Thursday, June 28, 2007

Book Review: Turnabout Children: Overcoming Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to unobtrusively sit in on a tutoring session with a master teacher, so as to glean insight into the art of teaching?

Mary MacCracken opens the door on her private tutoring sessions with learning disabled children via her book, Turnabout Children. Mary is a learning disabilities specialist and has devoted her career to helping children who face such challenges as dyslexia, language processing disorders, attention deficit disorder, and the like. Because she has struggled with and overcome her own learning challenges, Mary brings to the table extraordinary compassion. I can't help but feel that the love that shines through her every action is the secret of her success. This does not negate, however, her obvious giftedness and patience in the area of teaching.

I knew I would like this lady, when, in the very first chapter she says, "The label is the least important part, and I have finally stopped fussing over which term is best. It is the child himself who matters."

Mary does use a battery of tests in order to pinpoint a child's strengths and weaknesses. Once that is done, she sets about helping the child to use his/her strengths in such a way as to compensate for the weaknesses. Often, organizational skills are the first thing to be addressed. This also gives the child a tangible way in which to take responsibility for their own learning; at no time does Mary spoon feed these children; they are called upon to put forth a great deal of hard work.

Throwing themselves heart and soul into that work has a side benefit. It redirects the anger that often shows itself in the child who is challenged. Another quote:

"...with children who have very mild learning disabilities. The problems are so subtle that they go undetected until the child herself or himself begins to feel that something's wrong, and then the emotional problems set in and grow and grow until they disguise the original learning problem."

YES! Subtle problems like not reading facial expressions, difficulty remembering right and left, not getting inferences in reading~~~although these things may be classified as "mild" problems, they can elicit emotions that are anything but mild. Especially when you consider that a child often recognizes they are "different" at about the same time adolescence hits.

Each chapter in this book introduces us to a different child and the unique approach taken to strengthen that child's abilities. I found it fascinating.

Although there are no sure-fire, magic pills to cure these problems, Mary closes by giving us her wise philosophy in these words:

"Love, help from someone specifically trained to remediate learning disabilities, ending every session with success, and a safe place."

And how would you define a safe place? This is how Mary defines it:

  • A place where people are kind
  • A place where there is laughter
  • A place where there are a few, fair rules
  • A place where people listen to each other
  • A place where the adults are examples to the children

I suspect this book has a bit of dated information and terms, having been written in the 1980's before there was a plethora of information available on learning disabilities. But love is never dated. The world needs more teachers like Mary MacCracken.

Friday, June 22, 2007

You Must Be Born Again

My Beloved is both my spouse and my Pastor. Last night my soul was fed bountifully by a sermon that he prepared as the kick-off message for a conference at our "daughter" church. It was from John 3:3, entitled "You Must Be Born Again." My initial impression, after hearing the title was a rather bored, "Oh, one of those basic-for-beginners messages." But I was wrong. As the apostle Peter stated, it is good to be stirred up, to be constantly sharpened as to the basic tenets of our faith by way of reminder.

John 3 tells of the nocturnal visit that Nicodemus paid to Jesus, and of the famous imperative that Jesus spoke to him: "You must be born again." Apart from being born again, Jesus said,

*He cannot see the kingdom of heaven
*He cannot enter the kingdom of heaven

Nicodemus had credentials, status, and power. He was a ruler of the Jews, a Pharisee. Perhaps he was sent to Jesus as a spokesman for others, for he approaches Jesus with the words, "WE know you that You are a teacher come from God...."

Externally, Nicodemus appeared to be righteous and religious. But there was something missing internally. Jesus put his finger on this lack when He said, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?"

Nicodemus had neither seen nor entered the kingdom of heaven. He saw the kingdom only from an earthly perspective; he needed to be born again before he could glimpse heavenly realities.

Birth is man's entryway into the natural world. Spiritual birth is the entryway into the kingdom of heaven. Before that birth takes place, our eyes are blinded to the heavenly kingdom and we cannot see it.

"....whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them." 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

In the Corinthians passage, the blindness is to be" wrapped with smoke" or to be surrounded by a smoke screen. It is impossible to see or enter the kingdom of heaven until that smoke screen is blown away by the wind of God's spirit. Then, our spiritual eyes can glimpse the things of another realm.

