Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Children's Books & Authors We Love

We must have read hundreds of children's books by now. Our own home library is rather large, and then there are the weekly trips to the library, when we come back sometimes with 30 books in our bags. So here is a roundup of some of our top favourites:

1. Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss is the most-read children's author in our family. My personal favourite collection is Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, which presents more obvious moral lessons than his other books. In Yertle the Turtle, the turtle king's greed contributes to the misery of all of his turtles until it finally leads to his dethronement, and the restoration of freedom for his turtles. I love the ending:
And the turtles, of course...the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.
There are two other stories in this book: Gertrude McFuzz, and The Big Brag. Gertrude McFuzz is a bird that tries to grow more feathers to outshine another prettier bird, and this results in her being completely unable to fly. She has to get all the feathers plucked out again, and learns to love who she is. Here is the great ending:
And, finally, when all of the pulling was done,
Gertrude, behind her, again had just one...
That one little feather she had as a starter.
But now that's enough, because now she is smarter.
Finally, in The Big Brag, a bear and a rabbit argue about which of them is better than the other.  The beginning is perfect:
The rabbit felt mighty important that day
On top of the hill in the sun where he lay,
He felt SO important up there on that hill
That he started in bragging, as animals will
In the end, a little worm shows up and very wittily finishes the story by showing how the bear and the rabbit are completely foolish to be arguing like that.

Another favourite of ours is Horton Hears A Who! One thing I love about this wonderful story is its prolife message. As Horton faithfully protects the little speck of dust which contains Whoville, he keeps repeating "After all, a person's a person no matter how small."

One of the best things we've done is get the main Dr. Seuss books on audio CD. The children absolutely love to listen to these, especially during meal times or in the car, and the renditions are truly very good.  Our favourite is probably Dustin Hoffman's rendition of Horton Hears a Who! in The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites. He uses great accents and really brings the story alive. We also enjoy listening to Green Eggs and Ham and Other Servings of Dr. Seuss.

2. Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories, by Virginia Lee Burton

This volume contains four Virginia Lee Burton stories. Our favourite has always been The Little House, where Burton beautifully illustrated and told the story of a little family house that was built with love by a family out in the countryside, and was never to be sold for money. As the years went on the city came closer until it finally grew around the little house and nearly stifled it. In the end the house is moved back out into the countryside by the great-great-grand-daughter of its original owners.

My children never tire of this story, and they've also enjoyed Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Katy and the Big Snow. The only story that has not caught on with us is Maybelle the Cable Car.

3. Mary Ann Hoberman

I discovered author Mary Ann Hoberman fairly recently, and I am completely taken with her wonderful poetry. Rich language, great rhymes, witty and interesting. One of the best children's authors ever!

One of Hoberman's best series has got to be the "You Read to Me, I'll Read to You" series, which comprises several different books. I haven't seen them all. So far my favourite is You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fables to Read Together. In this volume, she managed to translate Aesop's fables into, essentially, short two-voice plays that are thoroughly enjoyable and reach even young children.

We have also really liked her A House is a House for Me and The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems, which is probably the best poetry collection for children that I have yet come across. One thing I appreciate about her poetry is that it is truly child-friendly. It deals with subjects that are of interest to children, and it is good and pure fun and literary beauty. It is not singed with sarcasm or dark humor the way that Roald Dahl tends to be (I actually strongly dislike him) or even Shel Silverstein can be as well, although his poetry is also truly hilarious and original.

4. The Complete Adventures of Curious George

All three of our children, but especially Sophia, love Curious George. She loves to read this book over and over, and always asks to have it read to her. It continues to occupy a place of honor on our living room coffee table where it is constantly being flipped through.

5. The World of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter

We love Peter Rabbit and all the little Peter Rabbit books that are included in this set. The set is pricey, but these books can also often be found at thrift stores on in other much more affordable volumes. Initially I didn't think my children would appreciate the older-style British English, and that the stories would seem too foreign to their world. But surprisingly, they love these stories!

Actually, what has probably brought alive these stories most for us has been the incredible DVD version of many of these tales. This DVD collection is just fantastic, and probably available at your library. What's more, some of these stories are also available on YouTube!

Here is one of our favourite DVD stories, The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and Mrs. Tittlemouse:

6. The Berenstein Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature

This book is a great introduction to science and nature for kindergarten-age children. Written in rhyme and actually contains lots of information, with humorous illustrations! Our children have been loving it.

