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How Reading Counters Meanness

I have a story for you.  It’s a story about a little girl who loved to read.  When she was very young, she saw all of her family–mother, father, brother–always immersed in books.  Her father and brother read wonderful stories to her from those books.  She begged to be taught to read herself and finally her brother taught her because she couldn’t wait until she was in school to get to read stories herself.

austen reading by the window

Years passed.  Friends came into her life.  They laughed at the books she always carried, but they also asked what each story was about.  The girl began to write stories of her own, trying to match the wonder she found in Raggedy Ann stories and Nancy Drew mysteries.  She never stopped writing stories or reading books.  In high school, all her teachers encouraged her to become a writer.  With knowing smiles, they allowed her to read her own book when she should have been paying attention in class.  She discovered new authors without assistance–Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen.  She began to understand history in a way she wouldn’t have otherwise.  When stress or meanness came into her life, she had a place to go, always.  She always had a book.

Last week, my beautiful husband was sick.  He had bronchitis, sinusitus, and an upper respiratory infection.  He was not feeling well at all, and he stayed home from work the whole week.  This meant I ran more than usual, hopping into the car to go to the store and pick up this or that for him.  Apparently it was a bad week for everyone around here, because about 80% of the people with whom I came into contact were grumpy and mean.  Or condescending and mean.  Or annoyed and mean.

high five

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, then you know that I believe that the most important human trait is kindness and that I practice it every moment.  When people are mean to me, I have to admit,  I get confused.  If I am being polite, friendly, kind… why the hell are people responding to me this way?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take a lot of guff, and when a situation calls for strength, I find it.  But if the cashier at the gas station stares a hole through me because I’m taking too long to put my change away, am I supposed to stare back?  Attack her, either verbally or physically?  Well, no, the situation calls for none of those things.  I don’t know what’s going on in her life to make her so impatient–I don’t even know her name–so why would I pull out my cranky card?

get well card

After one particular similar situation, I left the store and climbed into my car.  My brain was still trying to assess the event and I was feeling confused and a little hurt and a little offended and a little like, “Why the f— did I come out in public again?”  I put the keys in the ignition and looked down at the console.  There sat my Kindle.  Ready to be turned on, the text-to-speech option almost blinking at me with its serenity.  And I smiled.  And I forgot the meanness inside the store as I remembered I had a beautiful story to listen to on the way home, and I didn’t know that woman.  She didn’t even know my name.  In an hour she will have forgotten me.  In 2 minutes, I would forget her.  I turned on my Kindle, put the car in reverse, and smiled as that wonderful robotic voice began to read to me.

I had a book.  I always have a book.

This.  This is why we want to engender a love of reading in our children.  Sure, there are other reasons–to promote literacy and good speech, to help them learn about the world, to give them knowledge.  But the single best thing about a book is that it takes you away.  I’ve said it before, but I fully believe that teaching our littles to love reading gives them a healthy form of escapism and could save them from trying other, more dangerous ways to escape.  Sure, I could have come straight home and poured a stiff drink to shake off that incident.  It probably would have relaxed me.  But by the time I got home I would have been stewing in it for 15 minutes, blowing it up in my head, letting my feelings hurt even more.  I might have needed 2 drinks at that point. haha

reading escape


Instead, I had immediate succor.  Something that relaxed me and made the incident seem as trivial as it really was.  We want that for our kids, don’t we?  Because no matter how much we want to and how hard we try, we can’t protect them from all the mean people in the world or all the temporarily mean moods.

There is nothing more relaxing than falling into a good story and staying there until your brain is ready to deal with your problems.  So read to your littles.  Read in front of your littles.  Have your littles read to you.  Read, read, read.

Some day, when they’re pulling away from the store with an oncoming headache, they will thank you.

Love wins,


How Could I Forget How Fun This Is?! (Plus a new freebie!)

Brison Little School is back in business as of today, and we all truly had a blast.  To my surprise, the Littles woke up early.  (I’m telling myself they were excited about school starting.  No, I did not ask.  It is easier to lie to myself that way!)


The good news is they didn’t forget how to write cursive, multiply, or read.  So that was awesome.  The really wonderful thing is, they snapped right back into school mode without a hitch, both of them diving into the science question of the day and the ensuing discussion.  As you know, we are doing an Asia unit study for these first four weeks.  Today we did an overview of the continent, along with some geographical facts, then we read about the three major religions that spawned in Asia–Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  The Littles were fascinated to learn that both Christianity and Islam were derived from Judaism.

