.

I particularly appreciated the story in which Siddalee’s father, Big Shep, serves on the local draft board.  He starts off feeling inspired by this patriotic duty, but as the Vietnam conflict goes more and more wrong, he begins to have doubts, particularly when it’s time to consider the draft status of boys he’s known since they were born whose value to their families is painfully obvious.  In every debate, he’s crushed by the prejudices of the clean-handed businessmen who don’t understand his perspective as a rice farmer.  The Vietnamese peasants are rice farmers, too.  Big Shep, who in other people’s stories seems like such a tough guy, really struggles with his feelings here–and you, the reader, are the only one to hear about a lot of it.

But Siddalee’s mother is, in fact, a truly terrible and/or horribly damaged person.  There were moments when I felt some sympathy for her, but mostly she’s dreadful.  It’s no wonder Siddalee felt traumatized and fled and had years of therapy–and although the final story is supposed to be about how her healing process is working so well, now that she’s understood that God is really a woman and that she needs to treat herself like a baby forever, it mostly just made me wince.  I don’t think I’ll read this one again.

Trigger warnings: Alcoholism and associated appalling behavior.  Drunk driving.  Child abuse, both violent and sexual.  Unbearable dialect.

Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell, translated from Swedish by Laurie Thompson

This book disappointed me by not being what I expected, but it’s really a very charming novel about an almost-twelve-year-old boy, suitable for reading by kids that age or even younger.  Joel lives in small-town Sweden in 1957 with his father, and they miss his mother, who left them years ago.  Joel wants to have an adventure and tries to get lost in the forest on purpose, but he realizes the foolishness of this before it’s too late.  Then he does have an adventure: Crossing a street in a hurry, he gets hit by a bus at just the right angle so that he falls between the wheels and is completely unhurt.  As the excitement of this Miracle fades, Joel begins to feel an uneasy sense of obligation: He must have been saved for a purpose; what is it?  He finally decides that he must do a good deed.  He makes the choice of what the good deed will be and figures out how to do it entirely on his own–with unintended results.  Reading, you’re inside Joel’s head, seeing things as he sees them and being talked through all his reasoning, as well as enjoying the various types of imaginative play that lure him away from his mission temporarily.

People have been recommending Henning Mankell to me for years, so I picked up this title when I saw it cheap (and let my one-year-old daughter give it to me for Christmas) without realizing that although Mankell is generally a writer of suspenseful crime fiction, this isn’t an example of it, despite the promisingly creepy title and cover.  I started reading it when I was in the mood for a mystery, and that’s what made it seem painfully slow, as if nothing was happening.

I’ll read this again sometime when I’m in the mood for following an eleven-year-old on his mild but really rather entertaining adventures.  I mean, he gets to wander the steam tunnels under his town, masquerade as an aspiring saxophonist, and sneak into the telephone office in the middle of the night–what’s not to like?

Visit the Quick Lit linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

5 Must-See Environmental Documentaries

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos. Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

Without positive human intervention, global climate change could lead to horrific catastrophes, uninhabitable regions, mass immigration, and global societal reconstruction. A large portion of human activity that has damaged the environment is a result of ignorance and apathy, but fortunately that is easy to reverse if enough people become more educated and environmentally conscious! Below are some incredible documentaries aimed at increasing environmental awareness about one of the most pressing issues of our times.

Chasing Ice (2012)

This film strives to document the direct effect of global climate change on the large volume of ice located on our polar regions. Read more of this post

The Nutcracker: music for the imagination

Ah, December, the month when the days are getting shorter and shortest as we try to pack in shopping, parties, preparations for hospitality or travel, and tranquil spiritual contemplation along with all our usual activities!  It makes a kid who persistently wants attention all the more annoying.

The December my son Nicholas turned two, I found a great way to get him to use his imagination, work out some of his physical energy, and leave me alone just enough that I could wash the dishes!  It also boosts my holiday spirit and gives me a nice feeling of being a classy, educational sort of mom.

Most of us are familiar with The Nutcracker as a ballet, a theatrical event that we might attend annually or only when somebody we know is in it.  But it’s also a musical composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that is beautiful and tells a story even when you have only the music.