We also have other Berenstein Bears books, and one of our favourites is The Berenstein Bears and the Gift of Courage, which contains a good lesson in standing up to bullies and not being afraid. I think this book actually helped Hannah to be more brave with her siblings!

7. A Treasury of Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman

I bought this book used, and didn't know what to expect. It was a total hit! The children laughed so hard the first time we read through this volume, and wanted to read all the stories a few times over right away. It is written in witty rhyme with great illustrations, kids can really relate to Jillian Jiggs. A great find for us.

"I'm scared of the monster," said her little sister.
Jillian held her and Jillian kissed her.

This post is part of a 7 Quick Takes series hosted by Jennifer Fuller's blog
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mozilla is a Weather Vane

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If history were like the weather, our times would surely be like a forming hurricane. Conditions for this hurricane have been favourable for decades (many would trace back the disturbed weather to Roe v. Wade and to the advent of the contraceptive pill), but in recent years there is no doubt that wind speeds have seriously intensified, and here in North America we are now witnessing something close to a tropical storm.

On one front, the American government is brazenly attempting to force religious institutions or private businesses to abandon their most deeply held beliefs by covering services they deeply hold to be immoral. Should. be. shocking. Ten years ago, many of us would have had a hard time believing this could happen.

On another front just this week, Mozilla. It's nice to see Americans rallying the troops, blocking Mozilla and flooding the web browser HQ with negative feedback. What's different about this case? It represents an escalation in ideological intolerance - in the past, people didn't lose their jobs for disagreeing with the liberal agenda, but today that is openly starting to happen. Shameless intolerance in the name of tolerance.

Where is all this going? What will the full-on hurricane look like once (probably not if) it comes? By all signs it will be coming soon.

As a mother, I worry. Will my three tots, so happy and oblivious to it all, one day be told that they are unemployable because they obey their conscience and the teachings of their religion, not some extremist sect but the two-thousand-years-old Catholic Church upon which our entire civilization is in many ways founded? Will they have to whisper their beliefs only in secret, pass around samizdat, immigrate to other countries to preserve their freedoms?

Only, there may be no other countries to run to. Seems to me we are experiencing a worldwide phenomenon here, not just a North American idiosyncrasy.

Not sure what can be done about it. There is a whole lot of good fighting going on at the Supreme Court, in the political arena, in the blogosphere. But my sense is that there is no turning back. The wall of the tsunami is a shadow headed for us in the distance. The tropical storm is turning into a hurricane. 

Gather your children in your arms. 

Brace for impact.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kids Need Parents More Than Friends: The Genius of Gordon Neufeld

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If you are a parent or an educator, here is someone you need to hear about: Dr. Gordon Neufeld, developmental psychologist. This guy seriously needs to speak at TED!!! His insights into today's children and teenagers are so poweful that they should spark a revolution in how we parent and educate in our society.

I came across Dr. Neufeld's book Hold On to Your Kids while I was still working, before I had children. At the time, I thought it made sense but it didn't affect me very deeply. Now as a parent, I have re-discovered Dr. Neufeld at a whole new level. I hugely appreciate his incredible insights into children's behavior and the resulting strategy that he has developed for effective parenting.  

For a taste of Dr. Neufeld's message, view this YouTube talk:

Dr. Neufeld's key message: we should be focusing on attachment. A huge chunk of our children's mysterious behavior can be explained by looking at their primary attachments.

When children are peer-oriented (meaning, they look primarily to their peers for affection and approval) then they will behave in ways that attempt to please their peer group. This will actually impede their maturation process. They will will be subject to the "rule of cool" that is rampant in their peer group, they will be very vulnerable to peer bullying, and they will be difficult to educate or parent, because they will be uninterested in learning from parents or teachers.

On the other hand, when children are primarily adult-oriented, they will be more interested in mimicking adults, and they will be far easier to educate and to parent effectively. They will have immunity to peer bullying, they will be far better socialized, and they will mature into responsible adults earlier.

In our society, peer orientation has become the norm. It wasn't always this way, and Dr. Neufeld makes the point that this development is rather new, but it has been around for a couple of generations, at least in our North American society (in other more traditional societies, this is not true). Here, older generations don't remember life being any other way, and they think that it's normal for their children to ditch them for their friends almost as soon as they start going to school.

