Category Archives: Reading

Grit by Angela Duckworth

If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.

One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).

Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.

Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.

At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.

Check.

Perhaps some validation.

Check.

Maybe even a little focus.

Check.

What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.

Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.

At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.

Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)

To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something.  GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)

The Rules:

1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.

“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.

2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.

We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.

Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.

3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.

Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.

Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”

Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.

For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.

No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.

This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.

I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.

What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.

Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.

But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)

In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.

If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.

What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?

Your Turn. Don’t be shy!

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Photo Credit: Michael Brace

 

At dinner with an elderly friend, I asked, “What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?” 

“Well,” she said, “my mother used to tell my brother, 

Want a good life? Keep your mouth shut and your pants zipped. 

and that’s probably the best advice I’ve ever heard from anyone.” 

***

I’m working hard on a writing project along with Lynn Love (check out her blog; it’s super) and some other fabulous writers through NaNoWriMo’s April “Camp.” I’d like to open this blog space to YOU today.

We have a bunch of new readers here, and all of you (long-time readers and new) have such great experience.

Please share below one of the following:

  • The best advice you’ve ever received.
  • The biggest thing you’ve learned on your own.
  • If you could have a do-over, what would happen?

And hey, if you want to share a link to your blog, please do.

BIG HUGS!
Casey

P.S. Here’s the best advice I’ve heard in a while (look twice if you don’t see it right away):

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A sign in the Insect Village at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. Photo Credit: sea turtle

 

Arrival

Fiction
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Photo Credit: Joshua Farewell

I wake, cheek pressed against a cool, smooth surface beneath me. Breathe in, steady and deep. Out. In.

A slight breeze whispers through my hair, just this side of cool. The air brushes my back.

Light filters bright through the haze above and reflects from facets around me. I move my head just a little bit and the sparkling environment spins. I still, before the nausea causes complete surrender.

I don’t know how I got here. Or, for that matter, the definition of “here.”

I hold myself motionless, allowing my mind to focus.

No memory swims to consciousness.

I stare down, tipping my face away from the dazzling light. Attempting to calm the headache. Grasping for any clue about my arrival. Nothing.

I pull my fingers across the glassy floor, smooth and slow. No nicks or scratches. No bumps, no sand, no crumbs. Perfection. I roll over, my back against the hard ground, to see the shining, sharp edge of a cliff inches from my face. A terrified breath jerks in as I imagine slipping over.

Fear pours down my spine like ice water and I slide in the opposite direction. I want to be far away from that vertical drop.

Managing to distance myself from the edge by a few feet, I rest. This will do for now; movement is a struggle. Once I’ve regained strength, assuming I started with some, I’ll remove myself completely from the danger.

Not that the cliff poses a threat as long as I don’t throw myself over—and that’s not happening. I might not remember anything else, but a healthy fear of heights overpowers my memory gaps.

I listen, eyes closed. What is that noise?

There. To the left. Voices approach. Grow louder. I see them, a knot of slender forms. Everyone moves together. A smaller cluster materializes from the right. Each is wearing the same dark tunic. I squint. My eyes refuse to focus.

“Here! Another one! She’s over here, quick!”

Many hands pull and lift and carry. I realize suddenly that I do not have a matching tunic, but am too exhausted to care. Everything spins.

I embrace the dark.

 

 

You Make Me Sick

It’s better this way. I wasn’t getting anything done.

The kids are in Karate and I sit in the waiting room, trolling my friends’ Facebook pages because I’m nosy and neglecting to “like” or comment because…let’s face it, I’m lazy today. A little girl in the room, about 4, is talking in a decidedly “outside” voice. Her teen sister is determined to assist her in utilizing “inside” voice. Both of them have talked with me on other days, so I join the conversation.

“My son couldn’t figure out how to whisper either, but here’s how he got it. Put your hand on your throat like this.” I demonstrate. The tiny blonde copies. “Now say something. Anything.” She says a few nonsense words. “Did you feel the vibration?” Her eyes widen as she nods.

“When you whisper, you just use breath. There’s no vibration. Try that.” She has a sudden attack of shyness and turns away, but the next time she speaks, it’s in a whisper. I give her a thumbs up and a wink. “Nice,” I say. She gives me a thumb-n-wink back. Cutest thing I’ve seen all day.