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
But God has revealed them to us through His spirit."
I Corinthians 2:9-10a

It is fascinating to study the wind, the breath of the Spirit. God breathed on Adam (Genesis 2:7) and he became a living being. But sin has caused man to literally "lose his breath." To be born again means that we have recovery of breath, or revival.

There is a beautiful passage in Acts that says "Refreshing times come from the presence of the Lord"~~~meaning that we have recovery of breath when we are refreshed by the Spirit. Conferences and retreats often provide for me that much needed season of refreshing and recovery. I get out of breath as I am busy about this life. Gratefully, I acknowledge my Lord's kind provision in giving me refreshing times, recovery of breath.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Adventure Story Book List

Yes, another book list. This one is a list of the top 100 adventure stories from National Geographic. My son loves adventure stories; Kon-Tiki, Brendan Voyage, and the like . Take a look at the list here. I am choosing books for the upcoming school year; if there are any you especially recommend for a 13 year old boy, I'm all ears!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Litany for a Beloved Husband

Mender of toys, Leader of boys
Changer of fuses, Kisser of bruises,
Bless him, Dear Lord.

Wiper of noses, Pruner of roses
Singer of songs, Righter of wrongs
Guide him, O Lord.

Mover of couches, Soother of ouches
Pounder of nails, Teller of tales,
Reward him, O Lord.

Hanger of screens, Counselor to teens
Fixer of bike, Chastiser of tykes
Help him, O Lord.

Raker of leaves, Cleaner of eaves
Dryer of dishes, Fulfiller of wishes
Guard him, O Lord.

Changer of tires, Builder of fires
Beloved end of my desires
Bless him, O Lord.

author unknown

Friday, June 15, 2007


Life is a stream
On which we strew
Petal by petal the flower of our heart;
The end lost in dream,
They float past our view,
We only watch their glad, early start.

Freighted with hope,
Crimsoned with joy,
We scatter the leaves of our opening rose;
Their widening scope,
Their distant employ,
We never shall know. And the stream as it flows
Sweeps them away,
Each one is gone
Ever beyond into infinite ways.
We alone stay
While years hurry on,
The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays.

poem by Amy Lowell

ichthys suggested this poem to me in his comment on my previous post, "Lemonade Hospitality." Thank you, friend~~it is perfectly lovely!

photo credit: missyredboot

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lemonade Hospitality

I took my first job when I was sixteen working as a student aide at a nursing home. I will never forget the moment when it dawned on me that the elderly, frail, and sometimes difficult residents were "real" people who lived significant lives.

Because we lived in a small town, the older nurses and staff workers had life-long relationships with many of the residents, and knew their histories and relatives. As we worked together, they would sometimes tell me stories of their lives. It was then that Fred became more than just a "resident" to be fed, bathed, and clothed.

Fred and his wife had no children, but they loved people. All their lives they lived in a big, two-story house with an expansive front porch. On sultry summer evenings Fred and his wife would sit on the front porch with a cold pitcher of lemonade between them. Anyone that came ambling down the street would be invited to step up on the porch to share conversation and ice cold lemonade.

It's funny how that little vignette changed my attitude toward Fred. I no longer felt impersonal about the way I took care of his needs. This was a man who had offered heart and hospitality to countless people and now it was time for heart and hospitality to be offered back to him.

Our deeds follow us.

Photo credit
Probably, Fred and his wife had a plain, old fashioned pitcher of lemonade. But isn't this apothecary decanter just elegant?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Summer Reading Challenge

Am I the last one to take the plunge? This is the list of books I want to dive into this summer. It is more eclectic than my usual summer plan. Often, I choose a theme for the summer; such as to read all of a particular author's books (Willa Cather), or all Nebraska authors, or all books about teaching. It's almost as much fun to make a list of books as it is to read them!!