I think that a lot of parents find it reassuring when their children are strongly bonded to their peer group, even if they are rolling their eyes at hanging out with adults or giving adults bad language and attitude. Being peer oriented is often mistaken for being well socialized, and parents might see it as a sign of their children being healthy and normal. But Dr. Neufeld throws this completely in reverse, and says that the opposite is true: peer-oriented kids are not well-socialized at all, and their maturation process is actually in distress.

So, as parents and educators, how to set things right? Dr. Neufeld does a lot more than identify the problem: he offers a concrete solution called attachment parenting. Another stroke of genius - he extends the "attachment parenting" of Dr. Sears' fame to children older than infants/toddlers. Here are a couple of Youtube videos by Neufeld that address the topic of parenting with a view to fostering healthy attachment in kids.


Dr. Neufeld has changed my whole attitude to my children. Before I understood Dr. Neufeld's theory, I was in many ways blind to their attachment needs. It wasn't a complete mess, but I wasn't making the most of things. For example, when my children would ask to be held or played with, I would often try to brush them off or distract them into independent activities or playing with each other. Lots of valid reasons on my part: being busy with something else, being tired, needing a break, etc.  

Now I try to really make the time, summon up that extra reserve and give them a bit of my time even when I'd rather be doing something else. I understand that they need it if they ask for it, and I am now consciously trying to foster the healthy attachment that they have to me. I also try to be as available as possible for them during the day, to interact with them and to listen to them. We even moved the two youngest into our bedroom again, and that has created such happiness for these two little peas, who never liked sleeping in their own rooms - they always wanted to be with us at night! We used to think this "dependence" was something to break, but now we know that it is actually a desire for attachment that is healthy.

Dr. Neufeld runs the Neufeld Institute in Vancouver, which presents live and online courses to parents and educators, equipping them to interact with children in light of his truly revolutionary insights on attachment. His Institute also sells some of these courses on DVD. Unfortunately they are quite pricey, so I think that personally, I will be sticking with the free information and videos that are available online. Thankfully, there is quite a bit out there!

By the way, Dr. Neufeld's co-author for Hold On To Your Kids was Dr. Gabor Mate, and he also has some awesome talks on YouTube. Here is a great talk by him regarding peer orientation and parenting:

Friday, April 4, 2014

My "Good Life Recipe" for Young People

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Young people are searching for life advice online. Advice columns continue to be very popular, and there are many articles out there offering contradictory advice on everything from relationships to careers.

It's no surprise that there is such hunger for online help with life's difficult situations. Life is lived backwards. We are dealt some of our most challenging life decisions when we are clueless teenagers or barely starting to get serious in our 20s. How much easier things would be if we could start out with the wisdom and self-knowledge of our old age.

I am 37, so not exactly ancient but old enough to have been born well into the previous century. I still remember vividly what it was like to be in my teens and twenties, but I can now assess those years with hindsight (which, as they say, is 20/20). So I thought I would add my own "good life recipe" to the mix of online advice for young people.

Who am I to tell young people what to do? I don't claim to have any special expertise beyond having gone through life until now. This advice is unsolicited but free! Take it at your own risk. Here are my top tips for young people today:

1. Resist peer orientation

If you live your life to please your peers, you will accomplish nothing. Seeking the approval of your classmates will suck all true originality and life out of you.

Peer popularity is all about conformity. Most teenagers today have an overwhelming need to fit in with their peer group. This is why bullies have so much power: the worst possible thing that can happen to most young people is to be rejected by their peers. 

What's more, seeking popularity usually drives people down to the lowest common denominator. Your peers have a twisted set of values that is all about the short term: hooking up, partying, having fun. If you are trying to get cool or stay cool, you will probably end up doing all the wrong things. The last thing you want is to be known as the geeky good kid, right?

Live your life like an adult. Skip ahead of the curve, and minimize teenage preoccupations in your life right now. Your peers might not get it, but one day they will wish they had followed your lead. Don't let bullies get you down, and don't let your life be determined by the cool kids, who have no clue about what is best for your future (or theirs).

The best thing you can do to save yourself from an unhealthy peer orientation is to hang out with people of many different ages, and especially to become friends with adults. Re-discover your parents and your extended family (they're not even bribing me to say this). Find mentors who are older than you.

