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Offering a small school atmosphere for the Corvallis-Philomath community since 1984

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Festive Frenzy?

Happy Holidays, everyone! This is, for many, a favorite time of year, but it can easily become stressful as we try to capture every joy of Christmas, Hannukah, Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia Days, Kwaanzaa and the New Year.  Cleaning, baking, cooking, shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, writing greeting cards, traveling and visiting, hosting – stop the madness!  Now, there is nothing Grinchy or Scroogy about me.   Nobody loves the winter holidays more than Yours Truly and I think that is because I have found the key to my Christmas bliss.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.  What has worked for my family may not be what works for yours, but my formula is this; eliminate the unnecessary and embrace the meaningful.  My treatise here will center on Christmas because that’s what I grew up celebrating and I apologize for the narrow focus, but I think the essence can be applied to any holiday.  

Ponder which activities and traditions you truly treasure.  What do you remember most fondly from your own childhood holidays? For me, there is so much.  I remember my mother’s decorating style precisely.  She and we 3 kids would hang up our colorful cardstock pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, the reindeer and elves all skating together.  This took up a whole wall or picture window.  We decorated the tree, of course, and then Mom would place on one corner of every horizontal surface some greenery, pillar candles and a few Christmas balls.  This left the rest of the coffee table or end table free to hold refreshments.  We would put up the stockings and the angel chimes.  We never put lights up on our house because, as my dad said, “only Polish families do that.” I guess there are a lot of Polish families around Philomath!  

Although we were a family of meager means, sometimes experiencing food insecurity ourselves, my parents hosted an elaborate Open House each Christmas Eve. The centerpiece would be a ham and there was every delectable dish imaginable alongside. Mom made around 25 different kinds of cookies, no exaggeration.  They made a variety of hand-made truffles and homemade eggnog with islands of egg whites floating about that would be served in our cherished Santa mugs, with or without brandy and whisky.  Looking back now, I think we were rather like the Cratchits from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in that we lived like kings on that one night a year and like paupers the rest.  

We listened to Christmas music, went caroling and sledding (this was snowy LaPorte, Indiana and later Bend, Oregon) and wrote our letters to Santa.  There were always gifts under the tree for us all.  Some years, there were only a few and other years, an embarrassment of riches.  We put up a stocking for the Baby Jesus and we kids each selected one of our toys or treasures to give Him on Christmas Eve.    When we woke up Christmas morning, our stockings were full and Jesus’ was empty.   

Some years ago, my husband and I spoke to our families about scaling back gift-giving.  This is, to us, the least appealing element of Christmas. My husband hates to shop, so not shopping for me is my gift to him.  If he or I want something, we are so richly blessed that we can go out and procure the item and our family members are also similarly well-off.  At first, we opted for the drawing of names and everyone would then give just one gift.  Now, we never know from one year to the other who we will actually be celebrating with on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and have eliminated gift-giving altogether.  We do give the grandkids and niece and nephew cash.  I consider this insurance that they will visit me in my future nursing home and pluck my chin hairs for me.  This approach saves us much time, effort and money, obviously, leaving us free to give more to charitable causes and/or to treat ourselves to a special experience. This year, Andy and I are going to see “The Lion King” musical at the Hult Center in Eugene in January!  

I bake a couple of batches of cookies, one being the Manning Family Icebox Cookies.  I decorate a lot or a little, depending on how much energy I have for going up and down the attic stairs.  We drive around and look at light displays.   I listen to a lot of Christmas music, light a lot of candles and watch the same Rankin/Bass Christmas specials on TV that I watched as a little girl.  We host our families for either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve and we do it Open House-style so that the family members who wish to avoid each other (divorce) may do so and we still get to see everyone and offer them a delicious meal in festive surroundings.  The above is what is important to me – beauty, family, food, music and fond memories of Christmases past.  