Next, we read Little Red Riding Hood and the Asian version, Lon Po Po.  We made comparison charts, including types of characters, setting, and plot, then we did a Venn diagram to compare and contrast.  That led to a couple of really great discussions.  We can’t wait to discover what about Asian culture is the basis for the differences.  You can find a freebie of the Venn diagram here or on my freebies page.  It should download automatically when you click the link.

Even with the air conditioning on, it was Sweltering in our little classroom this morning, because as awesome as August was this year, September has been hotter than I ever remember it being.  Or I’m just getting old.  So we put a box fan in the room and I let the Littles school without shirts.  And I reminded them they would never be able to do that in public school.  Which is another notch in my Greatest Mom Ever belt, and I will take them where I can get them.


Here’s the thing.  Today what I love about homeschool is that I get to homeschool.  There is nothing more amazing than knowing I have 4 or 5 uninterrupted hours each day to be with my sweet boys, to talk to them, to learn with them, to witness their greatness.  I’ve been so stressed about doing it right this year that I was forgetting all the great fun we have just by walking through that classroom door.  I am immersed in my little DaVincis, Picassos, Mozarts, Jobses, Bonds, Dickenses, Whatever My Littles Want To Be–and I have never known happier moments than these.



So welcome back to school, my lovelies.  May the year bring a million surprises, thousands of rabbit trails, and tons of “I didn’t know that, did you?”  May it bring you smiles and laughter and joy in the knowledge you are garnering together.  May it keep you complete and leave you wanting more.  May it all work out in the end.  Because it always does, doesn’t it?  Remember, my friends, when you enter that classroom

Love Wins (and Wins and Wins),


Why Your Littles Should Love Lit

Just in case you didn't believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur...

Just in case you didn’t believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur…

It is a breathtaking, sunny morning here.  The meadow is lit up golden, the birds are singing a symphony, the morning light is reflecting on the pond.  A sense of quiet calm drapes the countryside.  It’s got me doing a little reflecting myself.

I’m always telling you that you should engender a lifelong love of learning in your littles and giving you tips on how to go about doing that.  But maybe you should explain to your littles Why it is So Important for them to read.  And maybe you can’t articulate it so well.  It is a fact and you just know it, and putting the reasons into words eludes you. If so, let me try to do it for you. Maybe you don’t really understand why or maybe you’re one of those people who feels books aren’t really that important. If so, let me try to change your mind.

My crush on books started long before I could read.  My brother (who is almost 3 years my senior), my mother, and my father were all readers.  They set an example that I appreciate now more than I can put into words.  When I was 4, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my brother to teach me to read.  The rest of this lifelong marriage is history.  I can still remember the first time I picked up a Raggedy Ann and Andy book in the library.  The second grade when I met Nancy Drew.  The very first book I read about the Arthurian legends in 6th grade. (In fact, I purchased that book–and the rest of the trilogy–when I reached adulthood and have read it many times since.  It is a magical tale called Guinevere by Sharan Newman.)  Ah… finding a dusty, cloth-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle school library.  My first Dickens (if you’ve been visiting this site long, you already know it was Great Expectations).

fairy and waterfall book

So I’ll give you your first reason for teaching a love of literature to your littles.  Clearly, judging by the paragraph above, books have lifelong impacts on us.  When I first started reading, it was the stories.  I was very young, with no experience in the world outside the walls of my own home.  Hearing and reading stories taught me what was going on Out There.  They taught me the possibilities of what Could Be going on Out There, and that I might see them if I squint my eyes and avert my gaze in just the right way.  I learned of fairies, elves, dolls that come to life, elephants, bears, squirrels, lions… You get it.  If you have any fond memories of a book you read as a child–or of hundreds like I do–then you know what that impact can do for a person.

Reading also provides us an escape from reality when things are tough.  And it doesn’t harm us by giving us that escape.  When things are going wrong and you know you can stop thinking about them for a while just by grabbing a good book and reading, you’re not destroying brain cells or inviting epilepsy.  It may sound odd, but reading can keep your littles from becoming screen addicts or worse.  In my humble opinion, who needs mind-altering drugs or alcohol when it’s so much more fun to read a book?  Maybe, just maybe, if you teach them to love reading, you are teaching them a truly healthy form of escapism.  And maybe they’ll never need anything to take its place.  So reading might just save their lives.  A stretch?  Hmm.  I don’t really think so.