For centuries, young people were raised in cross-generational contexts where it was normal to spend lots of time with older people. Today we have been brainwashed into thinking that it's normal to spend all our time with people who are the exact same age.

Don't drink the kool-aid. Your peers can't lead you through the maze of your life because they are lost too. Close friendships with older adults are your best protection from the predatory bullying and negative influences of your immature peers.

2. Don't waste your life as a victim

Everyone who has been hurt in life has a choice to make: living the rest of their life as a victim, or stepping out of the ruins and building a new beginning. Don't let yourself stay paralysed by the damage you suffered. Be a phoenix. Lots of people have triumphed over their miserable hands in the cards of life, and you can too. Conquer your handicaps.

Here are some inspiring stories of those who overcame:
  • Nick Vujicic, born without arms or legs. There are a whole bunch of incredible videos of him on Youtube, check them out (here's one for a start).
  • Tom Monaghan - billionaire and founder of Domino's Pizza. Grew up dirt poor. His father died when he was a toddler, and his mother couldn't provide for the family, so for several years he lived in a foster home and an orphanage.
  • Joyce Meyer - sexually abused as a young girl, she went on to become one of the most popular evangelists ever.
  • Oprah Winfrey - as many people know, she was raped when she was 9 years old. She overcame.
  • Jacob Barnett. When he was a toddler he stopped speaking for a year and a half, and was diagnosed with autism and Asbergers Syndrome. His parents were told he would have trouble functioning; instead, at 15 years old, he is considered one of the world's most promising physicists.
  • Lucas Vialpando - wrestler with cerebral palsy. Told by many that he could never wrestle, he has proven them all wrong.
  • What do Barak Obama, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos (founder of have in common? They all come from broken family relationships - Steve Jobs was given up for adoption by his biological parents, and the biological fathers of Barak Obama and Jeffrey Bezos went splitsville very early in their sons' lives.
  • Let the next person on this list be YOU.

3. Girls, learn to respect your bodies

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via photopin cc
Our culture is toxic for young women. Soft-core pornography is mainstream and it is everywhere, from MTV videos to video games. Even the lingerie ads at our bus shelters are teaching girls from an early age to think of themselves as candy, and soon the most important attribute we can have in this world is our appearance. 

What a mixed message. We can be CEOs and presidents, but we are also supposed to be the equivalent of pole dancers in a strip club. Many girls continue to suffer from anorexia, bullimia, suicide and depression because of unhealthy obsessions with their appearance. Girls are giving boys everything they want, however and whenever they want it.

Stop the cycle of self-abuse. Break free of the mirror. Stop using your body to win love; it never works, and only leaves you crying and feeling used and worthless. Wait for a guy who will respect you by NOT using you. That's true love. 

4. Boys, learn to respect girls

Start by cutting out the porn. It's no secret that a huge percentage of teenage boys are checking out or even hooked on that stuff. If that includes you, don't delude yourself into thinking it is a normal part of being a guy. Porn is drugs, and it will destroy you like cocaine. It fries your brain and it will corrupt your relationships with women like a cancer. Break free at all costs.

5. Do what is right, even if no one will find out

Live an ethical life. Cheating, lying, and hurting others should never be how you get ahead. Otherwise, peace will always elude you and you will be a fraud, above all to yourself. Do the right thing every time. Fight off temptation. Have courage. Obey your conscience. Live in truth. If you often have trouble determining right from wrong, see number 7. Your foggy moral glasses will get much clearer once you get closer to the source of truth and goodness.

6. Ask the big questions

Socrates once said that "The unexamined life is not worth living". Don't get sidetracked into pursuing the wrong things in life and letting go of the things that really matter.

If you are hoping that the next new thing, person or achievement will bring you the profound inner joy that has so far eluded you, you are in for a lifetime of disappointments. Your hunger for meaning will never be quenched in a store or by other human beings, and even gold medals will leave you restless at the end of your life. We desire far more than this world can give back to us. Only someone greater than any pitiful creature of creation can give you the fulfilment that you are seeking.

The human heart yearns for God. Dare to ask about Him. Dare to tackle the tough questions. Is there any more to life? Where did this world come from? What makes something right or wrong? Where does goodness, truth and beauty come from? Is there life after death? Seek Him with an open mind and with humility, and you might just be Surprised by Joy.