Their mother sweeps into the room, coughing. “I’m freezing. All day, I’ve been shivering. I must be sick.” She sits down, twelve inches from me, snatching up her daughter’s blankie and wrapping it around her shoulders. This is not cute.

Catching the flu is not convenient right now. Or ever, for that matter. I wait until they are engrossed in conversation, then move my things to a nook around the corner. Swift and silent. Like Batman. Batgirl. Batwoman? They don’t notice.

I’ve never been on this side of the L-shaped room before. Once, I visited a former monastery. The room in which I stayed sported a plain wooden desk, small bed and blank cinder-block walls. This corner feels a bit like the monastery, sans bed. The office chair is a nice upgrade.

So here I sit, tucked under a little wooden desk with nothing but my laptop and a white block wall in front of me. I recently began reading Annie Dillard‘s The Writing Life, in which she describes (among other things) the places she likes to write. She once pulled the cover down on the lone window of her writing hideout, then drew a picture of what she knew to be outside and taped it to the blind.

I like Annie for several reasons.

1. She has never shared the flu with me.

2. Her descriptions make me smile.

3. She has unfailing, semi-snarky wit.

4. Her writing makes me want to write. (In fact, I really want to go sit next to her and wait for her to say something. Anything. But…it’s not going to happen. She’s not interested in meeting new people—being famous probably gets old after a while—so I’ll have to settle for listening to her book.)

After hearing the sketches of her writing spaces, I dream of building a little nook in our tiny side attic. Logic and rationale convince me this is not feasible, but it’s a fun dream. I once saw a picture of C. S. Lewis’ attic and thought, “no wonder he wrote such fabulous fantasy.”

Also, it appears that he really had a wardrobe. I have no wardrobe, but in place of a nightstand, I have an antique sewing table. The top opens like a trap door. The unfortunate truth is that I will never fit myself through the Singer-sized hole. Unless…was it the drink or the cake that Alice used to shrink?

I’ve quoted him before, but Stephen King has some great quotes about reading, like this one:

Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing…is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you. So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in order to experience different styles.

In recent weeks, I’ve been writing less but reading more. Sometimes we just need to take the time to be “swept away,” as he says.

Last night, I read one of my favorite childhood stories to our kids. Rikki Tikki Tavi, by Rudyard Kipling. Click that link (Carnegie Mellon University provides the original text) and read it to yourself or children of any age in your life. I’d forgotten how funny it is, how R. K. describes everything in detail through the jaunty mongoose.

As I read to my kiddos, listening to my son belly-laugh at the dotty bird, dopey muskrat and evil cobra (and yes, I do voices; not well, but I do them) and watching my daughter’s eyes widen at the bathroom fight scene, I realized something.

I love to read. I’m a little obsessed, actually. Hubby and I have worked hard to foster their love of books. But in recent months, as they’ve finally become more independent, I’ve forgotten to read them stories. We all love stories. I listen to books on Audible.com because having someone read a book to me (and read it well) is one of my life’s great joys. And in the busyness of life, I’ve been overlooking that gift to them.

So far, no signs of catching the flu from that crazy woman. If it does rear its ugly head, I will do my best to keep it away from the kids. I do, however, want to pass on a different kind of “germ.” To give them a fever for books. Infecting children with the love of story is so important.

What was your favorite childhood story? The one that brings a smile to your face, stirs old emotions, takes you back. Share with us, so we can all read them to our children. Let’s transfuse this virus!

And now, go read to someone special.

When I’m Not With You…

Pre-Post 

Sometimes I wonder what you do when we’re not together. Not always, because my life is insane and I don’t have time to think about anything except my immediate situation. But sometimes.

You might wonder about me. On the other hand, perhaps you are also too caught up in craziness to consider anything other than your next meeting, or whether you have spinach between your teeth.

“How did she know that?” you muse. Mostly because I am, this moment, trying to determine whether have broccoli in my teeth. We’re all much too caught up in ourselves to wonder, to truly consider others.

I explain to our kids all the time: most people are so worried about what YOU will think of them, they don’t even think about you. Our daughter thinks everyone will assume she’s a boy, thanks to her pixie haircut. I disagree. “You’re really pretty. There’s no way they’ll think you’re a boy. Besides, you wear earrings.”