Since you all have young children, I sort of doubt that you will eliminate gift-giving, as we have done. That might be a hard sell. Perhaps you will scale back in some other area. Perhaps not.  Perhaps your celebrations are already a perfect fit for your time, energy and pocketbook.  Wonderful!  You are the envy of all you know.    But, maybe there is one other aspect of the holiday season in which I can be of assistance. Tell me this.  Does your child ever receive gifts from relatives and well-meaning friends that leave you thinking, “oh, boy, you really shouldn’t have!”?  Maybe there are too many.  Or maybe they are a poor fit for your child’s age/interests, your household or your values. And maybe it is awkward to discuss such things with your loved ones.  I empathize. No one wants to offend or hurt feelings. But, what if you were discussing the upcoming holidays with, say, Grandma, and the topic came up organically? Allow me to offer you the following script as a rough guideline of how you could gently let your wishes be known;

“We are really looking forward to seeing you, too!  Little Joaquin is so excited for Christmas.  We have been working on his wish list.  I don’t know if you plan on getting him anything, but perhaps you would like me to email you his ideas.  You can spread the word that we are hoping for only a few things as we only want him to have as many toys as he can manage and clean up responsibly.”  Or “We just hope he doesn’t receive any weaponry this year. We don’t let him use them so it’s sort of a waste.”  Or “What he would really like is to spend some time with you.  He’d be thrilled if you took him to the Albany Carousel/Wildlife Safari/Laughing Planet for lunch.”  Or “I just hope the aunts and uncles don’t give him any electronics this year.  We have learned so much about how they hamper brain development and, of course, we want him to have every advantage.”  

Of course, we don’t control other people and they will give what they wish to give, but it might be helpful to lay that advance groundwork and at least, let your preferences be known. If your loved ones are asking for input, you might refer them to the American Academy of Pediatrics website. There is a really good article on toys for infants and young children titled “Best Toys for Children’s Development – Hint: They aren’t Costly or Electronic.”  It recommends simple toys such as dolls and action figures, balls, blocks and puzzles, etc. to promote imaginative play, interaction between the generations and between peers, large and small motor skills, spatial skills, cognitive-language and social-emotional abilities and self-regulation.  I suspect that many a doting grandparent or auntie would love some input from you as to what your child could really benefit from. Even as a child-development professional, I found it difficult to keep up with the kids’ development well-enough to give appropriately. 

I hope you find this helpful or, at least, interesting.  In keeping with my holiday style, it is the only gift you will be receiving from me. My lack of a present for you, though, is no reflection of the fondness and respect I have for you and your family. You are all such devoted parents and caring friends.  Knowing you has enriched my life greatly and I appreciate you so much.  I wish you and yours a joyful holiday season and that 2019 is full of blessings for all.   


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Limits

We had a fun evening here at school the other night.  Jessica and I hosted "Hands on in the Casa" and a large number of our parents turned out to play with our Montessori materials.   I spoke very briefly at the beginning before turning parents loose to engage with our fascinating, scientifically-designed apparatuses.  After everyone had gone home, I asked Jessica for her feedback regarding my little speech.  I was actually fishing for a compliment, but instead, I got honest critique.  Jessica said that she wished I had spent a bit more time talking about limits.  I mentioned merely that we provided limits and that limits are what keeps freedom (a variety of good, positive choices) from becoming license (a blank check of permissiveness), but perhaps I didn't elaborate sufficiently about why limits are so valuable in child-rearing.  Therefore, this blog post.

One aspect of Montessori philosophy is a belief in Human Tendencies.  These have been observed by pedagogists and psychologists who pre-date Dr. Montessori and she observed them at work in the children in her very first Casa de Bambini in the slum of San Lorenzo.  Some Human Tendencies are orientation, order, exploration, communication, activity, work, repetition, perfection and love.  These tendencies are powerful forces that guided our pre-historic ancestors.  Indeed, they guided the evolution of civilization and brought us to our current state as the dominant species on planet Earth.  Not bad, considering we were once naked, cold, defenseless and prey to so many other, better-equipped animals.  These same tendencies that guided humanity as a whole guide your individual child throughout her life.