Grimm fairy tales cutout book

Reading teaches us about places we might never get to see.  When the Littles and I read Oliver Twist last year, they learned so much about 19th century British politics, the geography of London, the history of Britain.  They may never get to see Britain, but reading books about it can help them not feel like they’re missing it.  If you encourage your littles to read books about other lands or written by authors from those lands, you are encouraging geography.  You’re making the world smaller for them in a way the interweb really can’t.  You’re putting it at their fingertips and in their minds.  Literature touches our brains differently than images do.  So send them to foreign countries.  Often.  Through the eyes of all different kinds of characters.  They will appreciate you for it all their lives.

My love of books has grown with me.  As I said, it began with the stories, then it became an escape, then I realized how much I was learning by reading… But I’ve discovered something new recently.  (Just like any good marriage, I’m constantly discovering new things to love.)  As we grow older, this love of books comes with us.  And you know, admit it, the more years there are behind us, the less we notice things.  We’ve seen them before.  A Lot.  Think of how often you pay attention to the landscape when you’re driving to work or to the same grocery store, department store, post office.  Life kind of gets like that too, doesn’t it?  It might be a beautiful morning, but you’ve seen them before and you’re pretty sure you’ll see one again, and you’re just too busy to really stop and appreciate it.  Right?  It happens.

ballet cutout bookBut books–they remind me to pay attention.  Ever notice how a really good description puts a picture in your mind?  You can see it, smell it, taste it, even if all the author has given you is a visual.  Well, when that happens, I want to experience that place again in real life, or something as close to it as I can get.  So I start to pay attention.  Simply put, if an author describes a country lane to me in full detail–the periwinkle of the roadside flowers, the heat of the asphalt, the shade of the overhanging trees–the next time I leave my driveway, I’m going to look at my country lane as I drive down it, not think about the dozens of things I have to accomplish that day.  Books bring me back to my senses, literally.

I am reminded to look at the fields, the flowers, the sunlight, the gloaming and its fireflies.  I’m reminded to breathe in the scent of fresh-mown hay, the honeysuckle, the sharp scent of snow, the dew-covered grass.  I remember to appreciate the feel of cool water against my skin, the precious brush of a loving hand, the grass under my feet, and even the stinging slap of an Arctic wind.  Books make me listen.   They remind me how much I love the sound of cicadas, birds singing, spring peepers, airplanes, and the voices of my loved ones.  Especially fantasy novels with a good quest remind me to appreciate the flavor a good stew, roasted meat, tender vegetables.  Just as importantly, books remind me to understand other people’s motivations, to find my empathy.  To remember that every story is told from multiple points of view and every character I meet in real life is seeing that story in a different way.  Think of the differences between The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.  Of course the wicked witch had her own side of the story.  Everyone does.  Books remind us of that.  And  that is a Very Important Thing.

Reading also helps combat the whole ‘instant gratification’ problem that technology is causing.  It helps kids learn to appreciate anticipation.  You can’t cheat your way through a book or you’ll miss something.  In fact, in this era, that may be the most important reason to read.  It teaches patience.  You can’t get from this page to that page without reading every paragraph.  Kinda rocks, doesn’t it?  They can get instant gratification later.  For now, let them slow down.

So if your little ever whines about reading time and asks, “Mom (or Dad), why is this so important?  It’s boring,” you now have some decent answers to give.  They may not be very scientific, but they are real.  Teach them to love it and that love will get them through the next 80 years or so.  You know it will, because

Love wins,



Practicing Patience in Your Homeschool

I have a confession to make.  I am not a very patient person.  I want long to be.  It would really help my kids out.  I get annoyed about ridiculous things.  If I ask you to do something and you take a millisecond longer than I think you should, I get annoyed.  If I explain something to you in small words and you don’t get it, I get annoyed.  If you ask me to remind you of something and I do and you still forget, I get annoyed.  If you talk to me before my first cup of coffee, I am likely to get mildly homicidal.  If you are late, if you make me late… It could get ugly.  At least inside my head.  A snappish ogre takes over me.  I see red.  It’s so… ugh! ridiculous.