7. Read like your life depends on it

Reading can't be replaced by staring at a TV screen. I don't care how many Blue Planet programs you watch, you will still learn a lot more about our world by reading. The depth of knowledge that is transmitted through the written word is unparalleled by any other medium. Learn to read every day.

What to read? Don't waste your time on trashy romance novels or juvenille lit, or comic books that are not worth the paper they are printed on. Try to read classic fiction, which contains valuable lessons and questions about human nature. Also read nonfiction: follow online websites that discuss the things you are interested in, get a magazine subscription. Read about people who have lived their lives well. Read news and opinion online.

Reading will teach you more about yourself - your opinions and interests will begin to take shape, and you might even find that you want to get more involved in various causes, or study an area of interest more seriously by taking courses.

8. Be a producer, not a consumer

Some people make things happen, while others only watch. Think about this as you sit on your couch one day watching TV: there are millions of people out there doing the same thing, merely watching TV shows mindlessly, some for many hours a day. But there are other people who work hard writing those very TV shows every day, exercising their imaginations and producing something. It is an irony that the people who wrote the movie and show scripts probably don't watch that much TV themselves, because they are far too busy creating things and being productive.

Don't be content merely to consume what others have produced. Be one of the people who contributes to making this world a better place. Do something productive with your time: write, get involved, do whatever you can.

9. Do something extraordinary while you are still young

You are capable of something incredible right now. You might live at home and be a student, feeling like you can't possibly do anything significant until you enter the "real world", but this is a paralysing myth: pop it. Don't waste away your youth in the party scene, on endless video games, or in other unproductive ways.

There are countless examples of young people doing fantastic things, from programming million-dollar apps to writing novels, starting successful businesses and nonprofits, and standing up courageously for human rights (check out lists of such young people: 1,2,3,4). You can be one of these young people. Take charge of your life and put your dreams into action.

10. Plan out your future, work at your goals

Establishing goals is an important part of reaching them. If you don't know what you want and where you are going, you will have a hard time arriving at the best possible destination. Set big goals and work towards achieving them.

During my high school years, motivational speaker Brian Tracy made a big difference in my life. His seminars taught me how to put my life in order, set goals and reach them. I carried out his advice, and it worked wonders for me. One of the goals I set for myself back then was to get into Harvard. At the time it seemed totally crazy and unachievable. I was a lower-income immigrant at a public school in faraway Alberta. I had no connections to exclusive American Ivy League schools. But I got there - on scholarship. Not a bad turnaround. Thanks, Brian Tracy!

11. Fit your career to your personality

The Meyers-Briggs Personality Test is used by many employers for a reason. Your personality is not likely to change much as you get older, and it is one of the best indicators of what fields and jobs your will most enjoy and excel in. Go where your personality type is happiest!

I took the Meyers-Briggs in college and was completely floored to discover that someone actually understood me! My Meyers-Briggs profile fit me to a T, and still does. Looking back, I wish I had let it guide my career choices more. By the way, intentionally hires mostly INT-type personalities. And did you know that business schools are filled mostly with ENTJs

12. When choosing careers, keep your future family in mind

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You are probably capable of having all kinds of careers, but only some of them may have the qualities that will maintain your sanity later on when you have a family.

Women in particular should give thought to this issue. Your feminist streak might rebel - in the ideal world, women should be able to do anything, not holding back for any reason. But the reality is that if you become a mother one day, then your children will need you a lot, especially when they are little. And believe me, you will want to be there for them. As much as you love your amazing job (whatever it may be), those little helpless creatures that depend on you for everything will make you want to throw your briefcase into the wind. If your career stands between you and your children, you may end up having to make sacrifices that really hurt.

Do the research: how do mothers fare in your chosen career? How common are features such as flex time, part-time work, work from home, off-ramps and on-ramps? It's a fact that some careers are far more family-friendly than others. Plan ahead and choose wisely, and one day your family will reap the benefits.

Staying home with children? Consider it a real option. Though it often gets a bad rap in our dual-income society, your own family might well benefit from the ancient practice of having the mother take care of her own children on a daily basis (imagine that!).

13. Start your family early

Many in my generation believed that we first needed to "establish" ourselves in our career, and buy the house and the two cars, before even thinking about having kids. It's true that there are certain benefits to having children later in life, and financial security is one of them.

