Sunday, December 28, 2008

Money Matters: The Spirit of Giving

It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon, an hour and a half before Christmas Eve mass, when I called the girls to the kitchen to make envelopes for their church donations. I gave them each a piece of card stock folded in half which they could decorate before sealing their donation safely inside. One at a time, they retrieved their ceramic cat banks from the kitchen shelf, opened them and, with remarkably little assistance on my part, counted out their money.  Emma the Brave was expected to give 4 Francs and Might Mouse, 3F50.  Twenty minutes later, without a whimper or hint of a tear, the two slid their packets toward me to be taped shut. Emma the Brave had given an extra 2 Francs, bringing her total to 6. 

I was stunned by their generosity. After all, these were the girls that nine months ago fought over not having the same number of coins in their banks, regardless of their inherent value. One might argue that they are nine months older and, therefore, more capable. True. But here are a few other elements may have played a part: 

A Weekly Allowance
Receiving a small sum weekly provides a child not only a sense of monetary value, but also of time. A child learns that the amount and day the money is received is not negotiable. This discourages impulse purchases and, as credit is not an option, saving toward a goal.  

As you may recall, the girls' first purchases with their allowance were the first items they could afford: two junky plastic motorcycles. Within a day in their possession, both bikes had broken, leaving the girls to experience their first bout of buyer's remorse. As a result, their future purchases became increasingly more studied. They even pooled their funds on occasion, buying toys together and displaying a resourcefulness I hadn't anticipated. 

A Designated Bank
Having a fixed location where money is kept safe is essential. Money is not a toy, but a tool to be used with utmost discretion. 

Shortly after instating allowances, I presented the girls with two ceramic cat banks in different colours: green for Emma and blue for Mouse. Along with them were two small spiral-bound notebooks to keep track of their deposits and withdrawals.  The books and banks were thereafter kept in the kitchen where their use could be monitored.  Money could not get lost or be given as tokens of friendship or remorse. Also, by keeping a record of their purchases, it was easy to quell fears of inequity. ( "See, you bought your deck of cards, that's why you don't have as much money as Emma any more.")  

Quarterly Virtual Donations
We introduced the concept of giving money to charity as a condition to receiving an allowance. Every three months, a designated amount (in our case, 1 Franc) was deducted from the girls' balances and earmarked to be given at Christmas Eve Mass, the most tangible opportunity we could think of.  By deducting the amount slowly over the year, its potential negative effect was diffused. It also brought up the topic of giving on at least four separate occasions.  By the time Christmas Eve came about, the girls didn't question what they were giving or why.  And, given Emma's generosity beyond what was required, I believe underlying value had struck home. 

So what will 2009 bring in the topic of Money Matters? Not too much. I think the amount the girls receive as an allowance is adequate and its use is well controlled. The only significant change will be to introduce other possible non-for-profit organizations where their donations could be put to work. As I discover them, so will you, under a new label called 'Kid Power.'  I plan to uncover at least five different organizations that kids can get their minds and muscles around.  If you've ever watched kids attack a pinata, you know the kind of energy I'm talking about.  Move over Walter the Farting Dog. Make room for Kid Power!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Season's Greetings à la Suisse

Vacance de Noel is finally here and not a moment too soon. I had only just put my novel's latest draft to bed when the call came: one of the teaching assistants at the school was sick, could I come in? Eager to put my shiny new work permit to the test, I was quick to accept. I would have to do lunch duty a few times, would that be a problem? Pshaw! I thought. Bring it on.

I have since come to the conclusion that there is a special place in heaven for lunch ladies. Strive as I might, I cannot recall the faces let alone the names of the martyrs who, year after year, paced the cafeterias of my youth. Of course, back then, I'm fairly certain none of my buddies carried anaphylactic shock kits with them, or if they did, they kept their secret well hidden.

I had just finished passing out the hot lunch plates--hamburgers on sesame seed buns--when a young girl ran up to me. She had swallowed a sesame seed that her table mate had flicked in her direction. Already her lips were tingling and turning red. She guided me to the box where her anti-histamines were kept. I watched as she counted eight drops from the bottle onto a spoon, then swallowed them. I hovered, waiting for them to kick in, all the while declaring an official cease fire in the battle of the buns. In the end, all went well. The drops had done their job and an all-out hamburger war had been averted. Day one of lunch duty was over. Two weeks later it's safe to say I may never enjoy this aspect of the job. There was bound to be one.

The girls are beside themselves with anticipation: euphoric one minute and miserable the next. I've had to wake them for school every day for the past three weeks. Given their normal tendency to wake earlier than your average rooster, this behavioural shift is indeed remarkable. Emma the Brave charges down each morning to devour her advent chocolate. Mouse is, for the most part, saving her chocolate squares for Christmas morning. Emma's warned her that eating that much chocolate at once will amount to a big tummy ache. Mouse is not concerned.