Think of the tendency of orientation, in which the child is figuring our where and how he fits in to the environment, whether that be the home, the school, the play park, etc.  One wonders how far he is allowed to roam, what he is allowed to take, what activities take place in which space, with whom she may converse or how he can get something to eat or drink.  The tendency of exploration calls us to look, listen, touch, smell and taste to take in the whole of this environment. The tendency of order encourages us to know where things are and where to put them back when finished, what the rules that provide the social order, the roles of the individuals around us, the routine of the day.  Perhaps the reader can speculate already about how important clear limits would be in satisfying these human tendencies.

Children, even rebellious children, need and are satisfied by limits.  They want and need them so much that they will look for them until they are found.  Limits help us to feel secure and that we know what we are doing.  They help us to be and feel competent.  If the limits are changeable, foggy or wishy-washy, then the child must keep seeking/testing the limit until it is constant, clear and solid. If I were to tell the children that there is no talking when we exit for fire drill, but then allowed the talking anyway, that would be an unclear limit and would only serve to encourage the children to keep talking to experiment with the limit.  "Did the teacher mean what she said?  I can't tell.  It seems not.  Perhaps she never means what she says. Let's keep testing until we figure this out!"  It is easy to see how limits that are expressed but not enforced lead to some challenging behaviors.  It's not the child's fault.  She is at the mercy of her human tendency to explore the teacher's intent, to orient herself to the rules of the classroom and to try to find the order in a system in which things are said, but not meant.  What a waste of her energy and mine!

In contrast, if limits are consistently and relentlessly shown to the child, he will eventually realize that this limit is real and solid.  The testing fades away and the child is free to turn his incredible human energy to other tasks.  It does take some children longer than others.  This may be attributed to the persistence of the child.  It may relate to a lack of consistent limits at home or with a caregiver.  As I point out,  limits that are not consistently enforced only serve to fuel the child's desire to explore and finally find that limit!  Once the child accepts that there are limits, it is as if Basic Training is over and the child is set free to pursue interests in an environment that they now understand and trust.  There is a feeling of ease and confidence that allows them to explore further, in a sanctioned way.

Lastly, limits are part of life.  A Montessori classroom and a family home should be microcosms of life that prepare us for the larger world.  A child who is not given limits will be ill-suited to the realities of life.  In life, we all follow rules, procedures and laws.  Cause and effect reigns.  We can expect to live as comfortable a life as we are willing to work for.  A+ behavior usually brings A+ rewards. D- behavior has an equivalent result.   Fortunately, that is the world our kids are born into.  Sadly, other children, who are less-privileged than ours,  cannot rely on that equation of effort = reward as circumstances are so stacked against them.

Let's imagine the adult who was reared without limits.  That person was brought up to think he/she could do no wrong and he/she is entitled to have/do whatever they fancy.  Not only will this insufferable person be a curse to anyone unfortunate enough to marry or hire him/her, but this person will be unhappy all the days of their lives.  After all, if one has the expectation that they can have/do whatever they want and the rest of humanity is not in agreement, that is going to be a long, disappointing ride.  This entitled person will never feel gratitude because they assume they always deserve to have the first and the best and to have it right now.  When something good happens, well, they were due anyway.  When something bad happens, that will be viewed as a grave injustice.  It may be difficult for some parents to provide limits as they seem to cause the child discomfort at the moment and will likely lead to a struggle, but in the long term, they are insurance for future happiness and success.

I hope parents find these musings helpful and will examine the limits or lack thereof in their child's home life and have some in place.  Good places to start might be: no hurting people,  carry your plate to the kitchen after a meal, hold onto my coat when we get out of the car so that you are safe and close,  finish this yogurt or apple before taking another, use the back of office paper for your drawings, remove your shoes before entering.... and on and on.  Even if moms and dads don't need these limits, your child does!  It's good training for life!

Best regards,

Doni




Monday, September 28, 2015



Obedience and The Will



“She refuses to do anything I say.  She is so strong-willed!”
“He is a real handful, but at least he has a strong will.”

