Monday, April 3, 2017

Mind reading

It seems like "I can't read your mind!" is a classic example of things couples say while arguing.  It's true enough, I suppose, because nobody actually knows the exact content of another person's thoughts.  It's a bit funny to me, though, because so much of what makes human relationships work is based on reading each other's minds.

People rarely explicitly call it "mind reading," lest they be mistaken for talking about some super-natural ability, but as far as I'm concerned, predicting the responses of other humans to stimuli and discerning another's internal state based on external cues is absolutely reading other people's minds.

My kids are certainly accomplished mind readers.  They regularly know exactly what they should do, and how much of it, to produce maximum parental irritation, while still falling below the threshold of negative consequences.

I, too, am a mind reader.  I'm excellent at some kinds: I usually know what to say and how to say it in my papers to obtain A's from professors.  I'm terrible at other types of mind reading: I love my sister-in-law, but when purchasing gifts, I have no idea what items might communicate my appreciation and affection to her.

I have even, on occasion, conducted whole conversations with my husband inside my head, and arrived at mutually acceptable solutions to problems based on the answers I imagined him giving me.

Part of the problem with autism spectrum disorders is an inability to mind read.  People with autism know what they are thinking, but they have difficulty connecting cues like facial expressions and posture to what other people are thinking.  And they often have difficulty predicting what other people will think, especially when those thoughts are abstract rather than concrete.

It's an interesting exercise to intentionally try to identify when you're mind reading, especially because it happens so often in our interactions, and being wrong can be damaging to our relationships.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Two Minutes on Intersectional Feminism

Hey, it turns out I'm white.  I'm pretty sure nobody's surprised by that revelation.

It took me a long time to recognize that being white is not the same thing as being race-less, and that my happy color-blindness was really a manifestation of my racial privilege.

Funny enough, it also took me a long time to recognize that a lot of the things I had internalized about myself as a female were really manifestations of the rape/purity culture in which I lived.

I like to think I'm a pretty smart person, so realizing that I had lived for decades without recognizing the profound affects of racism and sexism on my life was a pretty big shock.  Once my eyes were opened, though, it didn't take much for me to jump on the feminist and anti-racist bandwagons.

For a bit of background here, the way that I read the Bible, it's pretty clear to me that all human beings are created in the image of God.  As a result, all human beings have the exact same inherent value and are deserving of respect.  Feminism and anti-racism have at their cores the same goal: for all human beings to be treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their individual differences.

Because I was becoming aware of sexism and racism at the same time, however, I found myself in a bit of a confusing situation.  Because I am a woman, I have experienced oppression on the basis of my gender, but being white, I've also experienced a great deal of privilege on the basis of my race.  I didn't know how to own my racial privilege while talking about sexism and fighting against it.

Enter intersectional feminism, a term coined by a black woman to describe the way that being black and female is materially different from being white and female.  To whit: a black woman faces oppression for being black, for being a woman, and at the intersection of blackness and womanhood.  The concept extrapolates out onto a variety of identities.  The end result is a multi-axis understanding of identity, and the intention of fighting for human dignity and respect on all of those axes.

There's a lot to unpack.  If you're ready to dive in, here's a reading and listening list curated by the King's College London Intersectional Feminist Society.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Jobs of Tomorrow"

I'm wondering, more and more these days, if "the jobs of tomorrow" are actually a thing.  The school system where I live is pushing math and literacy so early and so hard because, they tell us, kids need to be "college and career ready" when they graduate from high school.  But what's left behind in the exclusive focus on reading, writing, and calculating is much of what makes being human worthwhile.

Everyone says they hate math, but what most people really mean is that they hate calculating.  People generally like puzzles and patterns, though.  It's satisfying to order and organize the world.  It's also important to have basic math skills, because they're useful in everyday life.  Shoving formal math education down the throats of 4 year-olds doesn't help, though.  It just teaches them that they hate math.

Aggressive formal literacy education is no more useful.  People learn to read because reading is important to them.  Pushing formal reading instruction earlier and earlier doesn't create better readers.  It creates readers who believe reading is hard and they are bad at it.  To encourage children to learn reading, we don't need to drill them on phonics and sight words, we need to give them time to be curious, a chance to see that reading will help them find out things they want to know, and opportunities to read.

People learn to write because writing is important to them, too.  The fundamental piece of writing is not vocabulary, grammar, or spelling, although all of those things are good.  The fundamental piece of writing is ideas.  To encourage children to learn to write, we need to give them time to have ideas, a chance to see that other people are interested in their ideas, and opportunities to write.