Geneva is poised on the brink of yet another Christmas. Lights, however understated, are strung up. Restaurants are serving vin chaud and small wooden shacks have sprouted on street corners selling roasted chestnuts or marrons. The grocery stores are stocked with mounds of shellfish and are accepting orders for Christmas turkeys--fresh never frozen. There are sweet potatoes and cranberries for us North Americans who can't go without. Platters of dried fruit sit wrapped and ready for giving. In the midst of all this hoopla it's easy to forget what this celebration is about: a long time ago there lived a man who dreamed of peace.

Wishing a happy, healthy holiday season to you and yours!

May peace be with you,

Mighty Mom

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Santa à la Suisse

Santa and star ornament made by Mighty Mouse

Santa and star ornament made by Emma the Brave

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Review: Revealing Minds by Craig Pohlman

It seems so long ago now, but in my life before kids I was a physiotherapist. As such I was an expert assessor of the neurological, cardiorespiratory, and musculoskeletal systems, combining subjective history and objective testing to formulate working diagnoses and subsequent treatment plans for my patients. Not until reading Dr. Mel Levine's A Mind at a Time five years ago did I consider that struggling learners require a similar systematic approach. In Revealing Minds: Assessing to Understand and Support Struggling Learners, Craig Pohlman delves into the nitty-gritty of assessment, using a neurodevelopmental framework to organize findings or 'phenomenae' and to assist in developing a learning plan.

Have I lost you already? Perhaps. Let's use Dr. Pohlman's book to figure out why.

Assessing Attention
Were you paying attention? There are multiple facets to one's ability or inability to attend to the task at hand. Did you sleep well last night? Do you ever sleep well? To take in new information you need to have adequate mental energy. You also need focused cognitive activation so that you don't drift off task. For instance, when you read the word 'neurological' above did you think about your dearly departed granny who died of a stroke? If so, you might have completely missed the point of the paragraph, through no fault of your own. A third aspect of attention is one's production control system which has more to do with controlling what you do, or your output, than what information comes in.

Assessing Memory
My second sentence above is a doozie! Thirty-two words, in fact. I'd say its a personal record, if I kept track of such things. It would be easy to forget the beginning of the sentence by the time you got to the end, especially if your short-term memory was weak. There are also quite a few long and potentially unfamiliar words, demanding you, the reader, to access your long-term memory for clues as to their meaning. Each word is composed of 2 to 15 letters, each with their own individual sound which imposes on the reader's paired associative memory. Quite frankly, it's a miracle the sentence can be read at all.

Assessing Language
Reading draws upon one's receptive language abilities. It begins at the phonological level, as the brain converts letters on the page into sounds, a highly unnatural process. Not only do the formulated words need to be understood, but also their relative meaning given the sentence structure and context. "When push comes to shove," is an expression that could summon violent images in the mind of the most literal reader.

Other Neurodevelopmental Factors to Consider
My opening paragraph put no demands on your Spatial Ordering. If, however, I were to ask you to copy a pencil sketch of a three dimentional cube, that would be another thing altogether. Temporal-Sequential Ordering comes into play when assembling Ikea furniture. Neuromotor Function refers to your ability to control your body's movements. It can be broken down into four main categories--gross motor, fine motor, graphomotor, and oromotor--none of which are being significantly taxed as you read this blog. Higher-order cognition, on the other hand, is working overtime to see the parallels between physiotherapy assessment and treatment and those used to help struggling learners. Finally, Social Cognition may come into play when you leave a comment. Will you be friendly or analytical in your response? Or both? Which would be most appropriate given the present context?

Revealing Minds is an absolute treasure for any educational professional who wishes to better understand and thereby assist their students. It is not a system of assessment that will result in a label. On the contrary, it will produce a clear, individualized student profile highlighting not only weaknesses, but also relative strengths and affinities. Neurodevelopmental Assessment is no more restricted to testing than is physiotherapy assessment. Extensive history taking is key, not only from a child's teachers, but also from parents and the students themselves. The appendices are extensive, offering abundant supporting research, tests and batteries, and learning plan resources. I can't over emphasize how eager I am to put Dr. Pohlman's approach into action. It's not a question of if, but when.

Reindeer Sighting in Corsier

It's the last week of school before Christmas, the week when tradition dictates Honey wear her furry red antlers on the walk to and from école de Corsier. Typically stoic commuters along the route de Thonon wave and smile from their cars, some even rolling down their windows to shout their season's greetings. Children who on any other day give our excitable pooch a wide berth beg their mothers to pet her. And, all the while, Honey basks in the glow of general approval.

Perhaps it's not her most regal look, but its effect is now rippling through Geneva, one smile at a time.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Grinch in the style of Mighty Mom

Every Scrib down in Scrib-ville

Liked writing a lot…

But the Grinch

Who lived just north of Scrib-ville

Did NOT!

The Grinch hated writing! In fact, reading, as well.

Now, please don’t ask why, for he never will tell.

It could be his prescription wasn’t measured quite right.

Some might argue he still gripped pencil too tight.

But, whatever the reason,

His eyes or his grip,

The Grinch stood on Christmas Eve, hating the Scribs.