But there are many more benefits to having children early. The most important of these is that having a baby is the best thing that can happen to you! There is no more rewarding and incredible experience in life than becoming a parent to a real mini-human, and watching the entire process of human development occur from scratch. Every other life offering pales in comparison - why put off the biggest adventure that life has to offer? Have a child early, and maximize the years of your greatest joy and meaning in life.

Having a baby is one of the most life-altering things you can do. I can think of other life changing events: winning the lottery, for example! But even that would probably not change your life so completely as having a baby.

Once your baby comes, you will enter a period of intense brain re-shuffling when the priorities you've had for all of your pre-child life may seem a lot less pressing, and new priorities may emerge as the most important things in life.  Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, through this reshuffling process you will become the new person that you will be for the remainder of your adult life. 

And here's the point: it's better to turn into that butterfly early on, and live the whole rest of your life in accordance with your mature priorities. Why waste a third of your life following a plan that might seem misguided to your mature self? For example, once you have a baby, the career that you worked so hard for might actually become an obstacle to your good parenting, or all those years spent cruising through life as a single person might suddenly emerge as wasted time.

Here are a few other reasons why it's better to have children earlier on:
  • You get to enjoy their own adult lives longer, play more with future grandchildren, etc. My parents-in-law, who had their children very early, have already celebrated the 50th birthday of two of their children. Wow!
  • When the children are older you can go back to school or start your career and still have your prime career-building years ahead of you.
  • Having children early means you can have a large family, should you wish to do so!
  • Far less fertility problems. Women's fertility drops drastically after 35, and many struggle with conceiving after 40. These are the statistics. As with life expectancy, many defy the odds; I personally know at least two women who conceived naturally at 44. They won the lottery, but the odds are still against us at that age.
  • Healthier babies. I would never abort a baby for any dysfunction. That said, having children later in life means that the chances of various conditions are greatly increased. This is true for both older mothers and older fathers. 
  • Healthier pregnancies. The health risks of pregnancy go up with age, and older mothers have more risky pregnancies that can endanger both them and their babies. Why go through that?

14. Put a lot of effort into finding the right spouse

Possibly no other decision will affect your life happiness more than whom you choose to marry. And yet, people routinely spend far more time planning out their careers and searching for jobs than they do searching for spouses.

Many people do nothing concrete to find their spouse; they still hold out hope that they will lock eyes with their soul mate at the grocery store or at the bar. If you translate this approach to careers, it's like waiting to get hired by a stroke of luck in a taxi cab, like in the movie Pursuit of Happiness. Would you approach your career with the same strategy that you have for finding your spouse?

My suggestion: approach dating with the same mentality you have towards work: look for a spouse as if you are looking for a dream job. Here's what that means:

  • Go online. I may be partial as my husband and I met on Catholic Match, but the efficiency of the internet just can't be beat. It's an awesome way to do the first few rounds of selection.
  • Don't waste years of your dating life on any one person. I know people who dated for nine or more years before finally breaking up and starting their spouse search all over again. What a waste of prime dating years. You should know before a year is up, and often sooner, whether someone is a good match for you. If you don't know, then you are either fooling yourself or you don't know what you are looking for. Get your priorities in order and stick to them, even if it means saying goodbye.   
  • Don't let rejection put you in the deep freeze. I actually know people who completely stopped dating for years after getting dumped by someone they loved. While I feel for them, I urge you not to follow that path. After all, would you stop hunting for a job if you got fired? Most people would soon get out there, distributing resumes and trying their hardest. Take the same attitude with dating, and you will be successful much faster.

15. Live authentically and minimize your regrets

Study the common regrets of other people and you will find a guide to how to live your own life. A couple of years ago, Forbes ran an article describing the top 25 regrets that people rack up over their lifetime. Among them: not standing up to bullies in school and in life, not trusting ourselves enough, living life to please our parents instead of following our own dreams, hanging out with the wrong friends, not trusting our gut instinct, not going for the dream job, and others. Avoid the mistakes that others have made.

Jeffrey Bezos, founder of, chooses to live according to a "Regret Minimization Framework." Not a bad idea. Your life is only yours to live, and you only get one chance; make sure it is the life that you truly want to live.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Victory for Victoria's Secret?