                I cannot count the times I have heard such statements from parents and even Montessorians, who, having had training about the development of the Will, should know better.  In fact, these poor children who are incapable of obeying are not under the influence of too strong a Will, but rather, a weak and undeveloped one.  To say so is not an indictment of the child’s character nor a criticism of his/her personality.   It is an observation of their developmental progress.  The Will is a psychic muscle that must be exercised and strengthened like any physical muscle.  It is built up when the child is engaged in purposeful activity such as building with blocks, making a sandwich, creating a collage, washing a tricycle, etc.  The activity itself is not as important as how the child feels about the activity.  If it is freely chosen by the child and something she really wants to do, if it is interesting and meaningful enough to the child that his attention and efforts return to it even if he was temporarily distracted away for a time, if it is in that “sweet spot” between challenge and frustration so that the child carries through with the activity, it is building the Will.  The Will makes it possible for a child to practice the self-discipline necessary to follow any course of action. Here in the Primary classroom, we help the child to develop their Will by providing work opportunities that will engage the child and motivate her to follow through.  We make every effort not to interrupt a child that is thus engaged so as not to divert the attention and Will from the child’s chosen task. 

                When the Will directs the child to do something that was asked, commanded or directed by another, that is obedience.  Obedience is developed in 3 stages, Dr. Montessori observed.  Now, at first, the child is so young, perhaps still an infant or toddler, she cannot make her body and her hands obey even her own commands.  She is too inept.  It is useless to ask the impossible.  This child is not even at the first level of obedience.   Then, gradually skills are gained.  She can pick up a cup and put it on the table.  He can close a door.  Now the child is in the first level of obedience.  At this level, the child is dominated by his natural urges.  If you give him a direction, he may or may not obey it.  Before the age of 3, the child is only able to follow your direction if it coincides with one of his vital urges.  This is the wisdom of Nature, protecting the child and keeping her on her developmental path.  She is not yet the pawn of another, but still fully her own agent.  Her only task is to begin to create an adult.  This is often the level of obedience that children are in when they first enter a Montessori school, around age 3.  

                In our classroom, we do many activities to help children move on to the next level of obedience.  For one, we refrain from giving unnecessary direction.  Adults give children an inordinate number of directions, often just for the sake of conversation and connection.  Parents could probably give only 10% of the direction they commonly do and the kids would be better for it.  Here at school, when we are really on our game, we wait and observe and see what the child will spontaneously do on his own.  Who knows?  They could be right! Often a child looks as if he is at a loss as to what to do next.  A thoughtful Montessori teacher will continue to observe.  Children process things slowly.  It may take a minute or two before the child decides to go look at the shelf and choose some work, watch a friend do their own activity, observe the whole of the classroom, ask permission to go outdoors, have a snack, put their work away themselves, etc. 

                When we see that a child needs our guidance, we give it.  If it is in the form of a command, we sincerely mean it and we commit to it 100%.  “I see that the flower vase has fallen and the water is spilling onto the floor.  Get the table top towel.”  Did you notice I did not say please?  The word “please” can be confusing to some children and leads some to believe that what was just said was a request.   Children who have been with me for a while know that it is a courteous word, but doesn’t change the nature of the command.  I often skip it with younger, less sophisticated students.  Let’s imagine that this child doesn’t leave immediately to fetch the towel.  I don’t give up.  I give help.  I point to where the towel is hanging.  I offer to go with the child to fetch it.  If the child refuses, I graciously offer them the time they need to summon their Will.  “You can wait until you are ready.”  But that child will not be allowed to go on to any other occupations until the spill has been sopped up.  “Oh, you may certainly have snack after the spill is wiped up.  Did you want some help?”  We give fewer commands, but we  mean each and every one of them.  This really helps to build trust between the adult and the child.  They come to know that we are not just talking to hear ourselves talk.