We happen to live just blocks away from the incomparable Jerry’s Records, so I picked up The Nutcracker as a two-record set for $4.
Nutcracker album cover
Read more…

What Earthlings Want to Know

As a professional data manager, I still don’t get enough information to pore over, so I sometimes spend my lunch break delving into the WordPress stats page that tells me how people find The Earthling’s Handbook.  One of the more interesting features is the list of phrases typed into search engines that brought people here, including the number of people who searched that phrase and clicked through.

The top four searches are all variations of the same basic question.  The very topmost search, the question 1,126 eager Earthlings have asked, the question of all questions about life on Earth that I am best qualified to answer, is Read more…

GAME SHOW!! with math practice

My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up.  This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside.  It could easily be adapted for multiple players.

Materials:

  • large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game.  If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money!  You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
  • stopwatch.
  • area of clean floor.  Have the child sweep the floor before playing.  If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
  • two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket.  I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away.  (We got sick right after Christmas….)
  • a few small trinkets.  These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are.  Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.

Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.

Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor.  If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.

How to Play:

  • Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!”  Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
  • Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!!  Go!!” and starts the stopwatch.  (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number.  You don’t want any confusion over what the number was.  If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
  • Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
  • Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds!  But . . . is it the correct amount?”
  • Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
    • If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!!  You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!!  YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
    • If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars?  How greedy!”  Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
    • If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww!  One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars!  You are not a winner.  Better luck next time.”  Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
  • Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it.  (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
  • About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!!  Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?”  Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes.  Contestant chooses.  Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!!  YAAAAYYY!!”  Contestant hyperactively celebrates.  Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won!  This fine bottle of hand lotion!”  (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
  • If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!”  (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)

Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge.  He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds.  I’m impressed!

With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money.  You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too.  If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.

This homemade game show worked for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more activities to do with kids!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more low-cost do-it-yourself activities!

Help Save the Animals!

My eight-year-old Nicholas created this picture that he wants you to share everywhere and put in a place where you will see it often. He wants you to think, every time you see it, about what you can do to help animals of all kinds to be safe in this world we share.

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How can you help save the animals? Here are just a few ideas:

  • When you could choose instant garbage or wash a dish instead, think about animals whose trees were cut down to make paper plates, animals whose prairie burrows were destroyed to drill oil wells so people could make more plastic, animals whose air was ruined by smoke from factories. Every time you reuse something instead of choosing a throwaway thing, you are helping to slow down the process of turning animals’ habitats into garbage.
  • Buy things that are made near where you live, instead of things that travel from the other side of the world in big ships. Think of the animals who live in the ocean where the ships leak poisonous oil. Think of the whales who get lost or can’t find food because the noise of ships blocks their special singing.
  • Pick up trash outdoors. Never throw trash on the ground! Think of the animals who get hurt by trash that gets twisted around them, chokes them, or puts bad chemicals in their drinking water.
  • Walk, bike, or take public transit whenever you can. Think about the animals who drink water that runs off pavement with yucky car drips on it, the animals who breathe air filled with car exhaust, the animals who live in rubber trees that are cut down to make tires. Every time you leave the car at home makes those problems a little bit less.
  • Have a birthday party where everybody gives money to an organization that helps animals, instead of giving you a gift. Or sell your old stuff to make money that you donate–while also helping your stuff find new users so that they don’t have to buy newly-made stuff.
  • Eat less meat and other animal foods. When you do eat them, buy food from animals who lived healthy lives. Spend a moment thinking about the animal who died, or gave up its milk or eggs, so that you could eat.

Nicholas was inspired by a recent documentary which showed that leopards are living wild in the city of Nairobi because their habitats have been destroyed. I was just fascinated by the idea that the animal knocking over your garbage cans in the alley could be a leopard! But Nicholas got very sad and upset. He had trouble falling asleep that night because he was crying about the leopards who just need space to live and all the other animals who face this problem around the world. He sobbed, “What can I do, Mama? How can I help save the animals?”

I told him the things above. I reminded him that every little bit counts and that all the little bits add up. I encouraged him to think of the animals when he is tempted to make a harmful decision.

The next day, he decided he needed to do something to help other people remember to think of the animals. He drew the picture and asked me to make copies that he could hang on telephone poles. I reminded him that paper comes from trees and that posters on poles last only a few days and often become litter. But on the Internet, images and ideas can spread very quickly all around the world.