“But some boys wear earrings!” she wails.

“Yes,” I say, “but most boys are not getting boobs.” She is not amused.

Perhaps I’m wrong. You might spend hours wondering, “Does Casey actually have a life?”

If so, you’re either a stalker or wayyyy too obsessed with people you’ve never met. I’ve already had one stalker, thanks (remind me to tell you later; my story highlights all the reasons you should educate your children about life online).

Side note: If you find yourself obsessing over any blogger, it’s time for a hobby that includes people you can touch. And no, I don’t mean tracking one down.

Per the Writing 101 Day 11 assignment, I will now regale you with Tales from the Crypt. Wait, no, that’s something else. Tales of What I Do Without You.

Actual Post

Things I do for fun when I’m not with you: 

  1. Read. Or rather, listen. Since the kids came to our house, I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve actually read with my own eyes, touching paper, smelling that…bookish…scent all paperbacks and most hardbacks carry. Audible.com gave me my life back. Well, my fantasy. Thanks to that fabulous website, I’ve read over 300 books in the last four years. Mythology, biograpy, dystopia, utopia, fantasy, reality, fiction and non. I’m currently listening to The Martian. Again. Andy Wier writes with the humor of John Scalzi and the believability (which is, per spell check, not a word) of a space mission technical handbook. LOVE.
  2. Cook. For the first three years transitioning the kids to our home, “Survive” would have been number two on the list, but thankfully we’ve morphed to a new phase. I hope it sticks, because I can finally do some of the things I love. Like read and cook. I’m not a fabulous gourmet chef, but I swipe recipes from my incredible aunt, who is. She’s also great at giving directions in writing, so my attempts at cooking her recipes almost always come out right. Visiting her is like having a front row seat at a cooking show. One of these days I will convince her to start a blog and share her talent with the world, but for now, she’s all mine.
  3. Write. (You’re shocked, right?) Interesting—well, interesting to me—thoughts pop into my brain all the time. If only science would catch up with my needs; a download port in the side of my head would be awesome. Even a mini-SD slot might work. Half the time I can’t find a pen in time to capture these world-changing ideas (hence, I’ve not yet changed the world). The other half, I’m desperate to remember the amazing thought that just flitted through…and escaped in entirety. I’m not much for blogvertisement, but there is FINALLY a partial solution. Cheri mentioned Simplenote in one of her posts, and I’ve since been using it to jot down, well, pretty much everything. The feature I love is search. I have this stack of papers in my room, filled with random thoughts. I considered typing them out but had no way to categorize them (as I said, random thoughts). With Simplenote, you can search any word once you’ve written a piece. Perfect.
  4. Train a German Shepherd. I also attempt to train the children. The pup is amazing. He’s quick to learn and loves to obey. The children, not so much. Maybe I need to try the click-and-kibble strategy on the kids.
  5. Restoration. Recent projects include hand-sanding and staining a large piece of furniture, a rocking chair and wooden pieces for the interior of a vehicle Hubby is painting and fixing. Oh, and I worked on the latches to the vehicle doors. I think Hubby lets me help to give me a feeling of purpose, a creative outlet and a sense of fulfillment. Also, I have smaller hands which fit inside the door access holes.
  6. Construction. Our home has had several leaks thanks to shoddy work on the part of the previous owner, and we fix most of the problems ourselves. Unlike the PO, Hubby and I have a bit of talent. (I’m not bitter or anything.) Taping and plastering sheet rock is the perfect match for my OCD. Most of the time—especially if you look at the state of the kitchen—my OCD is not evident. At all. This is because I’ve given up perfection in any area of the home the kids touch. Plastering a wall or ceiling, though, my obsession is clear. I’ve realized I enjoy it because it’s the one place in life in which I can truly control the outcome. I also enjoyed demolishing a wall in our home. Great stress relief. Not for Hubby, who wasn’t aware I was demolishing it that particular day.
  7. Sleep. I should probably do this more.

So, there it is, folks. My life in a nutshell. Thrilling, I know.

I dished. Your turn. What do you do when you’re not reading my blog?

And why are you doing that instead of reading my blog? Seriously.

I’ll be back in a minute to read your comments. I have to get the broccoli out of my teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

I Want You!