For he knew every Scrib down in Scrib-ville below

Was revising their stories and making them glow.

“And they’re penning their poems—their Christmas cards, too.

I can just hear them now, ‘Season’s Greetings to you!’”

Yes, he’d had quite enough. But what could a Grinch do?

Then he got an idea!

An awful idea!

The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!

“I’ll dress up like Santa and go into town

At night when the Scribs will for sure not be found.

And I’ll take all their paper, their pencils and pens,

Their books and computers, their useless book ends.

With nothing to write with and nothing to read

Not a word would be heard—quite a Grinch-y good deed.”

That very same night,

With old Max and his sleigh,

He slid into to Scrib-ville, his plan underway.

In no time at all he had filled all his sacks

With laptops and journals and pens in their caps.

He was at the last house when a little voice cried,

“Santa, why are you taking my story books? Why?”

He turned around fast, and what did he see?

Little Susie-Lou Scrib who was no more than three.

But you know that old Grinch was so smart and so slick

He thought up a lie and he thought it up quick.

“They’re missing two commas and some onomatopoeia.

I’ll fix them at home, then I’ll bring them back here.”

And as Susie-Lou Scrib went to bed with her cup,

The Grinch went to the chimney and stuffed the books up.

It was quarter past dawn…

All the Scribs still asleep

When he packed up his sleigh and away he did creep.

He had every last word

Not a one had he missed:

The phone books, the flyers,

the last grocery list.

Three-thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit,

He road with his load to the tiptop to dump it.

Once there, the Grinch paused,

For wouldn’t you know,

He wanted to hear the Scribs waking below

“Their mouths will hang open a minute or two

and, with no word to be heard, they will all cry BOO-HOO!”

So the Grinch put a hand to his Grinchy green ear

And stood listening hard for what he wanted to hear

But then over the crest of the new fallen snow

He heard a soft sound and it started to grow.

All the Scribs down in Scrib-ville

The tall and the small

Were sharing their words with no paper at all

“How could this be so?”

The Grinch said in a rage.

Words lived on in Scrib hearts and not on the page.

And what happened then?

Well, in Scrib-ville, they say.

That the Grinch’s tight grip grew three sizes that day.

He whizzed back into Scrib-ville, replete with his load.

Returning every last item, or so it’s been told.

And where’s the Grinch now?

Well, with his Grinchy-ish diction

He’s taking a class in

Creative non-fiction.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Hugo Cabret is an orphan living in the walls of a Paris train station doing his utmost to stay alive and undiscovered. He has in his possession two items from his deceased father: a broken mechanical man (or automata) and his father's notebook containing sketches on how to fix it. Hugo believes the pen-holding automata, when repaired, will write a message from his father intended for Hugo alone. Determined to perform the repairs, Hugo steals parts from an elderly toymaker only to uncover an even greater mystery than his own.

I bought The Invention of Hugo Cabret simply for it's notoriety: it was a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal. I wanted to have the book that had reputedly changed the face of children's book publishing forever. As I read, I was awestruck by the inextricable use of words and illustration. I found myself wishing I were a writer-illustrator with the freedom to go non-verbal whenever the spirit and story moved me. I can't say the tale, itself, will become a personal favourite, but its telling is unprecendented and an experience I won't soon forget.

Bravo, Mr Selznick.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Santa Hats Off to Four Go on an Adventure

A dear friend of mine over at Four Go on an Adventure has started a Musical Advent Calendar. Being of similar 'vintage' myself, I can't help but get a kick out of her early choices. Here's one of my personal favourites I only discovered last season, courtesy of Straight No Chaser.

Hit it, boys!

FYI: Last year this video was uploaded to You Tube by one of the members and received over 6 million hits. Thanks to their overwhelming popularity, the original members of Straight No Chaser have put together their first album entitled Holiday Spirits. It's wonderful. Way to go, guys!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Blogging My Novel: 25,0000 Words

It was late afternoon today when I clicked 'recount' and saw the magic number for the very first time: 25,000! My novel is now officially 50% longer than it was three weeks ago. I am a bit shocked, to be honest. This past September I thought it was done. Sure, there was some opportunity to polish, but the bulk of the work was finished. Then I was told it was a bit short--I believe the exact expression was 'rather slight.' Could I see making it longer? Little did I know...

As much as I love a tally, it's time to stop counting. Word count is rubbish without quality. I'm just glad to have this hurdle out of the way. I'll be working chapter by chapter in reverse order, searching for ways to deepen the story without slowing it to a death march. At the end of this week it will be tucked away for the holidays, to be revisited in the dawn of 2009. In the meantime I'll be blogging like there's no tomorrow.

Who knows? This might just work out!

Goal: 25,000 words

01 Dec - 25000 !!!
28 Nov - 24077
27 Nov - 23365
25 Nov - 21637
24 Nov - 20641
21 Nov - 19938
20 Nov - 19356
18 Nov - 18901
17 Nov - 18363
14 Nov - 17260
13 Nov - 16930
12 Nov - 16777
11 Nov - 16632