Please share this image everywhere! Please link to this article! Please help save the animals! You can share more ideas for helping animals in the comments.

My son’s taking action to help the animals works for me! Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more ideas to use resources wisely so more creatures can share them. Visit Mom’s Library for lots more educational ideas for kids.

Easter: Is it just a believing?

Huh, why am I still talking about Easter on May fifteenth?  Everybody knows Easter was way back in March this year!  Well, yes, Easter Sunday, the commemoration of the day when Jesus rose from the dead, was on March 31, but Easter actually is a season that lasts seven weeks in the Episcopal Church and some other denominations.  Our Easter celebration doesn’t end until Pentecost, next Sunday.  Alleluia!

A few years ago at this time, when my son Nicholas was four, he suddenly asked me, “Is it really true that Jesus got killed dead and then came back alive again, or is that just a believing?”

I was shaken.  I had been so impressed at his developing faith and thought I had done a good job telling the Easter story so that he could understand it, yet he was doubting.  Did he think it was just another story like “Cinderella”?  On the other hand, the fact is that believing is the main point here; we believe because we believe, because we have faith, not because we have scientific proof.  Hmmm, how to answer? Read more…

Martinopoly: What My Kid Did for Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr., has been one of my heroes as long as I can remember. Since my son Nicholas was 3 years old, I’ve made a point of doing something on Martin Luther King Day each year to remember Dr. King and his principles.  That first year, we discussed the basics of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s assassination and attended an interdenominational service where some of Dr. King’s speeches and essays were read.  Other years, we’ve read a children’s book about civil rights, volunteered at National Day of Service activities, or watched Dr. King’s speeches on YouTube.

This year, Nicholas is 8 years old and in second grade.  As in kindergarten and first grade, his school did some teaching about Dr. King in the week before the holiday.  We went into the holiday weekend with no set plans for commemorating the holiday, and then I wound up with a headache that came and went all weekend, interfering with the chores I needed to get done.

Nicholas announced on Monday morning that he had decided what we would do for the holiday: He would make a board game about Martin Luther King, Jr., and then we all would play it together.  He spent several hours making the game board while I washed dishes, packed up Christmas decorations, and did other chores.

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Read more…

Lots of Science Projects for Kids!

Our son Nicholas is in second grade at a great public school!  Each month, he has to do two science projects at home.  I really like the way these projects are organized, and although each student is given a paper copy to bring home, I think it’s wonderful that the lists of projects are available online so that anyone around the world can be inspired by them!  The online version has links to resources at the Carnegie Library (our public library system here in Pittsburgh) for further study on some of the topics.

The science projects are written in a calendar format, with one project for almost every school day of the month, so a class or a home-schooler could use them for daily inspiration.  The way they’re used at Nicholas’s school is that each student chooses two of the projects from the month’s selections.  He can do the projects any time during the month; they are due on the last school day of the month.  Depending on the type of project, students may get to talk about their work to the whole class or to display their work in the hallway.  Nicholas cuts out the box describing the project from the calendar page and tapes it to his project to avoid any confusion for his teacher about which project he did.

This month, for example, Nicholas chose these two projects: Read more…

Our Favorite Publisher of Affordable Books

I recently had a birthday and was very pleased to be given three books from Dover Publications.  Daniel knows that I can never get enough floor-plan books, and Dover prints gobs of great ones!  They also have a wide selection of nonfiction, classic fiction, children’s books,  coloring books, how-to-draw books, clip-art collections, puzzle books, nature guides, textbooks, and lots more.  Most of their books cost less than $20.  They have a great environmental policy, yet their recycled-content paper looks and feels better than the pages of many other publishers’ books.

This is not a sponsored post.  I am writing this just because we think Dover is a great company and want more people to know about them!  Dover books are available from most bookstores, as well as from their own catalog.

In addition to floor-plans, I particularly like Dover’s illustrated history books.  Read more…

The Singing Earth

A little late for Earth Day, I’m linking to this wonderful video that has entertained and motivated me many times since I first saw it when I was five years old.

I can’t say that it was this singing Earth who first inspired me to care about the environment.  My parents set a pretty good example and taught me many sensible ideas about avoiding waste and pollution, so I can’t remember a time when I was totally oblivious to concerns about taking care of our planet.