When we spend all of our schooling time doubling down on formal math and literacy education, we miss opportunities to learn to communicate through painting, sculpture, music, drama, humor, and diagrams.  We miss opportunities to learn to ask good questions and to hunt for the best answers.  We miss opportunities to practice collecting our own data, reaching our own conclusions, and sharing our own results.

All of the things sidelined by education are the things that allow us to make our own meaning.

And I'm not sure I believe in "the jobs of tomorrow" anymore.  I'm not sure we can count on jobs and careers to provide meaning and direction to our kids' days.  I'm not saying that jobs will disappear entirely, like this video suggests.  I'm sure there will be jobs.  I just wonder how many.  For most of human history "jobs" have not been a thing.  People have always worked and had roles in their communities. but the current age of jobs, where most households function by one or more of the adults working full-time for a company for money to exchange for goods and services, is just a tiny sliver of human history.

If school is trying so hard to prepare kids for jobs that aren't going to exist, what will they not be prepared for?  What if our children have universal basic income and a whole lot of free time?  How will they fill their time if they've only ever learned sit down, be quiet, and practice your math facts?  I feel for the children prepared to be the next generation of working stiffs if there are no jobs of tomorrow waiting for them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Where I'm From

I'm a sucker for poetry.  I can kill a whole evening watching spoken word poetry videos on youtube.  The past couple of years when Uncle Erudite has come into town for Christmas, the two of us have gone to see the Sunday night poetry slam at The Green Mill, and it has been a wonderful time.

I occasionally write poetry, too.  One time I even performed at a poetry slam out here in the suburbs, and I came in second (out of five).  The guy who won gave me his prize because, in his words: "Your poem was the best of the night.  And I don't drink red wine."

So when a blogger I follow posted a poem by her son, which he wrote as part of a poetry unit in his fourth grade classroom, I cried all over my keyboard.

The idea came from poet George Ella Lyon, who in turn was inspired by a poem written by Jo Carson.  All that to say, the template's down at the bottom of this post, and below is my take on it.  You should write a poem with me!

Where I’m From

I am from patchwork quilts, from Nanking cherries, and freedom to roam.

I am from the grand piano with a cat sleeping on top.
I am from many, many bookshelves.
From novels, memoirs, science fiction, and cook books, all being read in the same room at the same time.
I am from companionable silence
I am from lively debate.

I am from the Mississippi river, the bluffs, the bald eagles, and the turkey vultures.
I am from the Alberta prairie, the endless skies, and the nodding donkeys.

I am from Whole Foods for the Whole Family and an open invitation for anyone to join.
From teacher, from pilot, from homemaker, from doctor, from musician.

I am from the know-it-alls and the win-at-all-costs.
From quit whining and go play outside.

I am from our Father and let your kingdom come.
I am from forgiveness and the whole earth being reconciled.
From the Word, the mystery, and the joy.

I am from "It's an assumed name," from "We only know there was some kind of disgrace."
I am from unflattering history, left behind in the old country.

I am from a cardboard battlefield, made and abandoned,
Endless arguments over practicing and lessons,
Breakfast with the Beatles,
And an imaginary shirt that said "She may not be fast, but she sure is cute."

I am from a homemade aesthetic and years of missing photographs.
I am from a blue book of someone else's memories,
From half finished stories and a dozen tall tales,
From a tree of a hundred branches.
I am from silence, from words, and from music.


Where I’m From (Template):

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

Monday, March 13, 2017


I just finished reading and would like to recommend Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life.

It's not a beach read, but it's not as dry as it could be.  And it's useful book for understanding the brain science of why kids behave (poorly) the way they do.

Ostensibly, it's an advice book, but the actual advice portion is really a fairly small chunk of the total word count. This is mostly because, while we all share certain fundamentals of biology and neurochemistry, every human being is different. A book that offers techniques to calm a child will be right for a given child under some circumstances and wrong for another child, or even wrong for the same child under different circumstances.

Instead of techniques, Self-Reg offers a philosophical framework and the scientific evidence for why this framework is effective in helping a wide variety of kids with a wide variety of behavioral problems.

A short summary of the framework is this: problem behaviors are very often a sign of disregulation, a child being in "fight, flight, or freeze" mode.  More than learning self-control, which is a high order cognitive skill not available during disregulated periods, children need to learn self-regulation, so they spend less time disregulated to begin with.

The book details the functioning of mirror neurons in co-regulation within the parent-child dyad, which is the initial step towards self-regulation.  It also discusses at length up- and down-regulation, or the work of returning to a calm and attentive state from a state of drowsiness or excitement.

Within the theoretical framework, the main advice of the book can be summarized in five jobs for the parent.