  • Come to the Table by Doris Christopher (I picked this one up at a 2nd hand bookstore. The author is the Pampered Chef entrepreneur and has wonderful hospitality suggestions).
  • The Almighty God by A.W. Tozer~ excerpts from many of his books formatted as a daily devotional. I return to Tozer again and again.
  • Emily Dickinson's Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener by Marta McDowell (can you top a poetry/flower combination? This is dessert reading ~~ a beautiful book)
  • Something by Neil Postman~~probably Amusing Ourselves to Death
  • Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
  • Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (this is my 2nd time through on this one)
  • A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • Chesapeake by James Michener
  • Walking the Bible and /or Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler
  • Turnabout Children by Mary MacCracken (a teacher helps children with learning disabilities)
  • Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (can't believe I've never read this. I suspect it may have a theme similar to Bridal Wreath)
  • Put Your Heart on Paper: Staying Connected in a Loose-Ends World by Henriette Anne Klauser

Pearl Anniversary

The Preacher and I celebrated our Pearl Anniversary on June 3rd. Do you know which one that is? That would be #30.

In honor of the occasion, I looked up as many scriptures as I could find relating to pearls. Of course, the most obvious passage is Matthew 13:45-46, where Jesus refers to the "Pearl of Great Price." I have often wondered if the pearl-seeking merchant was not the Lord Himself, because He purchased that pearl by giving all that He had, even His own life.

No less is required for a good marriage. It takes all that we have. Truly the marriage relationship is a mysterious picture of the love that the heavenly Bridegroom has for His Beloved Pearl.

I have included the marriage photo of my paternal Grandmother. Notice her lovely pearls, a bridal gift from the groom. I was the recipient of those pearls after her death about ten years ago, and I treasure them.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Follow-Up on the Spring Reading Challenge

Here is the List I set out to read:

  • Heaven by Randy Alcorn (not quite finished with this one)
  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  • The One Year Book of Poetry
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The Soloist by Mark Salzman
  • Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale
  • A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm by Edwin Way Teale (The Teale books are wonderful, but I only read them when I cannot get outside for nature walks. They serve as my "nature fix", especially during winter.)
  • The Intellectual Life by A.G.Sertillanges, O.P. (A meaty book~~I'm taking it in small doses and taking notes but am not finished yet)
Others added along the way include:

  • Mornings on Horseback (David McCullough) ~fantastically detailed biography of young Teddy Roosevelt
  • You've Got to Read This Book! 55 People Tell the Story of the Book that Changed Their Life - very new-agey
  • My Name is Asher Lev ( Chaim Potok) reviewed here
  • Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (Eric Brende)
  • When I Lay My Isaac Down (Carol Kent)
  • The Chosen (Chaim Potok) reviewed here
  • Crunchy Cons ( Rod Dreher)

My earlier Wendell Berry reading stimulated my interest in a whole new direction; I wanted to learn more about the economics 0f home, agrarian lifestyle, community, and stewardship. Which is why I picked up Crunchy Cons, where the challenge was issued, "Be a culture creator, not a culture consumer." How is culture created? Rod Dreher says, "Culture starts in the kitchen, not in the opera house." The true culture war is fought at home, where the day-to-day investment in Permanent Things and beauty creates a strong family, which in turn strengthens the church and neighborhood, which in turn strengthens the city, which in turn.....

You get the idea. It is a ""bottom up" effect rather that the trickle down changes we wait for on a national level but never see.

This is an idea that interests me very much. The syndicated columnist, John Rosemond echoed similar thoughts in his column in this evening's newspaper. Listen to his words:

"Culture is preserved by parents who pass commonly held customs along to their children. For generations, one such preserving custom was the picnic. (snip) Today's families need to relax and spend times together where there are no scores or goals or rules, which is why I am calling for a national movement to bring back the picnic. I'm calling it, appropriately enough, "Bring Back the Family Picnic"! If that means taking your kids out of organized after school sports and the like, I say do it! Go on a picnic every good-weather weekend and play Frisbee!"

Crunchy Cons led me to yet another book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology.
The author lived 18 months among the Amish in order to explore the question, "How much technology is enough?" His point was that we tend to embrace technology without evaluating carefully. The latest new technological toy becomes a part of life without asking the right questions. NOT "What can this device do for me?" but rather "What will this technology UNDO?"

I love my iPod, but after reading Better Off, I realized that at times I use it in the car when I could be conversing with my children. As a result of the reading, I have chosen to use it only when alone or when we can listen together.