But over the many years between my ceasing to watch Saturday morning cartoons (note to young folks: Schoolhouse Rock segments like this one used to be shown in between cartoon programs) and Schoolhouse Rock becoming available on video and then on YouTube, the singing Earth popped into my mind frequently.  I would read about deforestation and hear him plaintively singing, “The fires got higher and higher; the clearings got wider and wider.”  That hole in the ozone layer was, in my mind, the bald spot in poor Mr. Earth’s cloudy hair.  Sometimes when I was tempted to chuck my aluminum can in the garbage or sheath something in plastic wrap, I would picture his gentle face and reconsider.  Mother Nature?  Sure, that’s a pleasant concept too, but when I personify our planet I tend to picture this earnest, kind of worn-out, but hopeful guy.

Come on, people!  It’s been 34 years!  Please listen to his message!  It’s so simple:

If everyone tries a bit harder,
Our fuel will go farther and farther.

Turn that extra light out!  How can you say no to the singing Earth?  That final ten seconds may be the cutest thing I have ever seen on television.

By the way, if you have any leftover prescription drugs you’re not going to use, instead of polluting Earth’s water supply with them, take them to National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day this Saturday, April 28!  Enter your zip code to find the collection location nearest you.

Visit Your Green Resource for more environmental inspirations!

Important Information on Blood Types of Parents and Children

There are two important facts about the blood types of parents and their children that are not widely known.  One of them caused an unexpected health problem in my family, and the other could have caused a much more serious problem but didn’t.

Please read the facts in red text, and click on the red links and read the information there, before asking questions in the comments.  I am not a doctor or any kind of expert on blood types, just an ordinary person who wrote an article to publicize information that I felt was not clearly enough presented to the general population.

UPDATE: Since I posted this article, I’ve seen that many of the people who read it are looking for information about which blood types can have children together.  Aside from rare mutations, a woman of any blood type and a man of any blood type can have a healthy baby together.

If the mother’s and father’s blood types are the same, this does NOT harm the baby.

In repeated Internet searches over three years, I have never found any report of any problem caused by parents having the same blood type–I have only seen people worrying about this possibility.  There is no reason to worry! If you want to know what blood type your baby might have, or if you are wondering how your blood type can be different from your parent’s, look at these handy tables. Now, back to our story!

No, I’m not talking about Rh factor.  The issue of “positive” vs. “negative” blood and how it affects pregnancy is well-known and mentioned in most books about pregnancy.  Here is a typical article about Rh factor.  Notice how it mentions antigens–the “letter” aspect of blood type, A, B, AB, or O–but then moves on, as if antigens aren’t important. What most people know about antigens is that they are important if you are receiving a blood transfusion.  Putting blood with A antigens into your body, if your own blood does not have A antigens (Type A or AB), will cause an immune response that can kill you.  The same is true for B antigens.  If you are Type O, both A’s and B’s are dangerous, so you should not receive a transfusion of any type other than O.  It is pretty quick and easy for medical professionals to determine a person’s blood type, so we don’t need to worry a whole lot about being given the wrong kind of blood, but just in case, it’s a good idea to know your blood type. These are the two things I didn’t know until after the point when it would have been medically useful to know them: Read more…

Money Management and Consequences for a First Grader

Nicholas has been getting an allowance since he turned five years old, almost two years ago.  He does not get the “$1 per year of age, per week” recommended by many parenting magazines–that’s crazy!  I use the method my father taught me of dividing the money into Spend, Save, and Share categories:  Nicholas gets 50 cents to Spend on anything he wants, 25 cents to Save toward the occasional big purchase, and 10 cents to Share in the collection plate at church or other charitable causes.  That’s not a lot of money, but it’s supplemented by occasional gifts from relatives–and often, several weeks go by when Nicholas doesn’t feel like buying anything.