                To further develop the skill of obedience, we play a game called “Listen and Do.”  In it we give commands of varying complexity according to the age and skill of the child.  We play this in a small group.  “Stick your finger into the dishwashing water, Rafaella.”  I use the selected child’s name at the end of the command.  This keeps the others in the group listening, wondering if it is they who will be called on.  “Turn off the lights and turn them on again, Max.”  “Open a drawer, point to a plant and stomp your fee, Inez.”  This last one was very complex because the commands were all so random and unrelated.  This game is a favorite.  It also helps us to learn the names of and find areas and objects in the environment.  Some children balk when their names are called.  This may be stage fright.  They freeze under the pressure!  In this case, I do relent, saying.  “I see you are not playing. You are just watching, aren’t you?  Very well.”  This is supposed to be fun.  Not a declaration of war.  

                Other ways that we support the development of obedience is to set consistent limits and to not apologize for these boundaries.  They were benevolently set for the children’s good.  We provide good choices and limit the possibilities for poor ones.  This eliminates a lot of conflict and the need for so much adult interference.  When parents complain that their kids watch too much TV, eat too much junk food and won’t make an effort to clean up their toys, I see obvious solutions to these battles.  For those who need the dots placed a little closer together, I would suggest putting the TV in storage, leaving the junk food in the store and reducing the number of toys to a manageable one.  Why fill your home with choices you really hope no one will choose?

                Yes, I know, I’m still at the first level of obedience.  You want to hear about the light at the end of the tunnel, don’t you?  Take heart.  In the 2nd level of obedience, the child can obey.  She is skilled and competent (from all those purposeful activities she’s been doing, remember?) He can direct his will to follow the will of another.  I have many children at this level of obedience.  In the 3rd level of obedience it is a joy and a pleasure for the child to obey the commands of a superior, such as a parent or a trusted teacher.  Freedom (because the child makes consistently good choices), independence (because the child is so capable) and self-discipline (because the child is in full command of his Will) are the hallmarks of the 3rd level of obedience.  So do not despair, parents and teachers!  Do not chastise the child for their lack of obedience, but rather, thoughtfully offer an activity for the child to work on so that he or she may have yet another opportunity to develop the Will and the skills of obedience.  

                Dr. Montessori, expressing her goals for the child, stated that she hoped to help each child develop “an eye that sees, a heart that feels, a hand that obeys.”  This summons up for me, her attention to the whole child.  She desired to help them develop their senses in order to better serve their minds.  She hoped to help them discover their passions that they might find work meaningful and relevant and she strove to help them strengthen their Will that it might be their servant and that they, in turn, could serve the world at large. 
                                                                      

               

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Fun Family Day Trip!

Last Sunday, my husband and I drove out to Molalla to see the train park we had heard about.  Pacific Northwest Live Steamers has miniature steam engines that pull trains that, although diminutive, accommodate full-size people.  You and your kids can ride around on trains pulled by steam engines over 4200 ft of 7 1/2 inch track.  You can see the glow of the fire box and see plumes of steam coming from the stacks.  The trains loop around a beautiful picnic grounds offering some shade and some sun.  Some of the tables are under a shelter.  You go through some woods and past people's backyard gardens.  It is a satisfyingly long ride.  If you want to ride again, though, you should!  It is free!  They charge no admission to the park nor to ride the train.  Donations for the park's maintenance and improvement are appreciated. 

You are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the beautiful park setting, although they do also have refreshments to purchase (pizza, popcorn, ice cream, snow cones, etc.).  Be prepared to pack out your trash.   We stopped for lunch at El Charrito on the main road in Molalla which was directly on the way to the park.  It was really good Mexican food and they kept bringing us plates of chips, salsa and bean dip.  They offer lunch specials every day from 11-3.

We were the only people at the train park, I think, without kids or grandkids.  They are open Sundays from 12-5 until October 26.  Their address is 31803 S. Shady Dell Rd. Molalla, OR 97038.  It took us about 70 minutes to drive out there from Albany, mostly on I-5.  We took a more scenic route homeward, going through beautiful farm country and small towns like Silverton and Scio.  Very pretty. 

I saw signage at the park about pumpkin picking train rides in October, but there was nothing on the website, pnls.org.  You can also call (503) 829-6866 for more information.  There are videos on Youtube that will come up if you Google "Molalla train park" and viewing them will give you a good sense of what they offer.   It is staffed by volunteer train enthusiasts who enjoy answering the kids' questions.  One guy had a small garden scale train layout running as well and that was fun to see. 