These are just a few random thoughts that I have as I look over my list. Thank you, Janie, for hosting the reading challenge. Take a look at Janie's blog to read summaries from many other wonderful, literate women.

Tablecloth Tubes

Do you use tablecloths at your house? I use them occasionally, for holidays and when I bring out the good china. But I really dislike ironing them. Here is a little hint I picked up that solves that problem, from the editors of Yankee Magazine.

Use a cardboard mailing tube a bit longer than half the width of your tablecloth. Fold your tablecloth in half lengthwise, and then roll it carefully around the tube. Thread a long ribbon through the tube and tie it to secure the cloth to the tube. Use a shorter piece of ribbon to secure it in the opposite direction.

"Thus the cloth keeps its unmarred smoothness, yet is easy to handle, and easier to store in the closet." ~~ Emily Holt in The Complete Housekeeper (1912)

Monday, June 04, 2007


photo credit:
USDA Forest Service Archives.
Gerald J. Lenhard, photographer

The walk that I planned to take early this morning got postponed.....later....and later.
It was twilight when I finally made it out the door with my oldest daughter, Melody.
Usually I am too tired by this time of the evening to be as alert to the world of nature as I would be in the morning. But tonight was special.

We saw our first fireflies!!

They always give me a thrill, like friends returning after a long season away. These nocturnal flashers evoke in me a sense of nostalgia: reminding me of long games of hide-n-seek on warm summer evenings, birthday picnics outside with friends, my own children begging to stay outside just a little longer so as to catch the light in a jar.

The technical term for the chemical light produced by lightning bugs is "bioluminescence". The word feels wonderful on the tongue, doesn't it? You can almost guess its meaning by taking it apart. "Bios" is Greek for life. And "lumen" is Latin for light. The scientific (family) name is equally descriptive: Lampyridae.

This occasion calls for poetry, certainly. Here is one by Robert Frost.

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can't sustain the part.

And another, just-for-fun. It is by Jack Prelutsky.

The firefly is a funny bug,

He hasn't any mind.

He blunders all the way through life

With his headlight on behind.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Homeschooling the Caboose

The Last Chapter of the 2006-2007 School Year ended for us last Thursday. It is satisfying to take a look at the books we've enjoyed as a family, to hear the children's final reports and oral reminiscences, and to evaluate within my own heart the progress that we have made.

My youngest child, Artiste, has completed 2nd grade. Cheerful and intelligent, she is a joy to teach. With pencil always in hand, everything she learns about comes forth as a sketch or drawing.She received wonderful instruction at the art museum this year; I was proud that one of her creations was chosen to be on display at the museum for 6 weeks this summer.

But I have agonized, too. The list of books we have shared together is significantly shorter than the list of books I read with my older children when they were 2nd graders. Have we done enough? Is she being cheated? I think most homeschool moms have those unsettling feelings.

I was expressing my thoughts aloud to my oldest daughter as we were walking together the other night. She very wisely said, "Mom, she may not be as advanced in the area of history as we were at her age, but look at her other skills and abilities. She can multiply 12x 14 in her mind ~~something I cannot do without pencil and paper! " She went on to catalog her sister's other talents and abilities, music to a Mother's ears.

Truth be told, with the youngest child I am seeing my own teaching role is important but not as all-encompassing as it was with the elder children. Big Brother reads the Narnia series to her on a regular basis; Joy whips out the flashlight at bedtime and reads her mystery books; and Melody has relived her own favorites such as Paddington and Piggle-Wiggle with her sister; Dad makes up outlandish bedtime stories. Artiste also sat in on many of our Jr. High Watership Down discussions. She begged to learn to type like the "big kids", which she did independently using the Mavis Beacon program.

Insight gained: the older siblings have learned to fish. Now they are teaching her to fish. Some of the teaching is intentional, some is incidental, but it is unfolding in a measurable way. My year-end evaluation causes me to see that I have given up some of the control as to *WHAT* is learned and when. But giving up that control has lead to net gains: family-centered learning, with each member contributing gifts and talents in a unique way.

I am humbled as I realize that part of the joy of teaching is to work yourself out of a job.