***UPDATE: I had so much fun with this! Please keep adding links to your favorite posts, and I’ll keep reading. 🙂 

I want you!

Actually, I want your writing.

Very excited about several hours set aside to do nothing but READ. (Whaaaaaaaaaaat?)

Yep, this weekend, the kids will have some time to themselves and I get a break in a silent, silent, silent  room with nothing but The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and YOUR BLOGS.

Chocolate truffles for my brain. The kind  my friend used to bring me from Belgium. Yum.

So.

Here’s your chance to make my weekend AWESOME. In the comments below, please insert a link to your favorite recent (or not so recent) post. Preferably from your own blog, but you can post someone else’s, too.

Thanks for being a part of my weekend. My life, for that matter.

P.S. If you order the The Writer’s Journey (or anything else on Amazon), using http://smile.amazon.com/ allows you to choose a charity. Amazon will donate to your charity with every purchase. If you don’t have one in mind, Compassion International is pretty phenomenal. I’ve seen the work personally and they’re financially transparent.

***

Photo courtesy alcantaraacupuncture.com

Under creative commons by Anna Gutermuth.

Adoption = Irony

We’ve had such a long road to literacy.

The odds were stacked against my son. He knew less than half the alphabet when he arrived at our house. He was 5.3 years old. Most of my friends’ kids knew the whole song before they were three. For someone with a life-long reading love affair, watching him struggle to find the word “the” on a page was soul-crushing.

I’m obsessed with reading. Words demand my attention; if something is written or printed, I have no choice. Must. Read. Sometimes it’s annoying, especially when a sign catches my eye and I end up with whiplash or smash my nose on the headrest, trying to decipher it as we drive by. This addiction paid off big-time, however, when the medical records arrived the year we adopted. I sat on a hard wooden chair, elbows on the kitchen table, and read every page. One was missing. Our son was born with a heart defect. Multiple notes made clear the danger, but none showed a resolution. If not for my enslavement, we might have never known.

I was an early reader, happily consuming Seuss on my own before I was five. On my seventh birthday, I received The Chronicles of Narnia. I finished all seven books in the series within six months. Granted, I didn’t expect our kiddos to read on the same time table, but nevertheless, I was distressed. Books bring joy, open doors, transport to new worlds.

Entering 2nd grade, our son read on a pre-K level, thwarting my desperate wish to introduce him to the incredible experiences available in books, especially, as he calls them, “chapter books.” I wanted to take him to Terabithia. Show him the wardrobe, the Shire, the cupboard under the stairs. I dreamed that together we could Number the Stars, meet the Giver, sit in the Secret Garden, listen to the Trumpet of the Swan.

Audiobooks (if you’re not familiar with Audible.com, I highly recommend the site) have been an incredible boon. We’ve listened to treasures like The Secret Garden, Bunnicula and The Tale of Despereaux on road trips. And in the meantime, it’s happening. He’s caught the bug (thankfully, not the flu bug) and made a sudden shift from reluctance to fluent reader.

He’s a bit obsessed with a graphic novel he won at the library this summer, The Family Secret. It’s a WWII story written at the late elementary to early middle school level, but he loves it. The WWII era has always been one of my favorites, so it’s become a shared passion. He reads as much as he can on his own, stopping periodically to sound out a word or ask me for help.

What used to be the bane of his existence is now his lifeblood.  A year ago, I despaired of ever seeing him love to read. Now, he can’t get enough.

But we have a problem.

Here’s the irony. He’s getting in trouble for reading.

He reads when he’s supposed to be getting ready for school, or eating, or doing homework. He sneaks books under his desk in the classroom. He reads the street signs and advertisements. If I drive slowly enough, he’s going to finally figure out that the building on the corner is not, as I’ve claimed, a “ladies’ swimsuit store.”

Two days ago, I did the unthinkable: threatened to take his books away. He went ballistic. Begged me to take his prized submarine instead. The enormous one, with flashing lights and “dive, dive!” alarms. He promised to get ready on time.

Yesterday, I apologized to the reading teacher, who was handling school check-in for tardy students. “I’m so sorry we’re late. I left him alone for half an hour. I thought he was getting dressed, but he spent the entire time reading.”

She grinned and high-fived me.

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