If you have train lovers in your family and are looking for an economical, close-to-home day trip, consider the Molalla train park.  Everyone we saw there was having a wonderful time!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Affluenza: Too Much, Too Soon

Some years ago, when my only granddaughter was five years old, my husband gave me, at Christmastime, a lovely and expensive pearl necklace.  It meant the world to me and still does.  Seeing how thrilled I was to receive such a treasure, he determined that he should also buy one for our granddaughter. I protested. I believed that she was far to young to receive such a gift.  She would not appreciate it, having no knowledge of the value of money or the origin of pearls.  She would undoubtedly break or lose it.  Most of all, receiving such an expensive gift at so young an age would jade her.  One day, she might be given a beautiful necklace by a relative, friend or romantic partner.  One day, she might decide to save enough money to buy such a thing for herself.  But if she were to receive it at the tender age of 5, so easily, without even wanting it, she would, if given one at a later age, not appreciate that magnanimous gesture.  "Been there, done that."

We are all so very rich.  Compared to the rest of the world, embarrassingly so.  Even the poorest of us are relatively rich, globally speaking.  It is so easy for us to spoil our kids with material goods.  And although it is an old-fashioned notion to believe that too many material possessions, given too readily, spoils a child's character, I believe it is so.  Here's why:

If a child is given everything they can possibly want or imagine without the slightest effort on their part, that sets them up for a false impression of how the world operates.  One must work to earn the money to buy what one wants, or go to the effort of making it oneself, or trade labor or goods for it in a barter situation.  If riches fell into our laps on a regular basis, the word "windfall" would not exist. 

If a child is surrounded by innumerable playthings, the things have no value.  The rarer an item is, the more value it has.  If a child does not value his or her things, it is likely the child will misuse and abuse them.  After all, there are 50 more toys over there.  If this one breaks, who cares?  This attitude is a recipe for social and environmental disaster.  Everything we possess was created out of the natural resources of the earth.  Everything we possess takes up space on this earth.  Everything we possess was made by a human's toil.  Everything I see around me cost someone some part of their lifetime and their life's energy to create.  This stapler, this pen, this computer were all the effort of some unknown human.  To view these objects cavalierly disrespects the earth and its occupants, human and other.  In contrast, when we show care for our objects, we honor the earth and the person who made them possible.  Additionally, if we own too many things, be they clothes or toys or collectibles, we create clutter and chaos and labor for ourselves.  The things begin to own us.

If a child is provided lavish toys, lavish parties for every birthday, mind-blowing movies and entertainment, what is there to look forward to as that child grows up? More lavish gifts, parties and entertainments?  Are we all Windsors and Kardashians now?  No, really, if you show a young kid "Star Wars" (one of the best movies ever!) at a young age, you cannot top that! If they are given child-size, gas-powered cars by the age of 6, will they recognize the privilege and responsibility of driving at 16?  If some things are held in reserve for older ages, then a child has something to look forward to, to long for.  They must wait to have that desire satisfied, which is a hallmark of maturity and self-discipline, that ability to delay gratification.  They also will have treasured memories of special events and objects.  To this day, I remember the one birthday party I was given.  We had a birthday celebration every year, to be sure.  Every birthday, I got to choose what Mom would make for dinner.  There were a few gifts and there was a cake.  There were cellophane wrapped coins between the layers of the cake because nothing says "Happy Birthday" like a chipped tooth and the Heimlich maneuver, right?  But we kids were thrilled with those quarters and dimes.  I remember well, also, the toys we all played with.  There were few enough that I can do that.  But we never felt deprived and we took excellent care of our Light Bright, our Weebles' Tree House, the toy clock and the projector that showed slides of Hanna Barbera characters in the darkened bathroom.  And we were grateful for everything we got.