Image from battlereporter.blogspot.com

Image from battlereporter.blogspot.com

I have to work at being patient and I do, all day every day.  I have to remind myself that kids are just little, that people are just people, that I am not the Master of the Timetable.  Doesn’t matter.  I have to literally stop myself from speaking, like reaching out with both fists to grab the speech-producing part of my brain and wrestling it down before I stamp on my tongue with one foot.  Most people have No Idea how impatient I am and absolutely No One knows how often I am impatient.  In fact, when I am feeling that ogre start to take over, I often talk more sweetly than normal, just counter her evil spell.  But not always.  Sometimes she wins.  People flinch away from her.  They run screaming in the streets.  The National Guard is called in. It’s pretty bad.

When we are homeschooling, I have to be even more careful.  See, my littles are here to learn from me.  The reason I decided to do this thing was to provide them a better learning environment.  So if I’m snapping at them all morning for not finding their pencils quickly enough, not understanding simple math, or not remembering the vocabulary word we Just Learned Yesterday, well, I am not giving them a good learning environment.  Ever literally bit your tongue to keep the words in?  I have.  Because, for me, that learning time is the golden time, the time we are all focused on each other, when our minds are expanding and the depths are being explored.  It is sacred.  And it should feel that way to all of us.

How do we practice patience in our homeschool when we have none?  I have some suggestions.

Know Your Triggers

I’ve already listed some of mine.  I know the others.  That’s the first step in practicing patience: recognizing it when it hits.  Know that your anger is arising from your own response rather than what others are doing.  If you are suffering from impatience as a homeschool teacher, sit down and make a list of the things that set you off.  It’s usually when something isn’t meeting your expectations or going your way, but a million things can stem from those two categories.  So make a list. This will make it easier to practice the other steps.

Recognize When It Takes You Over

Before wrestling the ogre, I have to realize it’s her I’m dealing with.  You might be telling yourself you’re angry for a reason.  Stop and think about it.  Is it a good reason?  If not so much, then you are simply being impatient.  And that is not the world’s problem.  It’s certainly not your littles’ problem.  It’s yours.  Just knowing how to recognize the signs in yourself is a big step toward controlling it.

Gauge How Your Reaction Will Affect the Situation

This is where the practice comes in.  Your child can’t find his supplies again?  Didn’t he just have All Of Them at the end of lessons yesterday?  Take a deep breath.  Psychology Today suggests that patience is an act of self-compassion.  You are empathizing with your feelings and treating them kindly.  It’s also (as we all know) a form of outward compassion.  Your kiddo didn’t lose his supplies on purpose.  Is your response going to make matters worse or better?  If you snap or lecture, your child is likely to get his feelings hurt or feel a little rebellious.  So that reaction is only going to make matters worse.  If you breathe, give yourself and your child a little love, then commence helping him look for the supplies, things are going to get better.  If your reaction is going to make things worse, and you feel out of control, walk away for a minute.  Give yourself time to think it out.  And try to keep the storm off your brow as you leave.  When you are back in control, go deal with the situation.

Make a Conscious Effort to Think Before You Speak

Once you’ve recognized that one of your triggers has set you off and given yourself time to think about it, put serious thought into what you are going to say in response.  In the above situation, snapping, “How do you manage to do this Every Day?  Can’t you learn to take care of your stuff?” is probably not the best thing to say, no matter how much you might want to say it.  Instead, try something like, “Well, let’s find your scissors then.  Maybe after class we can make you a new caddy to put everything in with a special place for your scissors.  Would that help you keep track of them better?”  See how much nicer that is?  Your little will respond to it better, and having him help find a solution will give him a sense of empowerment.  The other way?  He’ll feel belittled and small.  And you never want to be the cause of that feeling in your child, do you?

Change Your Perspective

One of the best tools I have for stemming impatience is to stop and look at the situation from the point of view of whomever I’m dealing with.  In this case, the little knows he should have put his scissors up yesterday before he went to have lunch or play.  He is already frustrated with himself for having lost them and he wants to get on with class as much as you do, and  to do that cool craft that requires scissors even more.  When you see things from his perspective instead of your own, it truly helps you let go of the ogre and respond with kindness.  And your day brightens.  And his day brightens.  And all manner of things will be well.

Remember Who You Love

Listen, there are always going to be times when impatience wins.  But here’s the thing.  Nothing is more precious than those littles you’re raising.  Nothing on this planet, in this universe, means as much to you.  They are the bright spark in your life, the joy in your laughter, the reason you breathe and never give up.  And sometimes impatience and a snap reaction makes you meaner than anything else can.  So remember who you’re dealing with.  Remember the learning environment you want for them.  And bite your tongue.  Literally, if you have to.

Love (and patience?) wins,