For a shocking photo of how bad it can get, click here.
I couldn't post that photo because I don't have rights to it.
This photo is from the Creative Commons online.
Look out stroller moms, our weekday hunting grounds are about to get a lot more racy. Victoria's Secret has come to town. A massive store will open at the Rideau Centre in May, taking up a whopping 10,000 square feet of second-floor retail space. One floor down, Victoria’s Secret will be opening PINK, which is specifically targeted at teenage and even pre-teen girls. These two stores have also just moved into Bayshore Shopping Centre, where my wee tots and I often spend our rainy, freezing or scorching Ottawa days.

Yes, Bayshore and the Rideau Centre have existing lingerie stores, and it has not been easy to keep my children’s eyes away from the couple of store fronts that feature oversized provocative posters of nearly-nude women. But Victoria’s Secret and PINK are about to challenge the G-rating of our malls at a whole new level.

For one thing, there will now be twice as many lingerie stores, and the new ones are huge, with a lot of window space. Then there is the more aggressive advertising that comes with Victoria’s Secret. But most disturbing is PINK: the blatant retailing of lingerie to young girls.

Just last year, PINK caused an uproar when it launched a line of sexy underwear for teen and pre-teen girls, printed with phrases such as “feeling lucky”, “I dare you”, “let’s make out” and “call me.” Are these the kinds of products we want our daughters to wear? At a time when young girls are under growing pressure to be sexy, we are only upping the ante by introducing stores like PINK into our malls.

In 2012 the CBC exposed the alarming consequences of growing up in our “porn culture” in a disturbing documentary entitled “Sext Up Kids”. According to that program, “as girls hit puberty, they start seeing themselves as objects of someone else's needs and desires.” Teen girls are not only getting more promiscuous, they are increasingly acting like porn stars on Youtube videos and “sexting” photos of themselves to boys - pictures that eerily evoke Victoria’s Secret lingerie models. The results: negative outcomes in “mental health, depression, self-esteem.”

The marketing of stores like Victoria’s Secret and PINK affects everyone. For men and boys, many of whom are already under the influence of online pornography, it is public confirmation that women are eye-candy - objects of pleasure in shiny wrappers, performers for men’s sexual entertainment. In the Rideau Centre, only steps away from Parliament Hill, the irony of our cultural schizophrenia could not be more stark. Female MPs surely walk through this mall together with male colleagues; watch the men try to carry on a conversation while dodging the stare of gigantic women in lacy bras.

This is the 21st century, and we teach our daughters that they can become anything from prime ministers and CEOs to soldiers and fire fighters. At the same time, our culture is training them from an early age to think of themselves as objects for men's sexual pleasure. Even young children like my two daughters and son are being indoctrinated with these lessons as we walk past X-rated displays on our way to the toy store, the pet store or the food court.

If we are truly concerned about what is happening to our young people, then why are we welcoming soft-core pornography into our public spaces? Perhaps many of us want to be progressive, and protesting would tarnish our hipster image. Or have we just gotten numb to the imagery - doesn’t anything shock us anymore? Have we resigned to the fact that our daughters will eventually start reducing themselves to their bodies, and that teenage hangout spots will market provocative underwear? Some parents might even encourage their girls to get sexy, maybe as a way to be popular rather than invisible.

Whatever reason we have for letting our malls slide into soft porn, it is a serious mistake. There is clear evidence that oversexualization is harming our young people, and the damage will continue even if we ignore it. I don’t expect to see street riots against Victoria’s Secret and PINK (it would be nice), but I do wonder what makes us so complacent. The time to stomp out this spreading fire in our malls is now.

Photo Credit: Ambernectar 13 via photopin cc

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dressing Our Little Boys in Skulls

What is up with the skulls on boys' clothing? They seem to be on just about everything, and I am sick of it! My son doesn't like pirates, and I don't either. I don't even get that theme - there is nothing positive about pirates, so why are we encouraging our boys to like them and emulate them?

This past December I was looking for a sweater for Jonah, and found a nice knit sweater at Loblaws. The back looked perfect for church, but turning it over I was shocked at the huge black skull and crossbones emblazoned across the front. Do parents actually want their four-year-olds to wear that in public?

In fact, last season Loblaws was going quite wild with the skull and crossbones theme, it was on almost every article of their toddler boy clothing. And Loblaws is far from alone in this freaky obsession with skulls. I've seen it in almost every big store (check out this, this, this, this and this). Skulls have surprised me on the most innocuous and otherwise decent articles of clothing. Just this week, my mom bought some nice socks for Jonah as a present. After he had put them on, we found small skulls integrated into the design.