And let's talk about gratitude.  Gratitude is such a gift.  It is a shelter from unhappiness.  Whenever you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed as you lay sleepless in your bed, truly try counting your blessings.  It is a balm.  Does a child who is given everything feel gratitude for anything?  I understand the impulse to give our children everything for they are everything to us.  We want to delight them and see their faces as we show them how amazing the world can be, but there is time, God willing, and we can mete out that amazement judiciously.

I know that we all love our children desperately and  want to show that love as best  can.  Perhaps we don't have as much time with them as we wish.  Perhaps we are not as pleasant to them day in and day out as we want to be.  Perhaps we think our child is truly special and deserving of everything we can provide.  Truly, though, our children are no more special or deserving than a child in a faraway place who has nothing.  The mother and father in that faraway place love their child just as desperately as you love yours.  And even though those parents cannot even provide clean drinking water for their child, that child knows she is loved.  It really is not about the stuff, is it?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thanksgiving Time!

The Thanksgiving holiday is a touchstone in my life.  When I was a girl, I spent it with my family and other relatives at Aunt Big Dot and Uncle Frank's or at Uncle Bob and Aunt Jeannine's and I have certain very specific memories of what was done in each home.  Uncle Frank had a collection of vintage wind-up and battery-operated trains and toys that we were alternately thrilled and frightened to touch, knowing that Uncle Frank's gruff and gravelly bark would rain down on us if we damaged one.  We always took a big box of luxurious foods to Uncle Bob's as my father said that Bob and Jeannine would never let anyone pick up a check and it was the only way to reciprocate.   It must be thrilling for parents to begin to create those happy memories for their children and pass down traditions created for them by their own parents and grandparents.  Some years, the memories aren't as happy.  The year when we lost a dear aunt or the first Thanksgiving after Dad died; these holidays stand out in contrast against the backdrop of feasts that were not marked by sadness.

What memories and traditions will you pass down?  Well, not everyone sets such store on these things as I do and besides, you're busy, what with your child-rearing, bread-earning, volunteering and home-keeping!  You may not have given it a thought.  And if you are hosting the big feast this year, you're probably up to your hips in cranberry relish recipes and wondering how you'll manage to seat everyone!  Have no fear!  I have a few fun ideas that you may find appealing.  These are examples of ways to get your children involved in this holiday with their hands, hearts and minds.  Special activities set holidays apart from ordinary days and allow them to be delineated in our memories.   One day, maybe your child(ren) will sit around as adults, as I do with my siblings and play "remember when?"

Remember when we made turkeys by drawing around our hands? ( Yes, it's an oldie but a goodie.  For the uninitiated, you draw around your hand with a crayon and then color it in to look like a turkey.  It looks really nice on brown paper (use the inside of cut-up paper grocery bags).  They can be taped up in the hallway that leads to the bathroom.  That area was not decorated yet and everyone will see them there.)
Remember when Dad showed us how to de-string the celery?   ( It has to be done for the stuffing and the crudites platter.  Your child can wash the celery in the sink, break off the wide, white end and pull off the "strings."  If they miss some, so what?  You won't notice it in the stuffing.  If they do a good job, they can cut the lengths into celery sticks.  This can be done with a slightly serrated table knife if you lay the flat side down on the cutting board.  Really, now, not the round side!  And supervise, supervise!)
Remember when Mom let us scrub the carrots before she cut them up to serve with dips?  She let us mix the dips, too.
Remember when we got to polish the silver with lemon juice and baking soda? ( You can rinse off the residue of this concoction if necessary and chances are the silver won't look any worse, anyway.  This is also a good attitude for letting them clean the sliding glass door, bathtub, lower kitchen cabinet fronts, etc.)
Remember when Grandma sent us out to the backyard with a basket to gather pinecones, leaves, moss and twigs and then let us make an arrangement on a tray? ( This can be your centerpiece if it turns out  lovely.  If someone brought beautiful flowers for the table and your child's arrangement is a little too... earthy....it can be placed on a side table or on their night stand.)
Remember all the little courtesies that Mom and Dad taught us in the days leading up to Thanksgiving?  ( How to greet company, how to offer to take someone's coat, how to seat a lady, how to present a gift by saying,"this is for you!", how to thank your host, how to ask for something at the table, etc.
Remember how we filled a bowl with notes about things and people we felt grateful for? 
Remember how we each chose canned goods to give to the hungry?
Remember how we visited a nursing home and brought them our homemade hand turkeys?