We realize, though, that such a tiny income does not cover many of the special things life has to offer a first grader.  His school sells ice cream every other Friday (with profits going to the PTO), and I routinely give him the dollar for that in addition to his allowance.  When a flyer came home announcing the school book fair, I agreed to put some money toward that, knowing that a single brand-new paperback would cost at least his whole month’s income. Read more…

Traffic Safety for Little Kids

We live on a quiet street, but just around the block is the main street of our neighborhood, which has lots of traffic, parallel parking along both sides, and lots of intersections where right turns on red are allowed.  Only some of the intersections have traffic lights and walk signals.  There are lots of useful places within walking distance, and the sidewalks are wide, but crossing the street can be risky.  A lot of drivers seem to think the traffic laws don’t apply to them!

When Nicholas began walking, I saw that he already knew (from being carried by a walking parent) to pause on the curb and look around before stepping into the street.  That was very helpful, but it didn’t mean he actually knew how to cross the street safely alone.  By thinking out loud, I taught him what we look for when we pause on the curb and how we decide when it’s safe to walk.  But informed decision-making ability isn’t the only thing you need to be safe. Read more…

Walking to School

Happy Walk to School Day!  My son and I walked to his school this morning, and his father will walk him home this afternoon.  He’s in first grade.  Sometime during his years at this K-8 school, he’ll begin walking by himself, but for now I am enjoying the walk and the time with him.  We live slightly less than half a mile (five-and-a-half blocks) from the school, a distance we can walk in 10-15 minutes in just about any weather.

Being in a walkable neighborhood was a major consideration when we bought our home, two years before Nicholas was born.  (Use Walkscore to check out the walkability of different addresses!)  Walking to a good public school was only part of it: grocery store, library, post office, our church, restaurants, many other businesses, and playgrounds all are within a mile of our home, and all the streets have sidewalks.  We also live near a city bus stop, and Nicholas and I commuted together by public transit every day while he was attending a preschool near my office.  But being able to walk the whole way to school is even nicer!  (After taking him to school, I walk another six blocks to the bus stop and go to work.) Read more…

Bullying: an article I wrote, and three I don’t have to write

Although I am discussing my work here, the point of view is my own, and this is not an official statement of the Pittsburgh Youth Study.

As the data manager of a long-term research study, I recently helped to write this academic paper: Bullying Perpetration and Victimization as Predictors of Delinquency and Depression in the Pittsburgh Youth Study.  What we found, looking at data collected from the 503 men we’ve been interviewing repeatedly since they were in first grade, is that bullies are more likely than non-bullies to grow up to be criminals, and bullying victims are more likely than non-victims to grow up to be depressed.  That’s not really surprising, is it?  But it’s good to add to the hard scientific evidence that bullying is a serious problem with lifelong consequences.  This whole issue of the Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research was a special issue on school bullying, with 7 more articles on the subject.

I had been kind of thinking I should write something about bullying that might be read by people who don’t read dull academic journals.  But I felt very shy about it and afraid to admit that, well, I know there’s a problem and can prove there’s a problem but can’t claim I ever solved this problem for myself or anybody and tried so many things that didn’t work and when I even think about it I get so scared and what if– Read more…

Our Neighborhood Public School Works for Us!

Today is my son’s last day of kindergarten!  This has been his first year in public school, and we are very pleased with our neighborhood public school, Pittsburgh Colfax.  It’s a great example of how an urban school can thrive when faculty encourage parent involvement.  On “Take Your Special Person to School Day” last month, I spent a whole day immersed in the experience of being one of the 700+ Colfax kids and never once felt like just another brick in the wall.  Sure, there are some systems in place to keep everybody organized, but none of it is harsh or disrespectful.

Daniel and I always planned to send our child to public school.  We feel strongly that public schools are important.  Every child deserves to learn both academic and social skills.  That includes our child.  We believe that our public schools, supported by our tax dollars (and 1% of the money I spend on my Target Visa card), are good enough for our child.  Read more…

Simple Solution to Six-year-old’s Sleep Situation (coming into parents’ bed)

(I had to add some words that don’t start with S to help search engines find this article!)

Our son is six years old and still kind of wishes Mama would stay with him all the time he’s sleeping.  He understands that grownups don’t need as much sleep as children and have other things to do in the evening, so he long ago accepted that although one of us will lie next to him in his bed until he’s asleep, we then get up and leave him alone until morning.  We’ll come to help him if he has a nightmare, nosebleed, vomiting, etc., but in general he’s been sleeping alone all night since he was about three years old.

That changed about six weeks ago. Read more…