Enough already! Throughout history, pirates have been thieves and often killers. What is so great about that? Johnny Depp might have glamorized piracy in the Pirates of the Caribbean series (thanks, Disney) but even there I fail to see good role models, and just look at the real world: for instance, the piracy that is rampant off the West Coast of Africa, where "Many attacks end up with crew members injured or killed." Why are we encouraging our boys to think of pirates as heroes? It's like trying to convince them that they should aspire to becoming criminals.
Many attacks end up with crew members injured or killed. - See more at:
Many attacks end up with crew members injured or killed. - See more at: Is

What's more, skulls symbolize more than just piracy; they also stand for death. When you think about it, skulls and crossbones are a very morbid image. They make me think of that phrase, "Culture of Death." Seeing skulls on children's clothing really does seem like some twisted celebration of death. It is so wildly inappropriate for everyday children's clothing that is gives me chills.

Skulls are the worst of it. My second pet peeve on boy clothing is ugly monsters, which are also very popular. Do other little boys really want to wear this stuff? I know that mine does not, he finds these images just as unpleasant as I do.

What a contrast with girl clothing! You sure won't find skulls and crossbones on clothing for little girls (though you will find a lot to be disturbed about in the freakish Monster High doll and toy line). When I shop for my girls, all I can see is glitter everywhere, and images of flowers, hearts, pretty girls, kittens, and other cutsey stuff. I don't believe in social conditioning of genders, but if it were true that boys and girls can be brainwashed to act in certain gender-scripted ways, then our clothing would sure be doing a good job of reinforcing the stereotypes.

If my magic wand could fix it all, I would poof all skulls back to Halloween. Boy clothes would have a lot more variety, including Thomas the Train pictures of many of the other engines (why is it always Thomas?). And of course, stores would never be sold out of size 4.

Photo Credit: antitezo via photopin cc

Friday, March 21, 2014

How We Homeschool: Handwriting

Photo credit: Lea Singh, All Rights Reserved.
For permission to use, please contact me.
Did I mention that I love Jolly Phonics?

And yet, nothing is perfect in this world, and Jolly Phonics does fall short in the area of handwriting. It tries to teach handwriting alongside phonics, but the handwriting component is really just an afterthought it seems, mainly presented as a way of enhancing the learning of the phonics sounds. As such, it lacks a method to the madness, and I was not impressed with the rather haphazard wriggles that I saw children producing on the promotional/instructional part of the Jolly Phonics DVD.

So I searched for another program that was specifically aimed at handwriting. I wanted something focused on teaching the correct way to form letters and to develop nice, not just legible, penmanship. In the end I settled on Handwriting Without Tears (HWT).

In general I am very pleased with HWT. I liked it initially because it is a multi-sensory approach. Children first form capital letters with wood pieces, then they use a special small slate to write the letters with chalk using a method called "wet, dry, try" (this helps to teach the correct order of operations in writing letters, as well as the proper starting spot for each letter, and helps eliminate reversals).  Finally children write letters in their workbooks - which are very well designed, and eventually practice writing words. There is also a musical component - the program offers a CD of mostly catchy tunes that emphasize the various aspects of handwriting.

We are using Letters and Numbers for Me. I did get the Teacher's Guide but see in retrospect that it was not really necessary, though it is nice to have and I referred to it many times especially at the outset. Now that I know what I am doing, I use it less.

For Hannah, handwriting is probably her favourite assignment, she considers it easy. She has always had very good fine motor control. When I tried doing the multi-sensory aspects of HWT (wood pieces, slate, even the music), she got bored quickly - she just wanted to go straight to the workbook and finish her assignment. So eventually I abandoned all the multi-sensory stuff because Hannah doesn't seem to need it.

Lately though, I've been going back to the wood pieces and slate with Jonah. He still struggles with controlling his pencil on the page, and the earlier steps of HWT are actually helping him quite a bit (and I'm trying to get some of that Montessori metal inset work in there as well). So now I am seeing more of the benefits of the multi-sensory approach, and I am thankful that I chose this program rather than another approach that was solely workbook-based.

Finally, I continue to be happy with the neatness and overall appearance of the HWT print font, but I do question whether we will transition to another program for cursive writing. I don't like the HWT cursive style very much because it doesn't seem slanted enough, and I would prefer something that looks more classic.