There are so many ways to include the children in our Thanksgiving celebration to make it memorable and meaningful.  They are already thinking about it and looking forward to it, which is pretty nice for a holiday that doesn't involve gifts, only gatherings.  One child in our class, who does not consume animals, told us at group that there would be some people eating turkey when her family went to Grandma's for Thanksgiving.  I am so glad that this family has already discussed this eventuality, nay certainty, and that this child is able to mentally prepare.  I hope that your mental and physical preparations for Thanksgiving are joyful and that you find ways to share that joy with your children and others.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Doni

Are We Ready for a Pet?


I know that this question is one given serious consideration by many parents with young children.  The rewards of sharing your heart and home with a pet are innumerable and there are so many homeless pets who are deserving of such a loving home.  However, committing to a pet is not a decision entered into lightly and there are so many variables which can arise to affect the success or failure of your adoption.  I have a very dear friend who had, with her family, adopted a rambunctious dog from another family.  They felt sure that they could provide the exercise, discipline and affection required to rehabilitate this high energy dog into someone who could peacefully share a family home.  They have questioned their choice many times.  Their life situations changed and the challenges left them with less time and energy for this dog "project" than they had foreseen.  The dog's behavior grew worse causing them to discuss the possibility of re-homing the dog.  The impression that this action would make on their 6 year old son left the couple fraught with worry about everyone concerned, most especially the dog, who really was a sweetheart.

We must also consider whether or not we can provide a safe and nurturing home for a pet.  The tiny little playthings that children tend to leave around that might be ingested, the food that falls to the floor and may adversely affect the pet's digestive health, the rough handling that animals often receive at the hands of a too-young-to-understand child are dangers to the animal, both psychologically and physically.  Now the family may be in a position where the children must be so carefully watched that they not harm the pet and the house must be left so immaculate that no one can enjoy themselves and this much-anticipated family member has become a source of stress and bother, rather than joy.  If only there were a way to be sure that a family was ready for this addition...

Foster a homeless animal, you say?  Brilliant!  Safehaven Humane Society is in nearly constant need of new foster families.  The animals that require fostering are a diverse bunch.  Often, it is a new mama dog or cat who needs a quiet place to raise her young.  Sometimes it is a dog or cat who is too greatly affected by the stress of the shelter environment and needs a respite.  There may be an animal who requires some  at-home medical treatment at intervals throughout the day.  The individual situations vary.  Not only is a family able to provide a vital service to an animal in need, but it is a wonderful test-run to see if your family is animal-ready.  Some of these animals would not take over your entire house. The mama cat/dog and her brood could be contained in the laundry room, eliminating the need to pick up every last Lego off the floor in the remainder of the house.  The sick or injured dog could also be confined to a quiet place much of the day, off limits to the children unless supervised, eliminating the worry of rough handling.  The family could assess whether it was a pleasure to spend their time caring for an animal or was it a burden?  They could assess which changes would be necessary to allow an animal to share their home and life permanently and whether the willingness to make these changes existed in each family member.  And at the end of it all, the animal goes back to the shelter to find his/her forever home, the family has done a wonderful deed for a needy creature and their short-term commitment has been fulfilled. 

Only just this week, the call went out again to volunteers that more foster families are needed.  Perhaps the need is just as great at Heartland Humane Society in Corvallis.  Senior Dog Rescue is a local organization that re-homes dogs in their golden years.  This group has no brick and mortar facility and their clients are housed in individuals homes until an adoptive family can be found.  If your family has been considering pet ownership, please don't shop, ADOPT!  But if you're not sure you're ready for a long-term relationship, do consider fostering a pet. Think of all you can teach your child about compassion and service (not to mention animal husbandry!) by doing so.

Best Regards,
Doni