When the kid is having a meltdown, shutting down completely, or otherwise acting out of control, it's because they are disregulated. This means they are in a high arousal state without enough reserved energy to bring themselves down to a lower arousal state, and their make-decisions thinking brain has been overridden by their just-stay-alive instinct brain. Your first job is to recognize that being out of control is not the kid's fault.

When the kid is behaving poorly, it disregulates you. This means you go into a high arousal state, and if you've got low energy, your thinking brain also stops working, and you're going to blow up or clam up and make the situation worse. Your second job is to regulate yourself.

How to regulate yourself:
Step one- Notice that you are becoming disregulated.
Step two- Name the things that are stressing you. Review all five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social.
Step three- Reduce the stressors.
Step four- Calm yourself down with whatever works best.
Step five- Reflect back on patterns so you can prevent disregulation by reducing the things you know deplete your energy, avoiding the things that increase your arousal when your energy is low, and seeking out the things that calm you.

Your third job is to help your child feel calm. Start when your child is not disregulated. Help them notice and practice the sensation of being calm. Your child should recognize “calm” as a state that is attentive, engaged, and relaxed. Seek out the situations, places, movements, and activities that result in your child feeling calm. Pay attention to all five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social.

Your fourth job is to follow the steps for your child. 
Step one- Notice when your child is becoming disregulated.
Step two- Pay close attention to patterns in disregulation so you can accurately name the things that are stressing the child. Review all five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and pro-social.
Step three- Reduce the stressors.
Step four- Help the child calm themselves down with whatever techniques work best.
Step five- Reflect back on patterns so you can prevent disregulation by reducing the things you know deplete your child's energy, avoiding the things that increase their arousal when their energy is low, and seeking out the things that calm you.

Your fifth job is to teach your child to do all of the steps themselves.

And that's it!  Which is to say, now I've got the framework, so I can spend the next 80 years perfecting my technique.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Meal Plan Wednesday Feb 22

Wednesday- Roasted turnips.  Roasted sweet potatoes.  Baked potato bar.

Thursday- Brown rice.  Broccoli, mushroom, and beef stir fry.

Friday- Salad with spinach, strawberry, red onion, bacon, and homemade vinaigrette.  Salmon croquettes (my kids actually call them salmon cookies, which is a bit weird).

Saturday- Green beans with tomato and dill.  Bread.  Fried eggs.

Sunday- Black bean soup.  Raw red peppers.  Corn tortillas.

Monday- Sauteed Brussels sprouts.  Pasta a la vodka.

Tuesday- Broccoli, spinach, and bacon fritatta.  Cucumber and onion salad.  Maybe bread.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Retroactive Menu Plan

You asked me to give you my week's menu plan, and I agreed to start posting them again.  Then I only planned two days at a time for more than a week, so I never posted anything.  Here, by way of an apology, is the retroactive listing of what we actually ate for dinners.  I'll try and get you a new meal plan for this week on Wednesday after I grocery shop.  

Also, all three of my kids have had the flu, with one day of upset tummy followed by a whole week of fever.  Z got it the Friday before Valentine's Day.  V got it on Valentine's Day itself.  And L got it the Saturday after Valentine's.  So please don't judge my reliance on convenience foods.

Wednesday- Pot roast with all the usual veggies.

Thursday- Beef melts with leftover roast.  Coleslaw.

Friday- Baked potato bar (sour cream, broccoli, cheese, butter, salt, and pepper), baked butternut squash.

Saturday- "Progressive dinner" using all of the library reading program coupons and the free fruit for kids club at our local grocery store (McDonalds fries, Pizza Hut personal pizzas, Sonic ice cream cones, and an apple, banana, or pear).

Sunday- Vegetarian chili and bread.

Monday- Pasta with garlicky broccoli.  Cheater's Eggplant Parmesan (recipe below).

Tuesday- Valentine's Day Picnic at the Chicago Auto Show.  Cheese sandwiches with pickles and mustard, oranges, cucumbers, carrots, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.

Wednesday- Mexican rice.  Fava bean soup, based on this recipe.

Thursday- Vegetarian vegetable noodle soup.  Bread.

Friday- Frozen pizzas.  Chopped salad.

Saturday- Tuna melts, carrot sticks, marshmallows.

Sunday- Ramen with onions, celery, and peas.  Apples.

Cheater's Eggplant Parmesan

Slice eggplant reasonably thin.
Spread each slice with a spoonful of prepared marinara sauce.
Bake 45 minutes at 400 (you want the eggplant cooked to your liking at this stage)
Top each slice with a slice of cheese.
Return to the oven until the cheese is melted (about 5 minutes, or as long as it takes to set the table).